Public Enemy

It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion Tour 1987

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Look at that date on the cover: 1987. If you could pick one year from which you could see a Public Enemy concert, wouldn't it be 1987? It's the year the group exploded onto the scene with a bona fide classic debut album and a manipulative attitude toward the media, the likes of which had never been seen before in hip-hop. As evidenced by the backstage cutaways sprinkled throughout the concert, journalists were extra anxious to shove their microphone in Public Enemy's face. And the fans? With fists in the air and clocks around their necks, they were building into the "nation" Chuck D spoke of frequently. It was a fascinating, exciting, revolutionary time for rap. The CD/DVD combo It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion Tour 1987 gives the curious and nostalgic a chance to relive it all, but one thing keeps it from being a "you are there!" affair. The video quality of the concert is just a shade above N.Y.C. street vendor standards, looking like a VHS recorded at the six-hour speed and then retrieved from the attic 18 years later. It's hardly unwatchable, but colors bleed and the sound often peaks the meters. But the performance is a fantastic in-your-face explosion. Watching Chuck D go from tentative -- it was his first show in front of a U.K. audience -- to dominating is riveting. Flavor Flav anxiously paces the stage and riles the crowd into a frenzy while DJ Terminator X comes off as a mad scientist, twiddling the knobs while there's a riot going on. Above it all is the massive difference between just listening to Public Enemy and seeing them. The infamous Professor Griff and the S-1Ws were just stern guys whose images appeared on album covers and flashed by in jittery videos, but in concert they were vital pieces of the puzzle, emphasizing Black Panther history and balancing the madness of Flavor Flav. The intense screaming of the audience probably covered it up nicely in the venue, but when you realize the "live" "Bring the Noise" relies mostly on a backing tape -- vocals included -- it's one part "what the?" and one part "aw, come on!" The bonuses are plentiful and very necessary for the hardcore. Chuck D's audio commentary is informative, enjoyable, and filled with trivia that fans will eat up. Rare photographs and a live 2003 clip from Australia are both desirable additions, but the bonus CD is killer, with remixes of classic PE tracks by the likes of DJ Spooky and 23 Skidoo. The video quality of the main concert and the occasional over-reliance on backing tapes makes this package hard to recommend to everyone, but those a shade above curious should put this time capsule -- warts and all -- near the top of their list.

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