Rock Docs Preview – America’s Lost Band

By Erik Taros

remains-200Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones predicted that rock and roll might travel a similar path to the blues. The purest form of the genre could well become the domain of artists in their 60’s performing the music of their youth to a new generation. America’s Lost Band, a new documentary playing at film festivals around the country, is a perfect example of his theory. It’s the story of The Remains, the legendary Boston band who vanished on the doorstep of stardom back in 1966 leaving a handful of classic records and scores of eternal fans in its wake.

Producer Fred Cantor was one of those believers driven to spread the word, initially via his 2004 biographical musical All Good Things. Teaming with director Michael Stich, the pair follow the reformed band (comprised of all four original members) as they return to the scene of one of their greatest achievements: opening the show for The Beatles at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The bulk of America’s Lost Band centers on two days The Remains spent in LA, playing their first gigs there after a forty year absence. Well crafted concert footage interspersed with a fly-on-the-wall vantage point of group interactions are the order of the day—the filmmaker’s style is to let the music and the artists tell the story with as little intervention as possible. In the process, the opportunity to answer the question of “why did they break up?” in greater detail is missed.

So who are The Remains? Front man Barry Tashian on guitar, Vern Miller on bass, Bill Briggs on keyboards with drums by Chip Damiani. Amongst other things, they are the only completely intact garage rock band from the mid-sixties that I can think of. The group formed in the fall of 1964, inspired by The Beatles’ ground breaking appearance on The Ed Sullivan TV Show the previous February. From a common room at Boston University they quickly graduated to a residency at the dear, departed “Rat” in Kenmore Square, signed a contract with Epic Records, and found themselves on the very same Ed Sullivan Show less than two years after The Beatles’ debut! A clip of that performance is included in the film, validating the historical view that The Remains were a ferocious live act.

America’s Lost Band feels like two films; the first dizzying twenty minutes are a montage of archival stills, memorabilia and news footage which whip by at a frantic pace. It serves as more of a preface than a comprehensive history, intended to convey the blur of The Remains rocket ride from obscurity to gigging with the biggest band in history. The last two thirds portray the contemporary group in a far more relaxed style. We see the attention paid to their craft, working out song arrangements at LA’s Mint Club, we get a live performance of (in my opinion) their greatest single “Don’t Look Back” from an Amoeba Records in-store, and then a delightful segment getting to know the guys as they cruise the streets of LA in fin-fabulous vintage Cadillac. A trip to Guitar Center, used largely as an investigation into the technical side of The Remains’ sound, drags a little. However, the footage from their set at Safari Sam’s restores the pace and the focus of the film—and we get the best seat in the house to boot.

In an interview segment with Sirius Radio, a beaming Barry Tashian proclaims that they’re not back for big time success, only to play their authentic brand of music. While I would like to have learned more about how things unraveled on the eve of The Beatles’ 66 tour, more about drummer N.D. Smart who served as a last minute replacement when Chip Damiani had decided against supporting The Beatles, these are minor criticisms. The complete lack of bitterness and genuine affection the band have for each other is refreshing, and if the stated goal of Cantor and Stich was preserve a special moment from a sinfully under appreciated band, they’ve succeeded with flying colors.

Peter Wolf, himself a Boston rock legend, introduced them at a reunion gig by recalling “When you’re sitting backstage at The Boston Garden with Bruce Springsteen, all he wants to know about is The Remains!” If you have any interest in the history of rock and roll, you’ll want to know about them too, making America’s Lost Band essential viewing.

America’s Lost Band will be showing at the following upcoming film festivals: April 28, at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans; May 17 at the BeatlesFest at the Regent Theatre, Arlington, MA; and in July–tentative date July 16–at the Don’t Knock the Rock Festival in Los Angeles.

Check out this trailer for the film: