Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pitchfork Friday

When I reviewed the Mission of Burma Double Door show from January of '07, I said "Mission of Burma’s sound is just as powerful, and every bit a wall. However, instead of having it wash over you all at once, they choose to catapult piles of bricks, sans mortar, directly onto your head." That is certainly still the case, but my perception of their performance on Friday at Union Park was a bit different. They actually started playing before their designated 6pm start time, which technically meant I arrived late. They tore through a handful of songs that served as a warmup before Roger Miller said, "I guess it's time for us to start playing the album?"This set was part of Pitchfork's "Don't Look Back" experiment where bands perform a classic album in its entirety. I have always been skeptical of this concept, but in this case, it was clearly a creative success. The band's ramshackle sound is offset by their punchy, precise professionalism. Even though the sound may feel like a musical disaster, everything is overt and every note is placed with pinpoint accuracy. Drummer Peter Prescott is clearly the "angry" one in the band, with his vocals bordering on deranged screams. His highlight moment came during "Learn How" when he not only screamed to mom that "all he wanted was a Pepsi" (a sonic shoutout to Suicidal Tendencies), but had Bob Weston looping his wails right back at him. By the time the album ended and Roger Miller was taking photos of the audience, I began to realize that appeal of this whole "play the album" thing. They had elaborated on the songs enough to make the whole thing extremely compelling. All in all, a blistering set by a band whose best days may yet be ahead of them.

After skipping Sebadoh, and eagerly awaiting Public Enemy's performance of "It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," we were treated to the Bomb Squad with a dub-reggae warmup. Hank Shockley and his son Keith spun records and tried to get the crowd amped, but it didn't seem to do much for anybody. Some in the audience vocally replicated the sirens that start the album, hoping they could pull PE into action. When the set finally began, it was an auspicious opening. Chuck D's vocals were nearly inaudible (I could hear the enthused audience members shouting the lyrics much more clearly than him), and Flavor Flav was nowhere to be found. He showed up for the second real track. Especially disappointing as he's supposed to know what time it is! Between each song, the group paused to address the audience. Some of these chats were welcome, like when we were told that "Caught, Can We Get a Witness?" had never been performed before. But there were other moments when Flav lauded his own reality TV success. I mean, the dude did Red Sonja, but you'd think that was enough of an accomplishment that he wouldn't need to boast about it.

Audio issues continued to flare up during the album's performance. The crowd was a mix of indie kids whose main understanding of the group was clearly from watching "Flavor of Love" and pumped up devotees who knew every last lyric. In my opinion, the "play the album" concept served to highlight what a landmark LP "Nation of Millions" is, but took a bit away from the performance. Things are going to be a bit more rigid for hip-hop act, and when you know what song is coming next, the excitement for those songs is inherently less. But the from the time "She Watch Channel Zero?!" energized the audience, the intensity remained high the rest of the way. Throughout the set, Chuck D kept reminding Flav that there was a curfew and they were going to run out of time. When the album ended, I think we all assumed the show would as well. But Chuck quickly explained, "And after we finished that record, we did this!" as they launched into an intense performance of "Welcome to the Terrordome." This was followed by five more of their hits, ensuring that anyone in attendance came away overwhelmingly satisfied.Watching PE, you have to note how well this group of seemingly disjointed parts fits together. Chuck D is a unique talent. There are others who have a voice similar to his, deep and syncopated, but no one has ever matched that with his intelligent and powerful lyrics. Flavor Flav, on the other hand, brings a necessary levity to the mix. That's not to say his efforts are not in earnest. Put them together with the S1W and Professor Griff and you have a wholly unique act that represents the best that Hip Hop has to offer. After years of trying, I had never been able to see PE perform live. But this was way more important than simply checking them off the list. For the rest of the night, the feeling of accomplishment remained prevalent, that I'd been granted something special. You can be damn well sure that I appreciated it.

Public Enemy Setlist:
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (You don't really need me to write down all the tracks, do you? They played the whole album.)
Welcome to the Terrordome
Shut 'em Down
He Got Game
911 Is a Joke
Harder Than It Looks
Can't Truss It
Public Enemy #1
Fight The Power

Greg Kot's Review
Jim Derogatis' Review
Muzzle of Bees Review
Stereogum Review, Part I
Steregum review, Part II

1 comment:

Tommy Atkins said...

"Don't Look Back" is not Pitchfork's concept. It was started by the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in England. ATP now sponsors Don't Look Back events in multiple locales each year. See this Web site: