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1, 2, 3, ... and we're live!

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January 29, 2008

The Ramones (above), according to their official history, played 2,263 shows. "It's Alive 1974-1996" (Rhino Home Video) lets you see approximately 1.46 percent of them, at least in part. The new double-DVD collection offers a generous sampling of concert and television appearances, and with the sheer number of songs, it can be exhausting when taken in a single sitting.

Viewed bit by bit, though, the career-survey nature of the collection is exhilarating, showing how the pieces gradually fell into place until the band roared like a chainsaw at the monster 1977 New Year's Eve show in London that resulted in the "It's Alive" album. But even that gig (the last one here with original drummer Tommy) is nearly eclipsed by a devastatingly sharp performance on German television nine months later.

A few choice bits of strangeness arise, including the band lip-synching "Baby I Love You" incredibly awkwardly on "Top of the Pops," daytime gigs at the San Francisco Civic Center, and the 1982 US Festival (rare glimpses of the Ramones in natural light), and a mondo bizarro "Sha Na Na" clip featuring a "Family Feud"-style competition with the titular greasers, who coax the brudders into playing "Rock 'N' Roll High School."

Eventually, the Ramones started going through the motions; you can tell when guitarist Johnny, with his razorblade face, isn't happy, because he looks bored instead of angry. Even so, "It's Alive" is a testament to the Ramones' decades-long commitment to blazing live performances and, in Joey and Johnny, two of the worst haircuts in rock 'n' roll history.

[Marc Hirsh]

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