Three rock icons from different generations come together to compare riffs and make sense of their respective pasts in ‘It Might Get Loud’
By WALLACE BAINE
At the root of the new documentary “It Might Get Loud,” opening today at the Del Mar, is a simple but really great idea — bring together three giants of the music industry from different generations to jam and talk about music. In this case, director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) invites Led Zeppelin’s iconic lead guitarist Jimmy Page, U2’s the Edge and Jack White of the White Stripes to gather in a circle with their respective guitars on a roomy soundstage, just to sit back and see what happens.
Three guitarists could have easily been three women singers — say, Etta James, Chrissie Hynde and Ani DiFranco — or three character actors — Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe and Aaron Eckhart — or three quarterbacks — Bart Starr, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
In other words, by bringing together generations of greatness, this is a terrific idea for a TV series.
As a one-and-done movie for mainstream audiences, however, the match-up comes off a bit less than scintillating. Though, for fans and musicians — particularly guitarists with a love for gadgetry and craft — “Loud” is simply a must-see.
The film does reveal more of its subjects than their respective public images usually allow. Page, for years the regal and quiet sideman to the screaming Robert Plant, comes off as an open and amiable bloke who still air-guitars to old records. The Edge (aka Dave Evans) of U2 also carries a formidable mystique, but he’s revealed as a very sedate, almost shy man who is a tad uncomfortable with the spotlight. The youngest of the three, White, with his country gothic outfits and Johnny Depp haircut, might strike you as something of a twit. But, to be fair, a visit with Edge or Page at the same age might have yielded the same kind of impression. In their youth, rock stars are still hung up on image in a way older artists are not.
Director Guggenheim allows the older players to revisit some of the scenes of their past glory. Edge tours around the Dublin burbs where he and his U2 bandmates first emerged in the late 1970s, from the very stage the band played one of their first concerts, to the school bulletin board where he answered an ad for musicians to form a band posted by drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
Led Zep fans will thrill to Page’s visit to Headley Grange, the rural English stone mansion where Zeppelin’s landmark fourth album — the “Stairway to Heaven” album — was recorded. A shot of Page with his luxurious silver hair, sitting out front of the old mansion playing “The Battle of Evermore” on a mandolin is something that will warm old rockers’ hearts.
Musicians will, no doubt, enjoy the film’s deference to the enduring relationship between guitarists and their instruments, as each artist lovingly addresses what their favorite guitars mean to them. The Edge is especially enlightening when it comes to explaining how his uniquely shimmering sound is a product of endless futzing around with effects units and amps.
What hurts “It Might Get Loud” is a kind of anticlimactic lack of chemistry between the three guitarists. They are all mutual admirers, but other than an impromptu jam to Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight” (“Take a load off Fannie”), there are precious little sparks between the men when they do come together, and the film never rises above the sum of its parts.
Early in the film, Jack White is asked what he expects upon meeting the older guitarists. “It’ll probably be a fist fight,” he cracks. Of course, no one expected that. But considering the rock ’n’ roll firepower on hand between these three men, would a little magic been too much to ask?