DVD Review – Snow Patrol Live at Somerset House

Before things got quite so bad as they are now, bands used to put DVDs out.

Mostly these would feature a recording of a live performance. But sometimes they were collections of music videos, or even specially-made “behind the music” documentaries. The best music DVDs contained a combination of the above.

Each DVD is a time capsule of an era that was very similar to our own, but also profoundly different. This is the era just before the mass adoption of smartphones, and before social media made everyone and everything significantly worse.

Watch footage from this era and, even though people wear the same clothes and use broadly the same words, you may as well be watching footage recorded in the 70s. People just seem more attentive, less cautious and defeated, and more engaged with the world around them.

And the music was better too. Spotify is a miracle, but having immediate access to every song ever recorded robs music of a lot of its magic. Yet you watch these old DVDs, and you get the impression that the music means the world to the band and to the audience alike. It’s more than just background noise, to be heard but not necessarily listened to. It’s life itself.

Or maybe it only seems that way because at no point is anyone ever starting at a smartphone screen while life happens around them.

So these are relics from a time that certainly had its problems, but which feels like a more innocent era nonetheless. It’s a complete coincidence these music DVDs all happen to be from the era when I was in my late teens and early 20s.

Things will never be like this again. But these DVDs are a reminder that things were once like this. Which is something.

Also, it’s likely that most of these DVDs were released near Christmas, as stocking fillers. It’s nice to imagine people watching them in that cosy period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Perhaps some even did so bleary eyed on Boxing Day morning. And to think of that makes me bleary eyed, but in a different sort of way.

I’ve acquired quite a few of these music DVDs in recent years – and a nice collection of music VHS too! I already had a small number of my own, but my brother gave me loads more for Christmas in 2020, when I was desperately missing live music for obvious reasons.

I thought I’d review some of them, to take in the performances, to feel happy in the saddest possible way, and to drown in the poignancy. For as bittersweet as these are for me to view, I can’t imagine how the bands themselves would feel to reflect on that time when things felt so bright they were allowed to put a DVD out.

We’ll start with Snow Patrol’s 2004 DVD – Live at Somerset House; or Mums & Dads of the World Be Patient With Your Children. According to Wikipedia, this was first released on 23 November 2004. So it’s very likely that many people received this for Christmas, and it’s not impossible that many viewed it in that gloriously lazy stretch of time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Sigh.

WHAT YOU GET

  • Live at Somerset House – a recording of their 8 August 2004 show at London’s Somerset House.
  • Japanese Tour Diary – a 13 minute film!
  • US Tour Footage – 7 minutes of it!
  • 4-Play “Home” – a 10 minute mini documentary shown on Channel 4’s music programme in which the band returns to Belfast.
  • Three music videos and a live cover of The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks recorded in Japan

Live at Somerset House

It’s a hot summer’s night in London, and Snow Patrol are playing an outdoor show at Somerset House as part of their Final Straw tour – which for the band, probably felt like a victory lap.

Unsurprisingly, songs from Final Straw dominate the set. We get 10 songs from that album, three from When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, and one b-side.

And we also get a song from The Reindeer Section.

“Everywhere I go,” says Gary Lightbody, “people always ask me – what about The Reindeer Section?”

I wonder when he was last asked about that side project, and if he misses the days in which people took an interest in his music beyond his two biggest songs?

They start off strong, with their best song, no less. Wow – an aptly named crunchy emotional rush of a song.

But immediately it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right. The footage seems a bit jittery. And then you realise, to your horror, that director Dick Carruthers is trying to “spice things up” with some “clever editing techniques.”

Oh, Dick. I know Snow Patrol aren’t the most visually engaging band you’ve ever worked with. But you must have known that, nearly 20 years after you made this film, someone would be desperately clinging to your footage in the hope that they might recapture something they can’t themselves define? Your heavy use of slow motion and jump cuts isn’t helping.

One Night is Not Enough, from their second album, is the sort of song that could only have been recorded by a group of sensitive British men in the early years of this millennium. There are many shots of the crowd in this live film. During the intro to this song, the camera lingers on a man wearing a 2003-vintage British Sea Power t-shirt, who seems very excited to hear this “old one”. It’s the most 2004 moment in the whole thing.

Eventually the stage becomes crowded as the band’s augmented by a mid-size string section, who are there to give the more grandiose tracks from Final Straw that little bit more texture and gravity. So you know it’s coming – it’s time for RUN! And it’s huge, and beautiful. The crowd loves it. The band loves it. You can tell they’re thinking, “we made it, lads!” And yes, they have indeed.

And things would only get bigger and bigger from this point. Did things get too big? Do they miss these days, when things were a bit quieter, a bit more intimate, and a lot messier? Is it really better today, when the shows are bigger and more lucrative but most people are only there for the two songs they know?

No. Reading a comparatively recent interview with Gary Lightbody (who comes across as a bloody decent sort), he seems humbled by his success. And it seems his success nearly killed him, too, but that’s a different story.

“I still have a really deep relationship to that song,” he says. “The way it unifies an audience is the thing I most cherish about it. It’s a beautiful moment every time you play it.”

He’s talking about Chasing Cars there, their other massive song. But presumably he feels the same about Run. So if he were to rewatch Live at Somerset House today, after marvelling at just how young he looks, I’m sure he’d feel pretty good. He’d probably view this as THE moment he and his band finally said goodbye forever to the toilet circuit.

During the encore, we actually get a stage invasion. A small one, yes, but still. Energy! Engagement! Spontaneity! And the first stage invader attempts a stage dive. With an impressive bound he clears the barriers, only for the crowd to part around him to allow him to crash to the floor.

Gary asks after him when they finish playing, but I don’t think we see him again. I wonder where he is today? Is he alright, and is he still able to walk and procreate?

The whole thing’s over in less than an hour, which feels a bit odd. I’ve checked the setlist from the night and they’ve left nothing out. They really did play for just 55 minutes during the long-awaited Somerset House stop of the triumphant Final Straw tour. They had enough material for a full-length show, so what gives?

But this just means that they don’t outstay their welcome. They came, they saw, and they conquered. And by “conquered”, I of course mean they played a decent set of emotional indie rock to a perfectly polite crowd.

For the life of me I can’t find any information about who supported the group at this show. This show was followed by a run of festival slots, and preceded by a tour of Australia with Keane. But I doubt Keane joined them at Somerset House.

I hardly ever get any comments on this blog (or, indeed, readers) – but it would be great if someone could enlighten me.

THE EXTRAS

The 13 minute Japanese Tour Diary‘s a bit of fun, though if you’ve seen any of these music DVD extras before, you know exactly what to expect: Shots of motorways, airports, and public transport; live footage of the band, and nervewracking footage of them preparing to take to the stage; interviews with the group filmed on tourbuses, round swimming pools, and in kitchens, canteens, and other liminal places. And this being a Japanese tour diary, we also get footage of the band visiting temples and shopping for toys!

Given how happy their music makes me, it pains me to admit this. But Snow Patrol simply aren’t a very interesting bunch of lads. They seem nice enough! But nice boys being nice abroad doesn’t make for a very compelling tour diary.

It does make me really want to visit Japan, though.

The 7 minute US Tour Film is a scrappier production. We get some great footage of the band playing acoustically in a record store, and playing Wow, no less! It’s fun to pause the video at this point to play “let’s identify the posters and album covers.” It’s one of my favourite games.

There’s more horseplay in this video than the Japanese one. The lads brawl in the back of their tour bus (while listening to LFO on vinyl, by the looks of things!), and they cavort with their clothes on in a fountain. One of the boys memorises a public information announcement, and mouths along to the recording. What happens on the road stays on the road, and all that.

4-Play Home is pretty nice, as it shows the group returning home to Belfast. They visit the homes they grew up in, they go to the pub, and we hear some locals share their memories of the boys. For some reason they also go out of their way to film bleak stretches of wasteland and dockland. Are they trying to suggest that they’ve escaped from all this? Because you’ll find dreariness everywhere if you look for it, guys.

Beyond this you get a couple of music videos – including the “Yellow if it were red, and at night” video for Run. It’s worth remembering that, before we had YouTube, we couldn’t just watch whatever video we wanted whenever we wanted to. We’d have to wait for them to come on TV, or we’d play them on Windows Media Player or Quicktime via “special bonus enhanced CDs”.

OK, some things are better now.

THE VERDICT

Would recommend if you’re a fan of Snow Patrol in particular, or early noughties British indie rock in general.

Would make a great stocking filler for the sad 30-something in your life!

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