|Yeah, boyee! Flav in ya face!|
Last night, at around 1:15 in the morning, television star Flava Flav was standing alone onstage at Yoshi's in San Francisco with a mic in his hand. The packed house was slowly exiting. The show was finished but Flav wasn't. Flava likes to talk. He denounced racism, wished the audience peace, power, told us where his family was sitting in the back of the room and reminded us that no one's going to take better care of you than yourself. He had some other kind, warm things to say, but they escape me this morning. Sorry about that, I wish I could tell you more, but I still have the ferocious buzz of a two-hour plus Public Enemy set going off in my head.
In my previous post I wrote that I gave up attending hip-hip shows after the Run-DMC debacle at Long Beach in 1986. Last night at around 11:00pm, when the S1Ws came out onstage to the sounds "Contract on the World Love Jam," I realized that can't be true because I'd seen this before. Somewhere between 1987 and 1990 I attended an earlier production this play where these guys in fatigues come onstage and stand there looking tough (though they looked a lot tougher back then) before breaking into some militaristic dance moves. Back then they held fake Uzis. This time they just did the scowl and dance routine, though the dancing bit was really just a couple of simple robot moves. In short order there were eleven people onstage: Chuck D., perhaps the greatest rapper ever, the aforementioned tv star Flav, the controversial Professor Griff, DJ Lord, the S1Ws, two other guys flanking both sides of the stage who were there two keep things under control and be of various assistance to the group and those in the audience near the stage, and what turned out to be a terrific band featuring a guitarist and drummer (whose names I need to find somewhere online) and the legendary Davey D on bass.
Launching into what was essentially a greatest hits set centered around material from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy worked it hard from the opening with "Brothers Gonna Work it Out," "911 is a Joke" and "Welcome to the Terrordome" (which had a juicy chunk of "Rapper's Delight" inserted into the middle of it). Just when it seemed the group was going to do Black Planet in its entirety, they launched into "Bring the Noise" and followed with the next three songs from It Takes a Nation of Millions, including "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic" which was followed by a pretty mind-bending display of turntable expertise from DJ Lord using Nirvana's music. The band also kicked some hard driving metallic funk out in the middle of the set as everyone left the stage for a few.
"Can't Truss It," "He Got Game," Rebel Without a Pause," "By the Time I Get to Arizona," "Cold Lampin'," "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man," "Public Enemy No. 1," "Fight the Power" and "Night of the Living Baseheads" all followed- performed with urgency and enthusiasm by Chuck, Flav and the band. They looked to be having as much fun as the audience. Griff and the S1Ws not so much, but I guess that's their job. Chuck turned over the mic to a guy up front to do the Harry Alan part of "Don't Believe the Hype" and then let the guy, whose name may have been John, keep it for a few minutes and he went into a spontaneous rap of his own, doing the audience proud. These guys worked harder at this than I would have expected at this point in their careers. Flav worked his ass off actually, taking turns on the bass and drums as well. TV star or not, onstage with P.E. the guy is all business.
Though most of the songs are now more than 20 years old they have a staying power that's undeniable and pretty damn incredible. None of them sounded like dated hits from back in the day. This wasn't "old-school jams night." No, this was the presentation of a legacy. Most of the audience knew the words to all of them- no mean feat considering a significant portion in the house were probably born after 1980. After all these years P.E. can still bring the noise- and they did it with force. Harder than you think.
Thank you Anne. You shoulda been there.
The set list to the best of my recollection:
Contract on the World Love Jam
Brothers Gonna Work It Out
911 Is a Joke
Welcome to the Terrordome
Bring the Noise
Don't Believe the Hype
Cold Lampin' with Flavor
Flav's Nephew does a tune
Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
Harder Than You Think
DJ Lord tears up Nirvana
He Got Game
Can't Truss It
Rebel Without A Pause
By the Time I Get to Arizona
Fight the Power
Night of the Living Baseheads
Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man
Public Enemy #1