The conceit is simple enough. Round up three generations of famous rock guitarists, use home movies, visits to their old stomping grounds and concert footage to tell their stories, then put them in a room together to see what happens. It Might Get Loud? Good guess.
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) talked Led Zeppelin's legendary Jimmy Page, The Edge from U2 and Jack White from The White Stripes and The Raconteurs into plugging in and cranking it up for a film that's as whimsical as it is musical.
You get the impression watching this that the players recommended one another for this session — Page, the ground-breaker who all but invented the label "rock guitar god"; The Edge, famed for taking thin chord progressions and, through effects and creating a "sonic architecture" (Page's words) of ringing and chiming, make you marvel at how big a sound U2 has on stage.
White's the iffy addition here but a pleasant surprise. Yeah, he's a poseur, with his pork-pie hat and ties, blues pretensions and love of ratty, department-store guitars. But when he pulls an electric yowl out of some wire, a Coke bottle, a spark-plug wrench, nails and a 2-by-4 that he has pieced together in a farm shed, you figure out why he fits here. He's the purist, pulling the sound back to its origins and away from the synthetic. "Pick a fight with it" is his relationship to guitars.
Startling footage of a teenage Page, pre-rock, already becoming known as a guitarist on local TV, of U2 making really awful pop as teens and of White's play-till-it-bleeds ethos gives the film its heft. The concert footage gives it context. A nice moment? The Edge visits the Irish school where his band first played. "Bono was here and Larry (the drummer) was back there, naturally," he says. "I was standing on that side." He pauses and realizes, "That's been my side ever since."
Rock fans and guitar heroes in the making will get a charge out of visiting where the happy accidents that put guitars into each man's hand happened. And the playing isn't bad, either. Loud. But good.