Great Plains
Directions to the Party
Old 3C

The Great Plains are a band probably forever destined to reside on the furthest periphery of infamy. An idiosyncratic combination of literary and historical lyrical double entendres with a whirligig of punk and sock-hop rock has ensured that they remain an acquired taste for the past, present and foreseeable future. Even for the cadre of fans that put Ron House on a pedestal, the Great Plains are something of a fetish item. Which is a shame, because a world where the Great Plains were a household name would be a world where the Todd Akins of the world don’t get elected to office.

The Great Plains existed from 1981 to 1989, releasing a handful of records during that time, each expanding the band’s prowess as it expanded its repertoire. House, Matt (guitar) and Mark Wyatt (keyboard) and Paul Nini, one of the Columbus band’s several bassists, have gotten back together sporadically over the years, but it’s usually been just for one-off hometown gigs. Nini, who runs the Old 3C label, has been the band’s de facto archivist, releasing the indispensable compilation Length of Growth some years back. Now, he’s put together a compendium of video footage on DVD, Directions to the Party.

The bulk of Directions to the Party is comprised of three shows, an appearance on public access television from 1983, a gig at Columbus’ weekend music festival, Comfest, from 1987, and one of the band’s reunions opening for Big Dipper at Brooklyn’s Southpaw in 2008. The TV footage is the most enjoyable for a number of reasons. First (literally) is the introductory rant from Tim Anstaett, who in hawking his Offense fanzine and newsletter (one of the primary inspirations for The Agit Reader) forgets to introduce the band. Of all the material, this footage is the highest quality in terms of video and audio, but the band’s performance ain’t bad either, natch. With Hank O’Hare (a.k.a. Don Howland) on bass and Dave Green on drums, they deliver spirited takes of “The Night Won’t Live to See the Day” and “The Way She Runs a Fever,” with House hamming it up and looking fierce for the camera.

The video of the Plains at Comfest was obviously shot on the kind of VHS camcorder that had become popular by that time, as the visuals are harsh in their lighting and color and the sound is similarly shrill. Nevertheless, that does little to diminish the versions of “Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Drinking” and “Serpent Mound.” In contrast, the Southpaw footage shows the flaws of today’s digital video, with this material being splotchy and dark. Still, we get a full Great Plains set that spans their output and includes catalog highlights like “Dick Clark” and “Letter to a Fanzine.”

Relegated to “Extras” (probably because the quality isn’t on par with the other material) are two more shows: one recorded at legendary Columbus club Stache’s in 1985 and the other from a benefit gig in the parking lot of a local watering hole from 2008. The Stache’s show is grainy and blurry at times, but still conveys House’s charisma as a frontman. In the parking lot footage, heads (including that of a 25 years older Tim Anstaett) partially block the view, but not so much as to obscure the band’s fevered playing.

There’s many revelations to be had here, but the biggest is just that this kind of footage of the band in its prime even exists. It’s fortunate for all that it has been preserved and now released. The DVD itself seems more DVR than something professionally manufactured and mine froze up several times during playback so hopefully Old 3C can do a better repressing after securing some funds from the initial release. Otherwise, I don’t care if you know who the Great Plains are or not, this is a must-have.
Stephen Slaybaugh