BAD BRAINS: LIVE (1988)
1) I; 2) At The Movies; 3) The Regulator; 4) Right Brigade; 5) I Against I; 6) I And I Survive; 7) House Of Suffering; 8) Re-Ignition; 9) Sacred Love; 10) She's Calling You; 11) Coptic Times; 12) F.V.K.; 13) Secret 77.
Since the studio sessions for Bad Brains were never really carried out in the Sgt. Pepper vein, the differences between Bad Brains in the studio and Bad Brains onstage are in the cosmetic sphere. The only significant point is the status of H.R. — onstage, he tends to get a bit further off his rocker, leering, grinning, screeching, and, overall, putting on more of an Exorcism Show than when recording without an actual audience. Whether this is good or bad is up to you to decide — personally, I grow tired of this monkeying around rather quickly. It is one thing to watch the guy — complete with full body vibration and his trademark back-flips — and another thing to listen without seeing (a similar dissatisfaction concerns, e.g., Mick Jagger in his «less harmony, more bark» period, when hitting the notes took a backseat to hitting the stage). Oh well, at least the vocals for ʽSacred Loveʼ are no longer recorded over the telephone.
Recorded at various dates played in 1987-88, Live predictably focuses on material from I Against I (six out of nine songs are faithfully reproduced), occasionally diversifying it with older stuff — to a rather faint effect, since the «oldies» are naturally much shorter on the average, and some of the choices, or, rather, some of the omissions are sort of odd. For instance, there is only one reggae number altogether — ʽI And I Surviveʼ, although, in generous compensation, it is slightly extended — and neither ʽRock For Lightʼ nor ʽBanned In D.C.ʼ are played (or seen fit for inclusion on the album, at least), despite being some of the more highly «marked» tunes from the old days of blazing hardcore. Maybe it is just a coincidence, but, overall, Live does not convey the impression that the band actually cares for its established image of «speed-punk pioneers doing it in the name of Jah» — that they are much happier now with their punk-metal fusion. Who could tell back then, in 1987, that the speed-punk pioneering would stay forever young, and the punk-metal fusion would quickly go senile?
If it helps any, the sound quality is pretty damn good — now you get to hear ʽThe Regulatorʼ and ʽAt The Moviesʼ in all their raging glory without all the (in)glorious lo-fi in yer face, and H.R. is mixed in well above the guitar roar, so that you can properly assess the degree of his irreplaceability in the band. And it's all strictly business: no stage banter, no lengthy pauses between songs, no cheaply directed audience interaction — fourty minutes of non-stop headbanging. (Some later CD editions are further extended by including a cover of the Beatles' ʽDay Tripperʼ, which is nice — an unexpected surprise never hurts on an album like this).
Overall, though, recommended only for, and by, major fans of the band, such as the reviewer at the All-Music Guide who had no qualms about calling Bad Brains «the greatest live rock & roll band» (really? isn't that taking liberal guilt a bit too far?) and warning us to «watch out for flies and swirling debris while your mouth is hanging open for a half hour». (For the record, his name was «Jack Rabid», and it looked fairly appropriate for the occasion.) As for myself, I cannot deny the energy and passion, but these are still mediocre songs, and a mediocre song delivered with redhot passion only makes me feel sorry about the ultimate waste of redhot passion.
Check "Live" (MP3) on Amazon