The Motels: Whisky-a-Go-Go dvd review

September 23, 2015

Am I at a live concert? People in their seats are cheering, clapping and standing. I'm staring at the stage at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles and unless my eyes are deceiving me I'm watching Martha Davis and the Motels perform their classic songs. It sure feels real to me and to those who attended, and that's a tribute to the skills of Emmy winning cinematographer Roy H. Wagner and the film's director, Denise Faye. They have pulled off what I thought was impossible, which is capturing on film the essence of Martha Davis as she performed on stage at the 50th anniversary of the iconic Whisky-a-Go-Go.

Producer Greg Sims of Vesuvio Entertainment brought together this tandem to weave their respective abilities into a live concert film so as to give the audience, not only the raw energy of Martha Davis and the Motels, but also perfectly sync it with the classic Whisky-a-Go-Go setting. For those unfamiliar, the Whisky opened in January of 1964 on the Sunset Strip, and popularized go-go girls in cages, great new music, and hip crowds. You didn't care who was playing that night, it was simply important to be at the Whisky in the late night hours. Johnny Rivers, the Doors, Van Halen, Neil Diamond, etc... these are names that have graced the Whisky stage. Metallica needed a bassist so where did they look for and find Cliff Burton?... you guessed it, the Whisky.

There was problem though. In the mid '70's, unsigned bands had a tough time getting booked at the Whisky and other mid-size venues. And they couldn't get signed unless they proved their talent at a mid-sized venue. Quite a quandary, as if caught in an infinite loop of a Star Trek episode. But the Motels were instrumental in correcting that parallax. Together with The Pop and The Dogs, they self-produced "Radio Free Hollywood", a concert at a dusty old theater. It was quite a success and helped open up the ability to play better clubs in the Los Angeles area... including the Whisky-a-Go-Go. They played there 14 times before being signed by Capitol Records on Mother's Day in 1979.

The Motels had multiple top 10 hits in their 80's hey-day, and since then band members have come and gone, and even come back again. All have been talented and each has brought a little something different to keep things fresh and vibrant to this day. But there had been one constant; Martha Davis. To see her looking towards you from the stage is to feel as though she's singing this song just to you. She has always had a raw charm and sultry vibrancy on stage... it makes one feel that there is no one else in the room but her and you. The energy tears into your soul and comes out your toes. And don't even get me started about her eyes.

Flash forward to January of 2014. I'm at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, standing across the street, and news crews and photographers are everywhere... even pushing each other at the red carpet photo-op. I see Linda Perry of  4 Non Blondes, and Rosanna Arquette of Pulp Fiction fame. Heaps of current and future tv stars filter past. Inside it's like I recall from the 1980's... quite dark and hard to take photos without a $5000 camera. I don't own a $5000 camera. But it has pizazz. I almost feel I can see the cages hanging from the ceiling. I wander around through the sellout crowd and find myself talking to a gal who worked here in the 1970's. She has the same goose bumps I do. Then the Motels are introduced and the crowd is ecstatic.

I'll tell you it was a hell of a show! Martha has more lines of wisdom in her face, and perhaps her voice has added some rasp after 43 years of performing, but she commanded the stage. She still looked right through me and my neck tingled like it did way back when I first heard her sing. I saw Roy Wagner (with his camera) and Denise Faye running around doing their jobs till they were ready to drop, and thinking to myself... they can't really capture what this concert is about. No one can. Song after song Ms. Davis sounds great. Backing her up are the Motels: Clint Walsh, Eric Gardner, Brady Wills, Nick Johns, and the irreplaceable Marty Jourard on sax. All the standard songs were played including the roof-raising "Total Control", and they finished up with a newer jazz gemstone called "Mr Grey" and their classic "Only the Lonely." Wow. A fan next to me, Denise, who had traveled all the way from the east coast, said this experience was as good as it gets. I'm exhausted as I leave and I'm still thinking there's no way they capture this on film. I was wrong.

Last Monday night Vesuvio Entertainment and the Regent Theater gave fans a treat with a one-time showing of the soon to be released dvd. It was electric. Another red-carpet of celebrities and past band members such as Dean Chamberlin and Robert Newman. I have to say this video is top shelf and everyone involved should be proud. Halfway through I had to look around to make sure I wasn't back at the Whisky-a-Go-Go. It's taken almost two years to finish but it was well worth the wait. By far the best concert footage of the Motels I've ever seen. I don't know what magic wands Wagner and Faye used but in leaving the theater, to quote a scribing of Martha's from days gone by... Toujours Gai.

Randy Simcox - September 23, 2015