DVD Review: The Clarks, Still Live

Two years ago I wrote about the latest studio album by Pittsburgh rockers the Clarks. Since then the band has appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, put out a greatest-hits collection, and now produced this fine live DVD (along with an accompanying audio CD).

The concert video displays the stage charisma, sharp songwriting, tight musicianship and sheer joy in making music that have made the Clarks a big regional hit for two decades. It may also contain some clues as to why success at the national level has largely eluded them.

The DVD includes 79 minutes of professionally recorded and produced concert footage of the Clarks performing a selection of their best material from their numerous CDs up to and including 2004’s Fast Moving Cars. The atmospherically lit multi-camera shoot captures plenty of different angles, band closeups, and shots of euphoric audience members singing along. The stage at Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale PA is small, but as the Clarks don’t jagger about the stage much it doesn’t matter.

Handsome, lanky lead singer Scott Blasey exudes confidence, yet strikes his rock-star poses with a shy smile as if he’s still amazed by the fact that he gets to do this for a living. Lead guitarist Rob James looks like he’s having the time of his life while displaying an easy mastery of all things six-string. Bassist Greg Joseph and drummer David Minarik crank out the rhythms so expertly you can sometimes forget they’re there, which is the highest praise for a rhythm section.

The foursome has undergone not a single personnel change since starting as a college band two decades ago. This consistency pays off in a seamless but big-hearted stage show. A must-have for Clarks fans, the DVD can also constitute a thorough introduction to the band for left- and right-coasters. And therein may lie the key to the mystery of why the Clarks are still regional. A thoroughbred rock band that consistently puts out catchy new songs, they are not edgy. They may be just a little too nice to conquer gnarly New York or blasé L.A.

They’ve had a lot of radio play in the Pittsburgh area, especially from their 2000 release Let It Go, and their best songs – “Maybe,” “Born Too Late,” “Shimmy Low,” “Train,” and their 9-11 tribute “Hey You” among others – are better-written than, and as radio-friendly as, much of what’s heard on modern rock and pop stations. But maybe their sound is too middle-America: too rocking to be power-pop, but too friendly to be “modern rock.” If so, it’s a shame, because – forgive the marketing-speak – few bands offer as complete a package as the Clarks do. (Personally, I’ve had it with edgy. Give me a good song over an intriguing attitude any day.)

The DVD also includes 25 minutes of interviews with the band members, giving insight into how they got started, what they’re like personally, and how they write their songs – nothing out of the ordinary, but nice to have if you’re a fan. On the technical side, the authoring is smooth, the editing and lighting are eye-catching, the sound quality is as good as one can expect from a live recording – which is pretty darn good, these days – and for eighteen songs plus interviews, the price is definitely right.

There is an audio CD available too, but it has fewer songs. For a pure audio experience, you’re better off with their best-of collection, Between Now and Then. But for Clarks fans, and for lovers of melodic rock and real, honest bands in general, I can recommend this DVD wholeheartedly.