Long Live Rock… Celebrate the Chaos (Documentary Review)

Maroon 5’s Adam Levine recently stated that there are no bands anymore—and he could not be further from the truth. Of course, he’s not the only one to proclaim Rock-n-Roll a withered corpse, and he certainly won’t be the last. But for those that sweat Hard Rock from their pores and understand the enormous sense of solidarity found at a great show, may we introduce you to a new Rock Doc entitled Long Live Rock… Celebrate The Chaos.

Abramorama presents a live screening of the film’s world premiere, along with a Q&A event, on Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 9PM EST / 8PM CST / 6PM PST. (See LongLiveRockMovie.com for further details and pre-order tickets.) If you can’t make the premiere, fret not: the film will be officially released to select Virtual Cinemas on March 12th.

It’s bittersweet to celebrate the live chaos of concerts amid a global pandemic that has stolen our live entertainment. So there’s something to be said for a documentary that takes us inside the shows from the perspectives of both the artists and the fans. Directed by Jonathan McHugh (Cosplay Universe documentary 2018), and produced by Gary Spivack (Rock on the Range TV special 2015) and Jonathan Platt (X Japan Live at Madison Square Garden 2014, House of Demons 2018), Long Live Rock… seeks to explore the culture of Hard Rock music through a multitude of topics, both serious and not, as well as a myriad of viewpoints.

Through interviews with the titans of Rock—individuals like Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains), Jonathan Davis (KoЯn), Rob Zombie, Tom Morello (Prophets of Rage, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine), Ice-T (Body Count), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour)—the documentary offers a front-row seat for fans. But this story includes a plethora of artists, and other noteworthy names include Sully Erna (Godsmack), Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy, Black Label Society), Brent Smith (Shinedown), Myles Kennedy (Slash, Alter Bridge), Stone Temple Pilots, Five Finger Death Punch, Black Veil Brides, Steel Panther, Offspring, Dorothy, New Years Day, and many, many more.

All of this appears alongside commentary from industry insiders that include managers, Sirius XM DJs, security professionals, promoters, and even an adolescent psychotherapist and Mr. Loveline himself, Dr. Drew Pinsky. Their words are supported by fans chosen to tell their stories of camaraderie, from corrections officer Scott Prince and rehab trauma nurse Jessie Shrewsbury to mom Abby McCormick and crowd-surfing couple Etienne and Michelle Sabatate. Each has their own unique experiences to share, whether it be discussing unlikely friendships made along the way, losing your (prosthetic) leg in a crowd, or the adrenaline rush from surfing atop your husband. (Get your mind out of the gutter!)

As it unfolds, Long Live Rock… moves from discussing the experience of attending shows and the escapism, emotionality, acceptance and community of music—as Cantrell aptly describes it, “The tribal-ness of finding your people”—to the thrill of surfing a crowd, the rules of the mosh pit, the dreaded “Wall of Death,” and the ability of Hard Rock to save adolescents by providing them a safe haven. Bouncing around topically, it then slaps viewers with the sobering realities of being a musician, particularly the sexism and racism within the industry as well as rampant alcoholism and drug use, and, tragically, suicide. As Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows points out, “Everyone wants to give you free drugs when you’re a rockstar.

While this is deeply important material, the documentary barely glances the surface, and the decision made to focus elsewhere feels like a missed opportunity. Imagine how Ice-T and Morello could have expounded upon racism within the genre, and the evolution that has occurred throughout their careers. And for the ladies, though Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale is given her fair share of screen time, the topic of sexism within heavier music is one that, much like racism, is worthy of its own documentary. This is all pivotal material, intelligent discussion, although it admittedly sours the fun of the crowd-surfing couple and discussion of Zombie’s showmanship. (Zombie himself quips that his stage show is “well-orchestrated fucking around.”)

All of this said, Jordan Rennert’s (The Perfect Dose 2006, House of Demons 2018) cinematography is well-done, and many of the interviewees have interesting things to say. However, the film does suffer from some obvious nepotism. Shot largely during the festival season of 2017, it focuses solely on the festivals that Producer Spivack seemingly promotes: Louder Than Life, Carolina Rebellion, Fort Rock, Rock on the Range, Aftershock, Chicago Open Air, etc. This ignores the Vans Warped Tour (which was very much alive in 2017), Self Help, Rocklahoma, Rock Allegiance, M3 Rock Festival, Knotfest, Inkcarceration and many other events entirely, and effectively erases any band that is not receiving heavy rotation on Sirius XM.

In this, Long Live Rock feels selective and the goal isn’t, as stated, to provide “a deep dive into the culture of Hard Rock music,” but rather to highlight the bands that frequent a niche concert circuit. This is not necessarily a negative but just a fact, and something fans should know going in as there’s very little truly awe-inspiring new material from any of the bands included. Which translates to no full-length (well, one song’s length) live performances, no lengthy interviews or behind-the-scenes action; just some commentary spliced with a revolving door of live footage from 2017.

Don’t misunderstand, however, as this is not to say that there are not some special moments as well as some great clips of some of your favorite musicians. Take, for example, an endearing tour memory shared by Skillet’s Korey and John Cooper, or the deeply emotional discussion of the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. And throughout the 80-minute runtime, McKagan chimes in with some wisdom, as does the always sophisticated Morello. Hale and In This Moment’s Maria Brink are both given a chance to discuss their dedicated fans and the symbiotic relationship between band and crowd, and we also get to witness The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen struck speechless over the loss of one of her idols.

Similar to Rock Camp, The Movie, Long Live Rock… feels targeted to get fans out to specific gigs, begging the question: Will there be a Long Live Rock festival? Fans should go into the documentary understanding that this is an overview of Hard Rock culture that succinctly outlines several carefully curated topics, all of which are centered around a grouping of spring festivals. If you’re a huge fan of the aforementioned shows and Active Rock radio, feel free to add an extra star to this rating. However, for the rest of us, Long Live Rock… Celebrate The Chaos feels biased by corporate undertones, and that goes against the sense of shared chaos and the rebellious spirit that’s being touted herein. You know it’s sad but true, Cryptic Rock gives the documentary 3 of 5 stars.

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