Judge Adam Arseneau doesn't believe the hype.
Public Enemy #1.
As one of the most influential and instantly recognizable rap groups of the late 1980s, Public Enemy broke into the mainstream of North American culture like a furious storm. Politically minded, socially conscious, and mad as hell, Chuck D resonated through the landscape with his baritone drawl, with the interjected nasally howls of his clock-wearing hype man Flavor Flav even landing prime musical real estate in Spike Lee's masterpiece Do the Right Thing with "Fight The Power."
Hell, I still remember being nine years old and listening to "Don't Believe the Hype" over and over, memorizing the lyrics into my consciousness—lyrics which I can still recite from memory today with frightening accuracy. Sure, I may have been middle-class, white, and completely lacking any idea who this Farrakhan guy was, but I knew for a fact that I wasn't a sucka. Some things you never forget.
Later years have been less kind to this groundbreaking musical group. A few mediocre albums, some drug problems, some anti-Semetic remarks by Professor Griff, and an unceremonious dumping from their major label after feuding over free MP3s distribution to fans have taken their toll on the band's influence in the musical landscape of rap. Still, a band like Public Enemy, you couldn't keep down if you tried.
Recorded in Manchester, U.K., in support of their 2002 album Revolverlution, Public Enemy: Revolverlution Tour is the band's 49th tour, a fairly sizable achievement in of itself. Expanding their live act with a live drummer, a guitarist, and a bassist, Public Enemy: Revolverlution Tour 2003 Manchester features a fairly sizable playlist:
• "Brothers Gonna Work It Out"
The set is a solid mix of classic material and new tracks, the live band giving the older songs a revitalized and updated feeling, blending old classics seamlessly into the updated sound of the modern Public Enemy. The live guitar gives the band flexibility to mix and mash musical genres at will, sliding effortlessly from thrash metal to blues to P-funk. Watching "Fight the Power" transformed into a fast-paced blues riff is worth the price of admission alone.
As for the new material, Public Enemy has evolved from the dense, sample-based complexity of the Bomb Squad into stripped-down, groove-influenced rap, with Rage Against The Machine-style crunch guitar riffs and mid-tempo pounding drum beats. Ironically, much of the band's new material has taken on a sound often reminiscent of their 1991 remix collaboration with thrash purveyors Anthrax on "Bring the Noise," which is great if you don't mind that heavy sound. Still, for purists, it is a far distance from the obscure sample-and-siren Bomb Squad-era Public Enemy that put the band on the map.
Public Enemy might have modernized their live show somewhat, but they remain as politically poignant as ever before. Warning the United Kingdom not to become the "51st state" under George W. Bush, Chuck D is as scathing towards the powers that be as ever. There is nothing quite like seeing thousands of hyped-up teens screaming "@#$% George Bush! @#$% Tony Blair!" at the top of their lungs to pounding guitars and drums. With songs deriding the media and the government, and promoting freedom and equality for blacks, Public Enemy is, for all the posturing, still one of the few true rap groups that have stayed true to their own politics and never compromised their ideals or fallen into a stereotypical "gangsta" rap role.
The performance as a whole is quite entertaining, if fairly uneventful. Chuck D hits the stage like a furious storm, whipping the sea of mostly white teenagers into a bouncing froth, going song after song with no pauses. Besides bobbing up and down on stage, the concert itself is fairly routine, the action framed by the ever-watchful and coordinated presence of the S1W's, Professor Griff's black militant security entourage. Flavor Flav, the most stylish hype man ever, does his thing, though his voice sounds awfully hoarse and thin compared to yesteryear. As for the turntables, with Terminator X retired to ostrich-farming a few years back (yes, you read that right), competition turntablist DJ LORD has taken over as Public Enemy's new DJ. Simply put, he's a mean mother. Jawdropping in his solo abilities with a heavy drum-and-bass influence to his sound, he gets a track or two to scratch up a storm. Talk about a showboat; the dude uses his chin to scratch.
As concert DVDs go, the production values on Revolverlution Tour 2003 Manchester are solid, but fairly unremarkable. Shot in a dimly-lit club with a few cameras alternating between crowd and stage, this is pretty standard fare; nothing remarkable about the lighting, set, or uniform gyrations and bounces of Public Enemy. The transfer is anamorphic, saturated in purples and blues with average black levels. The transfer holds up under low light fairly well, with some grain, softness, and haze apparent. This is not the best concert DVD you will ever see, but for one shot in a dimly-lit club, it is decent.
We get two flavors of audio, a tinny, treble-ridden 2.0 track that sounds unnatural and hollow, and a more low-end heavy, well-rounded 5.1 surround track. The dialogue is mixed low but always audible, with solid bass response. I found the rear channels cut in and out on occasion, which suggests a poor surround mix, but the overall fidelity of the recording is pleasing for a club show.
In terms of extras, we get a ten-minute montage of video clips from the "It Takes a Nation …" era formatted in PETV, Public Enemy Television format, a hodge-podge of videos and humorous skits chronicling the band's prolific history, which is a great trip down memory lane for old fans like me. A second DVD contains a 20-minute video tour diary from the 2003 tour throughout Brazil, and 50 minutes of footage from "DrewTV" featuring Public Enemy. This one is a gem, featuring established rap icons like Ice T talking about the influence of Public Enemy, Flavor Flav terrorizing airline stewards to make him drinks, Chuck D riding a camel in Egypt, and footage from an amazing vintage performance from 1988 with Public Enemy, the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, and Jesse Jackson running for president. The quality is pretty bad, but the footage is so amazing, I could care less. Where the hell did they dig this stuff up? Amazing!
The biggest problem with this DVD is that much of the set is devoted to "alternate" Public Enemy-related music projects. Flavor Flav performs a few solo songs towards to the end of the set, followed by Professor Griff and his thrash styling solo group 7th Octave. Self-described "ghetto metal," it reminds me of heavier Fishbone, but nowhere near as entertaining or enjoyable. This padded set list makes a third of the set is entirely disposable, and unless my ears deceive me, lip-synched. Yeah, you heard me. It sounds like Flavor Flav is simply rapping over album cuts from his songs, speaking atop his own dialogue.
If you can handle a bit of material deviation in the set and some mediocre material, Public Enemy: Revolverlution Tour 2003 Manchester is a solid live offering from a seminal rap group still tearing it up almost two decades later. Nothing spectacular, but for a fan like me, this one is a keeper.
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