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Reviews > DVDs

Published: 2006/04/19
by Benjy Eisen

Jam In The Dam

According to a popular marketing campaign by De Beers and special agent 007 a diamond is forever. They say that all it takes is one month’s salary.

Well now, that depends on what your salary is, of course. But if you really want something to last forever, put it on a DVD. In 2006, you can film, direct, and produce a direct-to-DVD documentary for a whole lot cheaper than your old-timey diamond ring. Even 13-year-olds can become filmmakers by the time they sign their last Bar Mitzvah thank you note. “Thanks for the check, Grandma. I’m going to Hollywood!”

Every festival has its own documentary team nowadays. Camera crews are at every major concert. Yes, and pretty soon you’ll be able to buy DVDs of your night out at the movies. Restaurants will offer take-home DVDs of your meal being prepared, eaten, and paid for. You’ll sign the release form when you sign for the check and, on your way out, a budding director will ask you to talk about your aversion to Cajun seasoning and if you made the right decision by going with the house chardonnay. Remember your last visit to the dentist? It’s now available for pre-order at Amazon. (Rumor has it that, starting next month, bonus footage from your morning commute will be available exclusively at iTunes.)

So there may never be another Last Waltz. Instead, the dance will continue uninterrupted, as the concert rockumentary becomes a common stock item at every merch booth in town. At least it’s better than those big, bulky, bullshit tour programs that arena bands used to sell when I was a kid. Those things cost about the same as a DVD and contained nothing but photo collages, questionable bios, and the name and position of every single person on the 60-person road crew. Including the truck drivers.

But if this new commodity has a single benediction, it is that deserving events such as Jam in the Dam are now almost certainly chronicled. And, though it sometimes stems from the need for greed, the product is as good for the absentees as it is for the attendees. Jam in the Dam may just be the leading argument for that. Held in an intimate venue in Amsterdam, the festival itself is both intriguing and inaccessible. For reasons related to geographical conditions, if you went, you may not remember. And for the ten-thousand fans that wanted to attend but could not, a see-it, hear-it, feel-it DVD is preferable to the message board reviews by kids with handles like SourDieselMan that exist only on a computer screen yet are still barely legible and which are flamed for no reason whatsoever. (You can burn a DVD but you can’t flame it.)

Although, for this one, you might want to burn something else first. And there it is, man. The obligatory “Jam in the AMSTERDAM” wink-wink and now we can nudge-nudge onwards. Yes, yes? (You can burn one for a DVD but you still can’t flame it).

Apart from its setting neither on a remote farm, a decommissioned air-force base, nor a cruise ship another factor that makes Jam in the Dam unrivaled is its structure: the same four bands, two at a time, for three consecutive days in one double-sided venue. In 2005, the inaugural year and the subject of this DVD, the bands were Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits, Keller Williams, and Particle.

I’ve been told that Jam in the Dam is Umphrey’s festival in the same way that, say, Camp Bisco belongs to the Biscuits. But I still don’t believe it. On the DVD at least, the city is the plot, the audience is the narrator, and the bands all four of them are the stars. And they all perform admirably.

Disc One kicks off with a premium “set” by Umphrey’s (try watching “JaJunk” without dropping your jaw), followed by a solid “set” of Particle. I’m decorating the word “set” with quotation marks for good reason the tracks are culled from the cumulative performances of all three days, and are sequential only on disc. As expected, some of the crosspollination that was bound to take place at an event of this nature is represented (The Disco Biscuits’ “Home Again” features two members of Umphrey’s; during a jam segment, Keller fronts and conducts Particle).

Segregating the performances by all four bands into four respective clumps (Disc Two has Keller Williams followed by The Disco Biscuits) is the correct way to go. Fans of a particular band can give their unadulterated love while haters can move on and move past without much hassle. Short segments between each song usually feature clips from all the bands, fan interviews, and location footage (including coffeeshops and peep shows).

All told, if you’re a fan of any of these bands, you’ll be a fan of this documentary for the hour or so that your favorite band is featured (both on stage and in interview). If you enjoy two or more of the four bands, you’ve got yourself a bona fide treat. Your only complaint might be my only complaint might be the common complaint for any documentary of this kind: I wish there was MORE footage of exactly half of these bands and LESS by the other two. So it goes. I watched the whole thing once in its entirety anyway and always felt compelled to keep watching. Repeat viewings will have the advantage of natural selection. So it goes.

Sure, a documentary of what essentially was a three-night stand in a small nightclub in Holland is completely unnecessary. But we live in an age of luxury. Jam in the Dam, in particular, is an extravagant luxury. Totally extravagant. Totally a luxury. (Spend three nights in a club in Amsterdam watching four bands you can see pretty much whenever you want back at home). But what’s wrong with a bit of indulgence now and again? It’s what we live for. It’s what we, as spoiled Americans, demand. As for the take-home DVD, well, if nothing else, it’s a pleasure to watch. And a hell of a lot cheaper than a diamond.

Carry on.

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