Few of America’s early punk and hardcore bands had Bad Brains' reputation for intense live shows: before the band found broader acclaim with a slick hard-rock sound on I Against I (SST, 1986) they played with the sort of full-throttle velocity that earned them the tag “thrash.” (And they tossed in some passable reggae tunes to break up the onslaught.) But even from the beginning -- they formed in 1977 -- this all-black D.C. band had skills and vision that set them apart from most of their punk brethren. The scant footage of them I’ve seen in the recent documentary Afro-Punk and on the New York public access show Nightclubbing certainly backed up their legendary status -- their best stuff is a stunning mix of go-for-broke ferocity and nonchalant technical mastery.
A new concert DVD, Bad Brains Live at CBGB 1982 (MVD), culls footage shot during a three-night stand at the storied New York club, and it's the first widely available extended document of the band’s power. Unfortunately, the 60-minute video is kind of a mess, with amateurish camera work and even worse sound. In 1982 the mosh pit was a new phenomenon, but it wasn’t any less annoying than it is now, and the constant stream of stage divers quickly becomes a distraction. Moshing was part of the hardcore environment of the era, but it clearly impeded the band’s performance. (The previous footage I’ve seen lacked the slam dancing, so the band didn’t always have to contend with pimply-faced punks storming across the stage every fifteen seconds.) Still, even this imperfect document makes evident how forceful the Bad Brains could be. On Tuesday, October 17, Delilah’s is offering a free screening of the DVD; doors open at 7 PM.