A suitably unfussy tribute to a band that disdained even the slightest rock-star flash, “We Jam Econo” tells the story of the Minutemen, whose regrettably brief but brilliant career did much to expand punk’s parameters during the early 1980s. Solid effort is playing limited runs and single showings at venues across the U.S.; eventual DVD release should prove a must-have for music aficionados.
Guitarist/singer D. Boon and bassist Mike Watt were childhood friends in San Pedro, Calif., encouraged by Boon’s mother to learn instruments at home rather than get in trouble on the streets. Graduating from high school in 1976, the year of punk’s official birth, they acquired a drummer in classmate George Hurley. Interested from the start in pushing “our limits, ourselves, the scene,” they placed little value on hewing to hardcore punk orthodoxy in sound or image, angering early auds who considered them not punk enough.
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But their adventurous incorporation of spoken word, jazz, funk, prog-rock, cacophony, politicized haiku-like lyrics, et al. — all packed into songs that generally eschewed traditional verse-chorus structure and ran under one minute each — won over critics and listeners at a time when fellow college rockers like Husker Du, the Replacements and R.E.M. were likewise branching out from punk’s roots in new directions.
Released at the same time as (and as a good-natured challenge to) SST labelmate Husker Du’s two-disc “Zen Arcade,” the Minutemen’s 48-track 1984 “Double Nickels on the Dime” was a revelation for many. Unfortunately, their career was cut short late the next year, when Boon died in a car accident.
Told as a straightforward chronological history, helmer Tim Irwin’s first directorial feature intercuts generous performance footage, often encompassing whole songs, with excerpts from a front-lawn group interview done just after the Minutemen’s final tour, in which they opened for R.E.M. Talking-head commentaries are led off by Watt, who gives a driving tour of their old San Pedro haunts. Also included are musicians who preceded the Minutemen on the punk scene (Richard Hell, Wire’s Colin Newman) and those for whom they were a formative influence (Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye).
Short on fancy graphics or editorial gambits, pic flies by the band’s own low-tech, D.I.Y. aesthetic, as the title suggests. Quality of archival footage is variable, but package is otherwise pro.