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Revolverlution Tour 2003

Other // Unrated // January 20, 2009
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jason Bailey | posted April 4, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

It is painful to watch your heroes flounder, but that's exactly what I experienced when taking in Public Enemy's Revolverlution Tour Australia 2003. There are many problems to tackle here--the abysmal technical quality of the disc (later for that), the peculiar release of a show five-plus years after its taping (nothing timelier than a 2003 rap show, particularly with all of its references to Bush and Blair), the lack of good-sense editing (the concert portion of the disc runs a too-long 145 minutes). But the primary trouble is that PE just ain't what they used to be.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no hip-hop group whose music was more urgent, powerful, pressing, and alive than Public Enemy. Chuck D's gruff, focused, fierce lyrics wer perfectly matched with the piercing yet catchy industrial noise/funk whirlwind of his production team, The Bomb Squad, and his skilled DJ Terminator X. Yes, Flavor Flav was always a bit of a numbskull, but he added some levity to the proceedings. Looking back, there are no more potent musical mementoes of that charged and difficult time than their iconic It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet albums.

But somewhere around the mid 90s, the group started to lose their relevance. Part of that was due to changes in the musical landscape; with the rise of Jay-Z and his ilk, political protest took a backseat to the sounds of conspicuous consumption. People wanted to hear songs of champagne and bling, and PE's later albums have struggled to find a new audience (their shows are mostly attended by people like me: white guys in their mid-30s who got their minds blown by Nation of Millions in junior high and threw on a PE T-shirt for instant street cred). Those albums have also frequently suffered from lackluster production; they never quite recovered from the disbanding of The Bomb Squad, and the newer tracks simply lack the urgency of their early recordings. And of course the notoriety of Flavor Flav hasn't helped matters any; their credibility is done no favors by his minstrel-y antics on assorted reality-TV shows.

So it is with all of that in mind that we approach this recording of their December 2003 performance at the Metro in Melbourne, Australia. The show finds Chuck and Flavor in fine voice, seemingly energized by the then-recent addition of a live band element; in addition to the turntables and electronics of DJ Lord, the group is backed by a drummer, guitarist, and bass player. It's a pretty good fit--the group frequently used rock and metal samples (to say nothing of their terrific collaboration and tour with Anthrax), and edgy tracks like "Shut 'Em Down," "By The Time I Get To Arizona," and "Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos" benefit from the addition of the live guitar tracks.

The big hits are mostly well-done; the infectious attitude and emotion of "Fight The Power" remain, "Bring The Noise" is powerful and energetic, and if you were alive and even remotely interested in rap music in 1988, you can't help but get excited by the seamless one-two punch of "Don't Believe The Hype" and "Rebel Without A Pause". That said, the organization of the set is downright peculiar; I'm not sure why they close with the obscure album tracks "Hazy Shade of Criminal" and "She Watch Channel Zero" while burying their most well-known anthems at the top and in the middle of the show. The momentum of the performance is also derailed by its two-part structure (with the break misidentified on the sleeve) and the long band break that begins the second half.

Most of the earlier songs are fairly well-done ("Prophets of Rage" and "Can't Truss It" also stand out), but the newer songs are a little listless. The staging is also pretty dull; in the special features, Chuck calls theirs "the greatest hip-hop show on earth," but there's little evidence of that here, with the MCs pacing and performing, sometimes by rote. With Chuck, Flav, Professor Griff, DJ Lord, and the band, the small performance area is too damn busy, and the lifeless addition of their back-up dancers/security force, the S1Ws, does nothing but clutter up the stage even more. The S1W's presence was almost always lame, even back in the group's heyday; if they haven't been cut from the live show in the five-plus years since this one was taped, that's a move that's even further overdue.

The photography and editing is competent if uninspired--it's certainly an improvement over some of the group's early, amateurish home video releases (God help you if you ever sat through the home-movie mess that was Fight The Power Live), but nothing terribly interesting. The predictable cutting scheme grows tiring by the end of the concert portion, which could have benefitted greatly from the trimming of some of the show's considerable fat.



Simply put, the quality of the anamorphic widescreen image is awful. The 16x9 frame is lousy with compression artifacts, so distractingly overwhelming in wide shots that it almost looks like you're watching an old emailed mpg file. Black levels are messy, the stage's neon lights are ugly and overwhelming, and blown-out hot spots are frequent and irritating. The details are fine and the close-ups don't look as bad, but watch out for those wide shots.


The 5.1 audio is the disc's biggest problem; it is just plain terrible. Chuck and Flavor's vocals are totally lost in the muddy, muddled mix, which was horribly assembled at either the recording or the mastering stage. The lyrics are the primary component of PE's songs, so if you can't understand what's being said, you might as well not listen at all. All of the channels are active, but there's no directionality--the same audio is blasting out of each speaker, with no separation whatsoever aside from occasional directional DJ effects. The LFE channel is also surprisingly passive for music with this much bass. The vocal mic should have been separated, boosted, and directed to the center channel for at least a minimum of clarity. As it is, this audio is a mess.


The exhaustive extras should hold some interest for fans. The concert takes up most of the first disc, with the only additional features there being a rolling text history, viewer-controlled text of the band's discography (presented out of chronological order in what looks like a mastering mistake) and the disc's credits, and a well-assembled "Behind The Scenes" featurette (13:18), with quick introductions of the band and the crew, sound check video, and footage from backstage.

The primary extra comes at the top of the second disc: the lengthy "Tour Diary" (1:14:48). This full-frame extra can be played all at once or in four pieces, one each for the cities of the tour's Australian leg. We see interviews, sound checks, record store signings, sightseeing, and lots and lots of radio appearances. The diary has an intimate, home-movie quality, and there are some interesting moments, though it seriously overstays its welcome.

Next is something called "Private Video" (13:17), and I'm honestly not quite sure what the difference is between this and the Tour Diary, except that it was apparently shot (more amateurishly) by a different member of the entourage. By the end of it, you'll be wondering exactly how much video is necessary to document a music tour. The final bonus is a Slideshow featurette (2:59) of in-concert and backstage photos.

Final Thoughts:

As a fan of Public Enemy from "back in the day," I was excited to see Revolverlution Tour Australia 2003, in spite of its delayed release, and it is enjoyable to see PE tear through their big hits. But the concert video is too long, the staging too dull, and the poor quality of the video and (especially) audio presentation make it a chore to sit through. Serious fans like myself will probably at least want to rent it; everyone else should pass.

Jason lives in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU.

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