Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NOFX - 'Backstage Passport'

Last year, Fuse aired a mini-series on NOFX entitled Backstage Passport, which scored an official DVD release this week. The show covered the band’s attempts to tour countries they’ve never visited before (Check out the deleted scenes on the second disc – the band has sold less than 80 CDs in each of the countries featured), and the result is pretty mixed. There’s tons of footage of NOFX playing to crowds – dig that acoustic version of “Franco Un-American” in front of a hotel in Peru – and plenty of breathtaking shots from around the globe. But as a whole, the show gets repetitive really fast.

Each episode is set in a different country, but the plot remains the same – the band rolls in, deals with a shady promoter, and complains about sound problems/bad crowds/missing home, and then all of the money generated from the show disappears. Sometimes it gets better than that; the Peru show ends in riots, with NOFX’s crew encircled by police and forced to escape by hiding in a truck. The last episode of the series, set in South Africa, is also pretty good. The band’s crew meets some school children who are completely blown away by their tattoos, and the band clearly loves exploring African culture, from the wild life preserves (and voodoo magic, if you’re watching the deleted scenes) to the various nooks and crannies of places like Johannesburg and Cape Town. But for the most part, NOFX uses the show’s “road diary” concept to complain: They miss their kids, they hate the bad shows for sucking, they hate the good shows for being predictable, and they sure hate guitar problems.

Given how arduous the tour was (NOFX receives a few death threats and police scares throughout), it’s understandable that the band and crew would be on edge and therefore a bit testy. But the show really doesn’t offer much else. Backstage Passport rarely analyzes the cultures visited outside of A) how the show went and B) how many cops were present. Sure, the Israel episode takes viewers to the Wailing Wall, and there’s a brief but interesting exchange with an Islamic audience in which the band’s snarky humor goes too far. But as a whole, the show is pretty much about how much it sucks to be on the road. Even when the band gets philosophical, like in the South Africa episode when they discuss how they can find so much black culture everywhere except at their shows, it’s so awkwardly, succinctly worded that it sounds borderline racist. My point here is that when the band wishes for more black-centric crowds, they elevate one race over another, which is more or less what racism is, albeit without any animosity.

Like the band’s perpetually drunk-yet-hard-working manager Kent, Backstage Passport is funny in doses. But when taken all at once, it becomes a blur of drunken whining. The show’s thesis statement, if it has one, comes from bassist/frontman “Fat” Mike in the first episode: “When you play weird, crazy cities, crazy shit’s gonna happen.” Unfortunately, scumbag promoters, drug managers, and talking head shots explaining off-camera hijinks just aren’t crazy enough for me.

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