Black Happy finally released their "Settin' Dogs on Fire" concert DVD last month and for the band's many fans, it was well worth the wait. The DVD was originally planned for release last winter, in time for Santa to stuff it in all the good kids' stockings, but for whatever reason, delays delayed it.
The film ended up making it's big screen debut at the Garland Theater in Spokane on June 18th with a celebratory release party that prompted one commenter on the band's page to say "Great release big-screen-version! Have to say, incredibly well-miked songs, it's better than any overdub would have been. I hope we see more of y'all 'real soon'."
Future Black Happy reunion plans remain a mystery (a while back I heard rumors about an unreleased song from the archives that was being resurrected and worked on), but in the meantime we have this sparkly document to keep us Pegheads occupied. The live section of the DVD features clips from all five 20th anniversary reunion shows that took place last August, and the footage captures the reinvigorated 8-piece sounding possibly even tighter and shinier than they did back in the olden days.
They might have lost quite a few feet of hair collectively, and the jumping around manically is kept to a minimum, but it's obvious that the months of rehearsal leading up to the shows paid off big time. These guys might be rapidly approaching middle age (sorry, guys - I know the feeling), and most of them dropped out of the professional music biz when Justin Bieber was still toddling around in his designer Huggies, but damn if they don't still know still know how to get a crowd of sweaty thirtyish and fortyish folks partying like it was 1992 all over again.
Personally, I'm fondest of the footage shot at the Knitting Factory in Spokane but that's most likely due to the fact that I was actually there in the audience watching the action happen real time. Try as I might, I can't spy myself in any of the crowd shots, but that's probably a good thing since I was a sweaty, dancing mess, as was the rest of the utterly bananas, mindblown sold-out crowd.
The audiences at the three sold-out Crocodile Cafe shows in Seattle are just as much chanting along and punishing the dancefloor as the Spokane crowds, a testament to how Black Happy's appeal never faded but grew in leaps and bounds. The "behind the scenes" clips of the band and their cohorts that the producers of the video, [NTH]Frame, slipped in between the concert clips add an enjoyable warmth to the proceedings, bringing home the fact that there was always an element of randomness and humor to the band.
"Settin' Dogs on Fire" also includes a twenty minute documentary about the Black Happy story from the beginning to the end (almost), featuring interviews with the band members and their various associates and supporters, as well as quite a bit of previously unseen and ultimately rare video clips of the band performing and in the studio. It's engrossing stuff for longtime fans to watch, with trombonist Jay Carkhuff and drummer Jim Bruce providing a lot of the raw facts and brothers Mark and Paul Hemenway (guitar and vocals) providing some comic relief with their "huh, what?" approach to the line of questioning.
I remember seeing a little blurb at the time in The Rocket (a much-loved, long gone Seattle music rag) that simply said that Black Happy was over and that a horn-less quartet called Shoveljerk (named after a key track on Black Happy's "Peghead" LP) was currently in the studio working on a new record and had signed to a national label, Capricorn Records.
When their album "Swarm" eventually emerged, it didn't exactly burn up the Billboard 200 chart, in fact it quickly made friends with the budget bin, despite their track "Killing My Buzz" having appeared on the soundtrack to the film "National Lampoon's Senior Trip". Listening to "Swarm" now, it's really not a terrible record, but in 1995 there were just too many dozens of other bands fighting a losing battle for entry into the post-grunge sweepstakes. To me at least, the final irony was that right after Black Happy ended, upbeat rock-funk-punk bands featuring horns like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones suddenly became the new hotness and Black Happy, who helped originate the sound, had missed the proverbial boat.
"Settin' Dogs on Fire" seems to purposefully gloss over the entire Shoveljerk part of the story, never actually mentioning the "S" word even once, and in the interviews, band members still seem a little bewildered and borderline regretful when the subject of the breakup is approached. The documentary ends on a somewhat melancholy note, but ultimately, there is a cheery ending to the story. Nearly 20 years after the band's demise, Black Happy had become local music legends and the ranks of their enthusiastic fan base had swollen.
So much so that fans rallied hard on Facebook and elsewhere, ultimately resulting in reissues of their albums and the sold-out Seattle and Spokane reunion concerts documented so colorfully and with love. Even if Black Happy never perform another note together, it's fantastic that their story was finally able to end on the highest of high notes, bringing a much needed sense of resolution to the fans, as well as the musicians themselves.
"Settin' Dogs on Fire" is avaiable for purchase at:
Black Happy Website
The Long Ear (Coeur d'Alene)
4000 Holes (Spokane)
Sonic Boom (Seattle)
Easy Street Records (Seattle)
Wall of Sound (Seattle)
Unofficial Fan Videos:
Shoveljerk: "Killing My Buzz"