review:The Music Biz

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The Independent Culture
"This man is big in security," said the narrator in "The Performance", The Music Biz's (BBC2) deliciously unenchanted account of a Metallica rock concert. The man walking towards the camera could have been used as a fender for a cross-channel ferry - if you weren't worried about damaging the ferry. But he had, it seemed, earned the respect of the fans massed behind the gates. "You fat bastard, you fat bastard," they chanted, displaying the Metallica fan's legendary sense of social nicety. Those who were still sober enough to recognise the television camera flicked sociable 'V' signs in its direction.

The Music Biz, the follow-up to Jeremy and Gina Newsome's excellent The Look, has suffered a little from comparisons with its predecessor - not because there's any particular falling off but because there isn't quite the same sense of novelty. As a subject matter, fashion was virtually an untrodden field, whereas rock music is more like Woodstock after three days rain. This episode was in even greater difficulties, because documentaries about rock performances are a particularly debased form. With some notable exceptions most of them are adulatory and awed, part of the band's retinue rather than outside observers. So how could the Newsomes accurately convey the musical blitzkrieg that is a Metallica tour (Genghis Khan with guitars) while still distinguishing the result from that bastard genre the ("if you will") rockumentary?

With judicious editing is how. One of the pleasures of their highly enjoyable film was that it didn't pretend to be blase about the logistical difficulties of parting 50,000 teenagers from their money. Indeed, some lines in the narration sounded as if they could have come from the official souvenir video. "19 tons of sound system, 64 3,000-watt amps, resulting in a quarter- of-a-million watts of raw metal meltdown," said the voice-over, with a fan's intonation. But you always had the sense that the tongue was in the cheek, not being applied to some intimate part of a rock god's anatomy. Sometimes this was visual - a nifty tracking shot along the miles of neatly arrayed cable was intercut with aerial footage of jammed motorways, laid out like flex on the countryside - a nice simile and a mildly deflating one too. The lighting director's frantic performance at his control desk was intercut with the money-men in the back office, playing arpeggios of profit on their computer keyboards.

Elsewhere the undercutting was more sardonic, a matter of setting up the image so that it was bound to take a comic pratfall: "Can management keep it's promise of no bad language on live radio?" the narration asked with rhetorical innocence, when Metallica finally took the stage. "F-- k you, muthaf--kers," yelled the lead singer, instantly providing the answer. Over footage of one of the support bands preparing to play, polite information shaded over into open sarcasm. "He formed a subtly-named rival band [Megadeth] and released the philosophical album Killing is My Business And Business is Good. But first, a swig of mineral water and a last-minute look at holiday snaps."

Some of the comedy didn't need any preparation. One musician turned up in a hearse, opining that this was the most appropriate vehicle available: "We're that close to death every time we play a show," he said gravely, holding his fingers a plectrum's width apart. The band's managers, a Ben and Jerry double act with a Huey and Duey manner of finishing each other's sentences, testified to the unique emotional rewards of working with one of the world's great T-shirt bands: "This is one of your great things to stop cross-collateralisation," said one, explaining that the record company wouldn't get a cent.

Hey guys, let's rock and roll!