Bad Brains: Live at CBGB ’82

| November 14, 2006

Punk has been celebrating its history well lately. Part of it I’m sure is the fact that these days any tape lying around can be released and sent out, to our benefit. The information age has allowed everyone’s private collections to be shared, and we are better for it. The recent Minutemen DVD We Jam Econo should hold up as the classic punk doc of the era between 1979-1986, but this DVD is the definitive record of the live performances of the era. For those of us aging punks, this is as close as it comes to reviving memories of going to any and every show that came to town, the best ones being those where you were happily never sure of coming out alive.
Moreso than in the staged documentaries like Urgh! A Music War and Decline and Fall of Western Civilization (both 1984), this gives one a sense of what it was like at a typical hardcore show in their early ’80’s. In energy alone, this show ought to shock young punks by its ferocity, and is only matched by the classic punk road movie, 1983’s Another State of Mind. Shot from both audience and stage point of view, you get the feel of the creative violence and lack of barriers between audience and band that was the glory of punk. Audience members jostle each other and the band, stage diving and taking turns singing lyrics to the songs right from the band’s mics. You get the sense of a community, and of one hell of a cathartic experience.
Bad Brains were the standard of what could be done live. Vocalist HR, guitarist Dr. Know, Drummer Earl Hudson and bassist Darryl Jenifer were easily the fastest and most ferocious band of their time, virtually inventing Hardcore and as well as the community inspired by it. In Washington, DC, the band’s hometown, soon to be legends such as Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins took in some early Bad Brains shows and started their own bands. No one who heard the ridiculously fast and raw first Bad Brains single, “Pay to Cum” in 1979 was unchanged. This full show consists of killer version of all their early classics: “How Low Can A Punk Get,” “The Big Takeover,” “FVK,” “Banned in D.C.,” “Attitude,” etc.
Punk and Hardcore were quickly snapped up by the mainstream and its creative force was largely gone by 1986, when acts like Hüsker Dü and Replacements signed to major labels, Black Flag became metal, and Bad Brains imploded due to personnel problems and Rasta conservatism. But for those tricked into believing that Green Day is punk, check out this DVD, and any and all punk records released from the early ’80s.
Bad Brains live at CBGB ’82 is both a reminder and a revelation of what was, and could have continued to be.

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