Public Enemy at Summit Music Hall, 12/21/13
All photos by Eric Gruneisen
One of the most powerful moments of Public Enemy's set came when Chuck D told us they were reaching back to It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back for the next song. It was hard to say what was coming next, since by then the act had already played many of the biggest hits from its back catalog. But then we got a ferocious version of "Louder Than a Bomb," and it was like getting to hear a new song, thanks to the richness of sound and the raw energy the guys poured into it.
The act brought tons of energy to its set, which ran close to two hours, with plenty of movement and vibrant vocals from Chuck D, who threw his mic in the air and swung it like he was knocking one out of the park. Flav, meanwhile, took up the bass for one song and showed us what slap bass and popping should sound like. And then late in the show, he played some beautifully nuanced drums while Chuck rapped "B Side Wins Again."
The band experimented a bit with older songs, otherwise breathing life into material many of us have listened to for more than two decades, and played excellent newer cuts like "Hoovermusic," "31 Flavors," "I Shall Not Be Moved," and "He Got Game." "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos" got a hard funk treatment that gave an already intense song an edgier feel.
"Don't Believe the Hype" had a reggae flavored middle section that everyone in the band went into without missing a beat. During "Can't Truss It," Flav took off his hat and let his short dreads fly wildly like he was in Bad Brains. "Black In Back" was a highlight of the set and a perfect live mash-up of AC/DC and Chuck and Flav's inimitable lyrical flow and delivery.
With so many great songs, it didn't really matter what came first or last. Still, performing the classic "911 Is A Joke" in the first quarter of the set seemed bold. But then P.E. is a bold and confident act, and the group was in top form here, as was guitarist Khari Wynn, who offered expertly smooth transitions. His masterful playing gave the music a depth and texture that helped everything else seem vivid and powerful. For his part, Davy DMX kept the smooth, strong, low end going for most of the show, with T-Bone Motta on drums.
Another interesting moment came when Chuck highlighted how his vocals didn't really use effects, even though it sounded like he was sampled on the records. When he and Flav demonstrated how they did it naturally, it felt like they were having a little fun, but it was also impressive to see at the same time.
Toward the end of the show during an interlude with Flav performing what sounded like a freestyle on "31 Flavors," the band came back on to end the set strong with "Shut Em Down," "By The Time I Get To Arizona" and "Fight the Power." Flav recognized that this was not the usual show and thanked us profusely and made some poignant comments about the recent school shootings and a need for dealing with the roots of those problems in a humane and compassionate way.
While he did this, Chuck D seemed to sign everything handed to him at the front of the stage, well beyond a time most other artists would. Earlier in the show, he also stated all radio stations should be playing local artists and made a point that it didn't matter if the stations played P.E. so much as local artists. That's class, and P.E. is a people's band at a time where there aren't enough of them.
Earlier in the evening, Folklorist opened the show. With three MCs, a guitarist and a DJ, the outfit had something to say without hitting you over the head with heavy-handed politics. Rather, the group's songs made points about community and nature of music in it and about the nature of that music. The energy and enthusiasm of Folklorist made the act stand out.
DJ Cavem Moetavation couldn't make the show, so DJ A-L stepped in for him with the Soul Pros, including Mike Wird and Pavlo Kee -- both of whom did most of the rapping. A-L asked if any of us had heard of Eclipse because he is involved with that, but it didn't sound like most people had (Eclipse is the longest running hip-hop program in Colorado, and one of the longest running in the country on KGNU since the late '70s/early '80s). Musically, aspects of the beats recalled the early, jazz-funk of Curtis Mayfield and at other times like J Dilla and his ability to convey a chilled out otherworldliness.
Personal Bias: Seeing the video for "911 is a Joke" had a major positive impact on me in 1990.
Random Detail: Liz Trujillo, Flavor Flav's current girlfriend, is from Colorado. The Soul Pros have an EP called $ouled Out available on their bandcamp site.
By the Way: Public Enemy still puts out cool records, including two in 2012, Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear On No Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.