Public Enemy at First Avenue, 12/6/12
Public Enemy's Hip Hop Gods Tour
with X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Wise Intelligent, Son of Bazerk and No Self Control, Awesome Dre, Davy DMX and DJ Johnny Juice Thursday.
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, December 6, 2012
The Hip Hop Gods Tour, the brainchild of Public Enemy's Chuck D, made its stop at First Avenue Thursday and for a six-hour long show (no, that is not a typo), it could have been a lot worse, but it also could have been a lot better. For its length, its scope was too narrow. Shows like this are better suited for summer festivals and for the most part it rang hollow.
The opening bands weren't given enough time onstage to make much of an impact, save for X-Clan, who were afforded nearly an hour, and Monie Love, simply because she was the only female and had the wherewithal to bring out local rapper MaLLy for a quick song. The other bands -- who in actuality were the originals in name only -- Leaders of the New School, which was really only Dinco D; Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers and the rest were given little stage time and had to work fast to make any sort of an impact -- most didn't.
Regardless of what the marquee advertised, people were there to see headliners Public Enemy. It was a long, arduous wait filled with old hits from revered bands and quick Q&A sessions helmed by Chuck D after each set. Overall, it played out like watching a 1992 episode of "Yo! MTV Raps" on fast-forward.
Photo by Tony Nelson
By about hour four the banner hanging at the back of the stage featuring that oh-so-familiar militant-in-crosshairs logo loomed large; beckoning, promising.
As a result, final openers X-Clan's set shook out to be more of an intrusion than anything else, which was a shame. The crowd was becoming antsy, even somewhat agitated. How much longer would we have to wait? Why was X-Clan given roughly triple the stage time that everyone else was? When do we get to see Flavor Flav?! Only the second question went unanswered but the answers we did get weren't the ones we were necessarily seeking, either.
The intro to Public Enemy's set was ridiculously long, owing to a sound problem they were working out with DJ Lord. (Original DJ Terminator X has long since retired.) The crowd again waited as two hype men tried to keep the crowd warm with the usual "Are you ready Minneapolis? I mean, are you really ready?" that wore thin almost immediately. The crowd was more than ready, and the last barrier proved to be almost too much. Finally, though, the Security of the First World (S1W) appeared as did Chuck D and Professor Griff and they rumbled through a stellar version of "Rebel Without a Pause" that found Flavor Flav finally appearing about a quarter of the way through to the loudest cheers of the night.
The building momentum almost immediately came to a crashing halt, however, as Flavor Flav went into a long, disjointed, rambling monologue about the history of the band, the history of hip-hop and, inexplicably, his newfound fame as a reality TV star. Some of it made sense, but about half of it was taken up by the words "fuck" and "motherfucker," making it difficult to track exactly what he was getting at, a trend that would continue at various points throughout the set.
Photo by Tony Nelson
"911 Is a Joke" finally followed, but the wind came out of the sails completely as it became obvious Flav was lip-synching his vocals (and poorly, at that), likely leaving many to wonder what exactly was happening onstage. "Welcome to the Terrordome" started to build the momentum again, Flav actually singing on that one and finally falling into to his human cartoon mode, with his trademark dancing and jumping around, running to the corners of the stage every so often to hype up the crowd. (He is the original hype man, after all.)
But, incredibly, even with the all-time classics thrown in (and they have a lot of them), like "Can't Truss It, " "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" and "Bring the Noise," which is still absolutely flooring some twenty years later, Public Enemy's set began to feel like an intrusion, as well. There was a solo of sorts by DJ Lord that was actually pretty incredible and at one point Chuck D hauled local heroes Brother Ali and Slug onstage for a freestyle round that proved to be engaging and immensely fun to watch, but the set was quickly approaching the 90-minute mark and six hours overall for the entire show.
Photos by Tony Nelson
The crowd was simply worn out. They finally closed with a so-so version of "By the Time I Get to Arizona" and a phenomenal version of their biggest hit, "Fight the Power" but following that Flav went off on another tangent, re-introducing Bazerk from Son of Bazerk and No Self Control as a friend from boyhood who came up with the idea for Flav to wear a clock around his neck as a dare. It was a fun bit of information to receive, to see the man who essentially made Flavor Flav who he is, but it was slamming what had eventually turned out to be a fair set into a brick wall, as the speech went on for several minutes. Flav may once have been a grade-A hype man for Public Enemy but he's now just a grade-A hype man for himself and as it turns out, at a Public Enemy show, nobody really cares much to hear about it.
Critic's Bias: I had waited years to see Public Enemy live. The amount of frustration I felt during this show was tangible to those around me; I was pretty disappointed overall.
The Crowd: The whitest hip hop crowd of all-time.
Random Tidbit: The smell of marijuana was constant and incredibly strong throughout the show. Puffs of smoke could be seen coming out of the crowd for the entire night. I literally had to hang my coat outside when I got home to air it out.
Notebook Dump: This show would flow a lot better if Flav would just stop talking in between all of the songs or at least make sense while he was doing so.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.