Fun Fun Fun Fest
FFF6 in review: With Public Enemy, Chuck soars, Flav bores
Public Enemy inspires both emotion and nostalgia in hip-hop fans. For a brief moment in the late 1980's, the group embodied all the best qualities of their music genre: bold creativity, social activism, controversial lyrics and inspirational thought—all backed by a huge sonic palette of drums, sirens and samples that felt urgent and bombastic all at once. Albums like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet are considered by many to be two of the best rap LP's of all time, and at showtime, a large, enthusiastic crowd was ready to hear their cherished favorites. What happened next was miles better than what metal fans at Danzig suffered through, but still wasn't quite up to the heights the audience anticipated.
The set began with a thud: a live band "soundchecked" through about 10 minutes of guitar wankery and half-assed Curtis Mayfield bass lines while an MC exhorted the "real hip-hop heads" to cheer—for the soundcheck. It was a true WTF moment, and left the audience a little antsy and frustrated when 8:30 came and went without a true start.
After 10 minutes of this, the stall finally concluded and the "Contract On The World Love Jam" from Fear erupted from the speakers to wild applause and audience pogos. Chuck D emerged looking just as one remembers him: burly, fit, confident, and still sporting the trademark baseball cap.
As for Flavor Flav, he was tougher to read, hidden under a oversized hoodie and bouncing on and off stage. Chuck flew through "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" without showing a hint of the 20+ years he's put on since the track was recorded, a feat he managed for much of the night—the man is legend. He sounded great, and it made you wonder why we don't see and hear more of him. When "Brothers..." ended, the band jumped right into Flavor Flav's showcase hit "911 Is A Joke"—and the fun diminished considerably. It was fairly obvious that Flav was using a backing track lifted directly from the LP, there were no pauses, no banter—it sounded like you'd cued him up on your iTunes playlist.
Groans and eyerolls were evident throughout the crowd, nobody was surprised, but it was quite a comedown after watching Chuck D in top form.
Thankfully, after asking the audience whether "they were ready to 'occupy' something," Chuck took over again for "Welcome To The Terrordome," which sounded fierce, combative, and pretty much perfect.
All of this set the pattern for the remainder of the evening: PE would do something brilliant, then coast, then fire off something great again.
The best moment was the one-two of "Don't Believe The Hype" and "Bring The Noise"—honestly, what's going to top that?
The counterpoint, of course, was that the audience was also subjected to the aural equivalent of a dental visit, with improvised songs about Davey the bass player, overlong DJ solos, and a general sense that the band had a long leash to do whatever the hell they wanted onstage. The set ultimately ended (of course) with "Fight The Power,"but at that point, we, like so many others, had wandered off into the night content to hear a half-dozen classics from Chuck D, and ready to hit the bars downtown to find a new musical point of inspiration.