By Kyle Harcott
Toronto’s mighty Danko Jones, to coincide with their sweet-sixteenth anniversary of rocking ass and taking names ‘cross the globe, have released their first DVD, Bring On The Mountain – a de facto history of the band if you will, from their Mango Kid salad days as one of Hogtown’s most arrogant (though granted, with a live show like that, justifiably so) garage bands, all the way to circa now as they circumnavigate the globe as big-rock favorites on the international festival scene. And while Danko’s loudmouthed onstage persona seems to have tamed somewhat with age and experience, his band’s propensity for 120-per-cent, take-no-prisoners, kick-ass live rock and roll has only gotten fiercer.
But as much as Bring On The Mountain is a visual history of Danko Jones The Band, the film also subtly serves – unintentionally – as a kind of how-to primer for independent rock and rollers. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from watching this film (detached retinas are no joke!), so pay attention, up and coming rockers.
It’s a fascinating look into the lifetime-up-to-now of a sorely-underrated band, starting all the way back at Danko’s and bassist John ‘JC’ Calabrese’s entirely-relatable, mutually KISS- and Mötley Crue-obsessed childhoods. From there, tales of first guitars segue to the brotherhood bond between Jones and Calabrese, the two constants since Day One. We get to see the formation of Danko Jones The Onstage Persona, as well as the concept of Danko Jones The Band, taking shape in college-years footage of Jones’ early bands like Dapper Dan, Horshack, and the Violent Brothers – all of this illustrated by tons of great archival footage that has been packed into the film. Video ALL your early shit, fledgling bands, you never know when that footage is gonna come in handy.
From there the tale unfolds the long rise of the fiercely-independent trio, chronicling their beginnings as a band who shunned the idea of releasing recordings at first, wanting instead to make their bones through word-of-mouth as the best live band on the scene, through grueling cross-country touring. It’s also telling that when Danko Jones finally did decide to put out a record, they did it the smart way, biding their time for a deal with a record company that catered to THEM, and not the other way around. It’s here we also begin to hear the varied tales of lineup changes, drummers taking leave from the band every few years on a par with Spinal Tap; no spontaneous combustion here, though – just the age-old, time-and-again ‘creative differences’ story. And while some home-country recognition came with the release of the ‘Bounce’ single in 1999, Danko Jones went international when they put out Born A Lion in 2002, on Swedish label Bad Taste. And from here, the game really begins to change. We watch the band blow up from Canadian indie-rock darlings to big-Euro-rock-festival favorites; every moment lovingly curated here on the DVD, as you see the crowds grow larger and larger. We follow the band up to the recording of 2010’s Below The Belt, and on to the arrival of newest skinbasher Atom Willard in 2011, whose presence seems to bring a new solidification to the band.
Watching the film, as the band gets bigger and bigger over the years, with no signs of stopping this freight train, there’s the tendency to think it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys. Danko and JC come across as ultimately humble guys, endlessly enthusiastic and amazed at the fact that they are lucky enough to have day jobs that entail seeing a million faces, and rocking them all. That they get to do it alongside their own childhood heroes (touring with Motörhead or Guns ‘N Roses, sharing stages with the Rolling Stones) is still a wide-eyed honour for them. And certainly, down-to-earth humility is part of any band’s appeal. But it would be for nothing if they couldn’t back it up with serious riff-rock badassery. Which they always do.
The first disc also includes a short film the band made with the release of Below The Belt, starring the likes of Lemmy and Elijah Wood. Also included on the disc are extended versions of some of the live performances in the film. This is Danko Jones in their element, live onstage, doing what bands of their calibre do: slay. That continues on the second disc, which is made up of select live performances as well as all of the band’s music videos to date.
Bring On The Mountain is a great package, highly recommended to anyone who IS a Danko Jones fan, isn’t YET a Danko Jones fan, or any independent band that wants to learn how to do it right.
(Bad Taste Records)