It’s impossible to disagree that there is no greater document of the excesses of heavy metal than This Is Spinal Tap, but after watching Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back, the Quiet Riot documentary from a few years back, the legendary mockumentary might have met its match. Sure, hair hetal was always intended to be the comic book equivalent of actual metal, with the heroes in literal spandex and neon makeup, but Quiet Riot, as explained here, somehow manage to transcend every insane thing you would have ever expected from a band that was already teetering on that edge of comprehensibility. Far and away this is not the best documentary to spend your time with, but it’s definitely one of the most unapologetically bonkers.
Mainly known for their cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel the Noize,” “Bang Your Head (Metal Health),” and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," the actual history of Quiet Riot is surprisingly much more interesting than you’d expect, even if you’re going in with high expectations. Their current incarnation contains none of the original members, and they’ve called it quits no less than four times since their incarnation only to regroup for some festival or other. As they are now, they’re a complete mess, driven onwards by their drummer, Frankie Banali, who (crassly?) keeps coming back for more in the name of original lead singer Kevin DuBrow who passed away from an overdose in 2007. DuBrow looms large throughout the film; with his outsized personality and goofy sense of humor, he was the Lennon to Banali’s more subdued McCartney, to stretch that comparison possibly past its breaking point.
Directed by Regina Russell, the structure of the film is all over the damn place, but a somewhat fractured presentation of the group's history is to be expected since we’re talking about a band that has left two dozen previous musicians in its wake. There’s a frontloading of basic band history, putting Quiet Riot in LA with all the movers and shakers of the sunset strip scene. They were right there in the middle of the boom time of relatively toothless pop metal, and they rode that wave for all it was worth, with apparently hours of grainy films of topless groupies to prove it. Then, with the passing of DuBrow in 2007, things take a turn and bring us up to speed on where Quiet Riot and company are presently. After taking a couple of years off, Banali decides to get a band together, and the second half of the film follows the group as they hold open auditions for a new lead singer and then hit the road which is when things crank up to eleven and hit a whole new level of surreal.
We’ve already looked at a documentary like this before: Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, where Journey replaced Steve “The Voice” Perry with an unknown Filipino singer named Arnel Pineda. For them, things went really well and Pineda is still manning the mic night in and night out, but for Quiet Riot they bet on a dud. Their guy, Mark Huff, who formerly fronted a Van Halen tribute band, would routinely forget lyrics to songs and lose his place in the setlist, but was given more than a couple of shots to get it together. There’s some really awkward footage of Banali absolutely laying into Huff after a botched set, as well as a lingering shot of Huff sitting in apparent shame for letting everyone down that just hurts to see even if the guy totally deserved it. By the end of the movie, Quiet Riot has burned through three more lead singers and finally settled on a guy named, I shit you not, Jizzy Pearl, who was himself replaced earlier this year.
Between the low-rent gigs, the technical malfunctions, and the rotating cast of musicians, the Parallels between Quiet Riot and Spinal Tap are not sparse, but while Spinal Tap has a fair amount of emotional distance baked into how it presents the goofiness of its characters, Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back takes sincere pains to show what it can of a band with a beating heart. Over the course of filming, Banali’s eyes well up with tears more than once and even his outburst at Huff seems to come from a place of having brought shame to the spirit of DuBrow, whose death he was still clearly processing. For all the laughable moments, it’s this emotional core that, almost imperceptibly, keeps the film on an even keel.