It started in 1995. A little known ska eightpiece ska band named Five Iron Frenzy got signed to Frank Tate's 5 Minute Walk Records and released their debut album, Upbeats & Beatdowns. Between then and 2004, Five Iron released nine albums (including two live projects and one EP), never leaving that label, and only seeing one band member replacement. Despite staying with the very small independent Christian label, Five Iron's fanbase grew tremendously, Christian and non-Christian fans alike from all over the world, culminating in a sold-out performance at the world-famous Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado, for their farewell show in November of 2003. Since then, fans have heard from members of Five Iron with bands like brave Saint Saturn, Roper, Hearts of Palm, Yellow Second and the Hollyfelds, but not as the ska octet. But in March 2010, after several years of rumors on the FIF message boards (which are notorious for FIF rumors), fans finally get their hands on the full-length documentary DVD, The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy.
One thing that's really cool about the DVD set is that Five Iron could've only given us just one disc with some music videos and footage from a couple of shows and called it good (after all, they are all leading normal time-consuming lives now). But because they love their fans so much, they spent countless hours rounding up years and years worth of footage and photos, as well as filming hours of interview segments that talk about the band's nine years together and more. And that's just disc one.
The first disc is the feature presentation, "The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy." It totals three hours and fifteen minutes and spans the band's entire career. It features interviews all throughout from all of Five Iron's bandmembers, including their original guitarist Scott Kerr, but excluding Reese Roper, who is actually the man behind the camera, as well as the documentary's narrator. They also talk with the band's longtime producer, Masaki Liu, the founder of the Denver-based church, Scum of the Earth, and even Justin McRoberts. It's a very impressive presentation, as it goes more in-depth than any other band biography I've ever seen. It's divided into eleven chapters, the first of which ("Prologue") starts off with Reese and Keith in their pre-Five Iron band, a heavy metal band called Exhumator. It may be hard to picture them in a metal band (maybe thinking it was a joke band), but it's the real thing. They managed to find footage of a couple small shows Exhumator played, and even footage of a recording session. It was interesting to see their very early days (including Reese's ridiculously long and colored hair), to see how they went from a metal band to a ska/punk band and how they eventually got a recording contract. The rest of the chapters are labeled by year (for instance, one chapter is titled "1995, Year One"). I learned so much about the band that I didn't know before, like how they were approached by two other record labels prior to their signing with 5 Minute Walk (both of which kinda stiffed them by never sending out the actual contracts to sign), and how 5MW literally took a chance by signing Five Iron, having never heard them when the band got in contact with them. They also were partly responsible for Switchfoot increasing in popularity, as Five Iron let them play a short set right in the middle of their set - at Cornerstone for that matter.
As we explore the history of Five Iron Frenzy on disc one, we also get a chance to see into the hearts of the bandmembers as they talk about what God has done for them and also what trials they had faced as a part of Five Iron. They had the typical problems that most touring bands face, such as getting sick on the road, running out of money and sleeping wherever and whenever they actually get a chance (such as on park benches just off some highway in the middle of nowhere). But they also went through a lot of personal struggles. It was hard to watch one particular part, that the DVD labeled as the worst month they can remember on tour, where - in just the one month - they witnessed two catastrophic car accidents, had a fiancee of a bandmember leave without explanation and had a sister trapped inside Columbine High School the day of the terrible shootings. There were so many tests and temptations that each of the band member's went through. But it was really touching to see and hear that they were still in it to serve Jesus. And you can really tell that, despite all the silliness, random sounds and poop jokes, Five Iron Frenzy was 100% in it to show people that Jesus Christ is Lord. They were there to have fun, too, but in the end it was all for ministry purposes. It was really encouraging to watch that. I also really enjoyed the ending, as they wrapped it up the way Five Iron always wraps things up, with "Every New Day." They talk a little about the song and what it means to them, and proclaim once and for all that "only You can make every new day seem so new."
The second disc is a drink coaster.
But it also contains all kinds of goodies that fans will cherish and probably watch over and over again. There are twelve short films, recorded between 1996 and 2001, that are probably mostly stuff that only actual Five Iron Frenzy fans may enjoy, and then some stuff that even their fans may have a hard time enjoying. It's mostly just random humor that's not too far off from what you would come to expect from Reese and gang. Some of them are boring or obnoxious, such as "The Bowel Witch Project" and "Elfie Time" (though the latter of the two did make me chuckle here and there), but I did get some pretty good laughs from "Fear and Loathing in Denver," "Rolling Papers," "When Keith Almost Died," "A Long Road in Germany," and "Tea Party," which features Matt Thiessen from Relient K. Under the Extras section, there isn't really anything that great, but is great for fans, as it is more fan-focused. "Five Iron's Funniest Moments" has a few clips from disc one, but is mostly stuff not shown yet. It's only five or six minutes long, and doesn't really get any big laughs. There's a commercial for why Five Iron didn't play Creation Festival 2001, and two fan-made music videos, one for the four-second "When I Go Out," and one for "Superpowers." The "Superpowers" video seemed like the fans who made it didn't really get the concept of the song, but it wasn't bad for some kids with basic editing skills. And it was really cool of the band to include it on a DVD for thousands of people to watch.
Those who have seen the band in concert before will appreciate the live footage section, particularly if you've been to one of the three shows included: Cornerstone 1999, Cornerstone 2002 and their grand finale concert. Of course, Cornerstone 1999's audio is what became known as Proof That The Youth Are Revolting, and their final concert is the live portion of the 2-disc album The End Is Here. It's one thing to hear the music and rantings of the live shows, but it's awesome to see it all and the crazy antics Five Iron was known for, such as their '80s glam metal outfits for the 1999 show and Reese coming onstage dressed as Elvis for the 2002 show, not to mention an unexpected appearance from a certain hip hop artist who joined them onstage to skank for an entire song. Another little treat for the 2002 show is that in the credits, we get a little taste of either a live or demo version of the song "Wizard Needs Food, Badly." It's only a short sample, but it's a nice little tidbit. Then when you watch the footage from their last concert, you can't help but gain even more of an appreciation for their producer, Masaki Liu. He couldn't fit the show in its entirety onto the The End Is Here disc, so he had to do some fancy editing to the disc to remove enough to make it less than eighty minutes, and he managed to make it completely seamless in the sound. There was even more in the medley than what we hear on the album. Five Iron was lucky to have such an amazing producer. Gushing over Masaki aside, it's so cool of the band to include this footage, which by itself is about two hours long (for the final show). The end is even more emotional on this DVD than the album when Reese speaks to the crowd before performing "Every New Day" for the last time. It's amazing to realize that the peace of God could keep a room full of thousands of people held in silent reverence. And I defy you not to cry during the worship that occurs after "Every New Day" is over.
There were two things that caught me off-guard while watching the two discs. One was in the documentary, where there are several swear words (or otherwise offensive words) used. From what I can remember, there were two "p*ss," two a-words and one f-word, all of which are edited out. All of them except one was used by the former band members who have mentioned that they've walked away from God. There's also some of the on-the-road footage in the documentary where someone says "retard" several times, used in a way that is sure to offend someone (myself, for instance). The second disc contains some less explicit stuff, but stuff some viewers might find distasteful, such as poop jokes and butt-grabbing. But then, in "Five Iron's Funniest Moments," the viewers sees a quick glance at someone's butt as he's sticking something in it. It could've easily been left out and most people would probably be completely fine with that. Other than these things, the rest is clean and light-hearted.
For those who have been waiting years upon years for this DVD, but for some reason haven't seen it yet, it definitely lives up to the expectations and the hype. It's not without its flaws, but in all honesty, they're minor and infrequent. Make sure you have a good ten hours or so to kill if you want to get everything in all at once, as it's completely jam-packed with just about everything they could've given us. It's also great for new fans, as well as late-blooming Five Iron fans (such as myself, who became an actual fan in about 2002). Hit up Asian Man Records' website and order yourself a copy and take an in-depth look at the silliness, upbeat tunes and the heart of one of the greatest bands to have ever taken the stage.
- Review date: 4/22/10, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com