Judge Bill Gibron didn't mind the heavy metal thunder created by Ice-T and the boyz on this concert DVD, but without the FBI warnings and Congressional hearings, the music has lost a little of its illicit wonder.
Turn it UP! Bring the noise!
What a difference a decade makes. When last we left Ice-T's death metal combo, Body Count, they were embroiled in the kind of social scandal that usually kills an artist's pop culture cred. After the release of their 1992 debut album, the media picked up on one of the band's most controversial songs, an ode to polishing off the police known as "Cop Killer." With a firestorm of protests poised to destroy the group—and even some FBI involvement—the tune was eventually pulled from the market and the band banished from all but the cult corner of the mainstream. Surprisingly, the group managed to record two more albums after that—1994's Born Dead and 1997's Violent Demise: Last Days. As you can guess, no one was really paying attention. Now, 14 years after the infamy and the outrage, Body Count is back, making the rounds on a well-received club tour. They're even performing their most infamous song as an encore!
For all intents and purposes, Body Count has always been Ice-T's baby. Though many might know him better from his appearances on TV (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and in films (New Jack City, 3,000 Miles to Graceland), Ice was one of the most intelligent and expressive artists in the West Coast push into gangsta rap. Some even consider him the father of the medium, though NWA were making their own unique noises around the same time. When he announced it, his move into heavy speed metal was seen as clever, since rap had been drawing on rock for many of its moves in the '90s. Others saw it as calculated, a way of getting white America to accept a black man. Yet Ice seemed content with the sturm und drang his fellas formulated, and before the publicity pushed them over the edge, the group was seen as much more than some major MC's minor missive.
Unlike the other Body Count concert DVD making the brick and mortar rounds currently (Smoke Out Festival Presents: Body Count), this disc represents a one-off show from last year in memory of fallen members D-Roc, Beastmaster V, and Mooseman. Said losses have left the original lineup decimated and destroyed. In essence, it's a whole new crew on stage with Ice (along with original lead guitarist Ernie-C), but there are no discernible differences. Part celebration, part preparation (the band has a new CD on the way, supposedly), this show is a smart yet aggressive slap in the face of the post-millennial malaise currently infecting the state of music. Body Count is back and the thunder is deafening. Over nearly 95 minutes of performance, we hear the following classic tracks:
• "Body Count's N tha House"—from the 1992 album
Since the Troubadour, the L.A. club where this concert takes place, is a small, intimate setting, the members of Body Count really get to interact with their fans. Amazingly, most are those aforementioned pumped-up white boys with close-cropped hair. The band, dressed like horror icons and prisoners, really plays up the urban nightmare angle. Race is not an issue here, just the music, and the song's sentiments can range from silly to sublime. Highlights include the ode to a psychotic penis ("Evil Dick"), the ultimate revenge against white supremacists ("KKK Bitch"), and a sing/speak story about prejudice and matricide ("Mama's Got 2 Die 2 Nite"). Some of the tunes seem like snippets of incomplete ideas ("Drive By," "Body MF Count") and a couple are just plain goofy ("Voodoo," "Bowels of the Devil"). The lyrics are what really stand out, though. While they can't be repeated here, let's just say that Ice channels his inner Richard Pryor to produce curse-laced love letters to wickedness, wantonness, and the natural cause of both—women.
Still, one has to wonder how accurate it is to call this a true Body Count experience. New members merely mimicking the old ones is a concept cloaked in novelty, not nostalgia, and anyone old enough to remember the group during its initial phase of infamy might feel slighted by this cobbled-together creation. Maybe Ice should change the band name, and call this latest incarnation Body Count 2.0, or Body Count Revisited. If all you care about is the main-man force behind the band, Mr. T still rules the roost, throwing his typical bravado all over the stage with his combination of surly swagger and infinite intelligence. The music is mock cock rock, a kind of weird amalgamation of rap beats, thrash guitar, and booty bumping bass. Songs can simmer like an old swamp boogie, or blast off like hardcore on amphetamines. Sure, there is some gimmickry in seeing five black men play metal, something Ice acknowledges several times in the show. But ethnicity is really unimportant in music, something that Body Count: Live in L.A. really shows. How a band of "brothers" can get together to make alienated white boys feel like head-banging heroes is one for the ages. While the tunes are less than timeless, Body Count's presence is classic.
It is hard to argue with the technical aspects of Escapi Music and Navarre's release of Body Count: Live in L.A. on DVD, especially since the discs sent to this writer to review appears to be non-final screeners. The visuals do look very good—the 1.33:1 full-screen image is a colorful, detailed dream. Captured on video and digitally transferred, the visuals are vibrant and alive. On the sound side, a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 offering keeps the chaos and cacophony in check. Though the back of the DVD case promises extra material, including a comprehensive interview with Ice-T, a backstage fan greeting with only other original member Ernie-C, and a photo gallery with highlights from the concert, none of this material was made available, so it's purely caveat emptor from an added features standpoint. The exclusive bonus CD was included and it's a nice representation of the concert. The sound quality here exceeds what is on the DVD and the inclusion of two new tracks makes it a valuable addition to the package.
Body Count may have lost several of its members, and its controversial luster, on the way to this commemorative show, but there is still some moxie in this metal musical force. What once was inflammatory is now borderline laughable and the horror references outnumber the nods to the 'hood by a significant margin. Taken for what it is, Body Count: Live in L.A. is a fun, fascinating exploration of a true rock-and-roll rarity. Here's hoping the true DVD does this one-time brazen band justice.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Bonus CD featuring two additional tracks
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