Column 39: Urgh! A Music War, O’Leaver’s and you on Aug. 31

Category: Blog — @ 12:37 pm August 24, 2005

Some bonus detail about today’s column: When Mike Tulis first began movie night at O’Leaver’s oh so many moons ago, he posted the details on the Lazy-i web board. I responded with a comment that he should show Urgh! A Music War, a film I fondly remember watching on SelectTV, a bizarre microwave-based precursor to cable that was available to country bumpkins like me who grew in in places like Fort Calhoun, Neb. Others chimed in on the web board and Mike said he’d love to, if he had a copy of the film. Someone even sent a link to an active e-bay auction where the seller was trying to move a VHS copy, which fetched around $100. As mentioned below, an abridged version of Urgh! is long out of print on VHS and has never been issued on DVD despite the fact that the movie is something of a Rosetta Stone for today’s indie/post-punk music scene. Further research uncovered that the movie will never be issued on DVD because of ongoing legal actions from the various record labels. Gary Numan had his performance expunged from the version broadcast on the Sundance Channel a few years ago (supposedly wanting to distance himself from the film) along with British punk band Splodgeness Abounds. I’d given up hope of ever seeing the film when out of the blue, a DVD copy of the complete 2-hour version of the Urgh! showed up in my mail box. The rest of the story is below.

You won’t want to miss this screening Aug. 31 at O’Leaver’s. The bands performing on the video: Police, Wall of Voodoo, Toyah Wilcox, John Cooper Clarke, Orchestral Manoeuvres, Oingo Boingo, Chelsea, Echo and the Bunnymen, Jools Holland, XTC, Klaus Nomi, Athletico Spizz 80, Go Gos, Dead Kennedys, Steel Pulse, Gary Numan, Joan Jett, Magazine, Surf Punks, Members, Au Pairs, Cramps, Invisible Sex, Pere Ubu, Devo, Alley Cats, John Otway, Gang of Four, 999, Fleshtones, X, Skafish, Splodgeness Abounds, and UB40.

Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again next week.

Column 39 — Urgh! O’Leaver’s Music War
Updated venue screens classic ’80s music film.

Sometime around 1980, a handful of eager documentary film makers took up cameras and marched around the globe but not to capture important world events, cataclysmic natural wonders, historic sports daring-do or gripping human drama. Instead, they took a snapshot of a music scene going unnoticed by the unwashed masses too busy rockin’ the paradise and looking for a juke box hero.

The product of their hard work was the documentary Urgh! A Music War, a film that captured the ’80s best New Wave and punk bands flying deep under the musical radar. Combining live performances with documentary-style footage of leather-bound scenesters, the film shows us where today’s post-punk bands got their chops. Included are rare performances by seminal underground heroes Gang of Four, Echo and the Bunnymen, Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, X, The Cramps, and Wall of Voodoo alongside FM acts such as The Police, The Go Go’s, Devo, Gary Numan, UB40 and Joan Jett. And finally, there are the forgotten obscurities, such as Au Pairs, Toyah Wilcox, Orchestral Manoeuvres, Oingo Boingo, Chelsea, Klaus Nomi, Steel Pulse, Magazine, Surf Punks, 999, Skafish and Fleshtones. Urgh! captures a total of 34 bands on stages in London, Los Angles, Frejus, San Diego, Portsmouth and New York City.

So why haven’t you heard of this landmark documentary? Probably because it never saw national big-screen release. Urgh! was only briefly available on VHS and was never released on DVD. And although the Sundance Channel aired an abbreviated version a few years ago, Urgh! has been all but forgotten in the annuls of rock history.

Until now.

O’Leaver’s Pub is hosting a screening of the rare, uncut, unavailable in the U.S., 2-hour-plus version of Urgh! A Music War as part of its monthly music movie night Aug. 31. After watching it, you’ll know exactly where modern-day bands like Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes and local acts like Beep Beep and The Faint got some of their best ideas. At the very least, it’s worth it to see where today’s indie hairstyles originated.

It’s also a good a reason to check out all the recent additions at O’Leaver’s, including their new A/V system complete with a 42-inch plasma TV, satellite receiver and an ear-busting PA.

O’Leaver’s owner Sean Conway said the improvements were long overdue. Since he and business partner, Chris Mello, bought the neighborhood bar three years ago, O’Leaver’s has turned into one of city’s most important live music venues, hosting some of the best local bands as well as undiscovered national touring acts. “Undiscovered” because O’Leaver’s has become a sort-of a way station for last-minute gigs by bands that are just passing through. Its size (capacity around 100) makes it too small for the big shows, but a perfect place for below-the-radar acts. It’s also an ideal proving ground for local bands that are just getting started. O’Leaver’s has hosted some of the best shows so far this year, including performances by nationals The Silos, Matson Jones and The Willowz and locals Tim Kasher, Simon Joyner and Ladyfinger.

Despite putting three or four live shows per week (They’ll be celebrating their 300th show this November), the venue still has time to squeeze in movie night. The idea was spawned by O’Leaver’s patron Mike Tulis, a local rock music authority and one of the city’s busiest bass players (The Monroes, The Third Men, Simon Joyner and the Wind-up Birds). Tulis has a large video collection of his own and enjoys getting together with friends to watch the classics. “It’s easier to get people to O’Leaver’s to see a movie than have them come over to my living room,” he said. “Plus you don’t have to stop the film to run out and get more beer.”

Since the series began, O’Leaver’s has screened Rock and Roll Circus, The T.A.M.I. Show, Let It Be, Devo night, Rock and Roll High School and The Girl Can’t Help It. “The nice thing about it is, as we continue doing this, others are pulling out movies that they have and bringing them in,” Tulis said. He said the next step is finding videotapes of local bands from Omaha’s mid-’90s Golden Age to feature as trailers before the movies. Perhaps someone should produce an Omaha version of Urgh! featuring Mousetrap, Mercy Rule, Frontier Trust and Digital Sex?

O’Leaver’s free screening of Urgh! A Music War starts at 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 31.

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