Wether surrounded by controversy or jubilation, Public Enemy rose-up through the late '80s carrying a banner that displayed a bold, even confrontational message about the state of racial and political issues in America, along with observations of many other elements of modern society. Not only this, but they also built upon the basic groundwork of hip-hop, lain by founders such as James Brown and groups like The SugarHill Gang, and helped in creating the biggest genre explosion in music since rock'n'roll.
Despite the group's recently sparse release tally, rappin' sidekick Flava Flav's past legal problems and their apparent hiatus since 1999's There's a Poison Goin' On, Public Enemy are clearly still sticking by their metaphorical 'guns' when it comes to the message in their music, even if the attack has become somewhat diluted.
Recorded as part of the US Poison Tour, this gig finds Public Enemy performing at the rather odd choice of The House of Blues (something like the equivalent of them performing inside a high profile venue like the Crown Casino). Still, not to look a gift horse in the mouth so to speak, we are indeed very lucky to have been blessed with a quality DVD performance of Public Enemy given their lack of activity these days.
While the performance is a little shaky to begin with, they begin to find their groove fifteen or so minutes into the program and from here on the concert becomes great viewing. Anyone with an aversion to Public Enemy, or even hip-hop in general, will most likely find the show an incredible bore as there really isn't anything in this performance that will sway your stance.
Those of you with an appreciation for the group, however, will rejoice in this strong performance. The material performed has been selected extremely well, with no evident bias towards newer material as they also provide a generous mix of classics and favourites in a performance that spans over 20 songs.
Despite the absence of the legendary Terminator X from the turntables, DJ Lord does an excellent job of filling those intimidating boots. Chuck D and Flava Flav are also both in alarmingly fine form as energetic MCs, considering they are both now around forty years old.
There's not much to really say about the video quality here, other than it's pretty much flawless. A musical performance refreshingly presented at 1.78:1, seemingly shot in digital for its entirety considering the total lack of film or video artefacts. The transfer is clean and crisp with not a compression problem in sight.
Despite the fact this DVD offers a DTS soundtrack, it really doesn't make too much difference in this case. Due to the source material coming not from a live band, but from a couple of record players, you just don't get the kind of dynamics that a live band would provide. Also, because of the lyrical nature of the music, the vocals have a very high position in the mix that often tends to drown out the music a little.
Of course, recognising that these elements are common place among live hip-hop performance, the audio quality provided here is entirely acceptable. However, the stereo mix provided is a little muddy if that's the only available option, however unlikely, for you to consider.
Architects of Rap, is the major extra on offer here. A nineteen minute documentary that works as a brief, but informative, summary of the history of Public Enemy. A documentary team follows frontman Chuck D as he retraces the steps of his youth and musical background through his hometown of Roosevelt, NY.
An audio commentary by Chuck D is available on four selected tracks from the performance. It would have been invaluable to have his opinions and ideas expressed throughout the entire performance, however what only amounts to around ten to 15 minutes of commentary really isn't enough to get much of a ball rolling.
There are also several outtakes from the performance available for viewing. These include an introduction to all the members of Public Enemy and a lengthy spiel from Flava Flav about O.J. Simpson. A discography with absolutely no written information has also been slapped onto the disc and labelled as an 'extra', much to the dismay of anyone wishing to explore even the basic track listings of each album.
Even though Public Enemy seem to be inevitably winding down, Live from the House of Blues is far from a death rattle, and even suggests that the group may have a lot more fight left in them than it seems.
It's refreshing to see that amongst all the 'rock-dinosaur' and top 40 releases that seem to litter the DVD music sections, we are finally getting to see invaluable genre contributors like Public Enemy getting some recognition. Anyone with a passion for the group should enjoy this performance immensely.