Sunday, February 27, 2011

Show Review: Public Enemy/ Karl Denson's Tiny Universe/ Chali 2na

Public Enemy Live at The Depot

Photo by David Berg
     Public Enemy are an anachronism. They call back to an an era when hip-hop music was political. Long before sex euphemisms about lollipops and candy shops filled the airwaves, Public Enemy tackled social and political problems with anthems such as "Fight The Power" and "911 is a Joke". On February 18th, they returned to The Depot to bring back their message and return hip-hop to its glory days. Or maybe it was just a victory lap after celebrating their 23 year anniversary?

     Opening up the show was Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 fame, along with the backing band, The House of Vibe All-Stars, which included Philip "Fish" Fischer of Fishbone fame on drums wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt. "We came to celebrate hip-hop," Chali said. "We want this to be more of a backyard party, not a show." It's something he took serious as he asked the crowd to introduce themselves to the person next to them, like a peace offering at a church. The song "Don't Stop" off his solo release "Fish Outta Water" had the crowd taking a few steps to the right and then back to the left like an hip-hop version of the electric slide. Chali then broke into the more well-known songs from his Jurassic 5 days. "Hold on to this feelin', Freedom," Chali sang as he launched into "Freedom" from 2002's "Power In Numbers" and then went into "Quality Control", complete with a Michael Jackson interlude, sung by House of Vibe leader Anthony Brewster. Switching gears, Chali led back into his solo work for "Graff Time", a song that explains how he got into hip-hop, not through music but graff writing. Chali had the crowd moving, shaking and waving their hands and the crowd responded with a several minute applause that seemed to humble Chali.

    Having never heard of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, I wasn't sure what to expect. Chali introduced the group and then the six piece group went into "Freedom" from 2002's "The Bridge". Denson's universe is a funkied one filled with trumpets and saxophones taking center stage. Unfamiliar with the material, I couldn't tell if he was playing extended versions of the songs, but most of the songs broke into the 10 minute range. During the song, Denson would sometimes switch out the saxophone to sing a verse, play the flute or a hand percussion instrument. He was an interesting spectacle. Whatever he was doing he got the crowd dancing and moving. It was a constant assault with just a few brief pauses that lasted for almost an hour and a half.

     As Karl Denson left the stage, anticipation was building for the hip-hop legends. At 11:40 an announcement was made that Public Enemy was in the building. The show should start in 15 minutes. It took about 50 more minutes before Public Enemy took the stage. In between, a weak hype man kept hocking the Public Enemy comic books and shirts in the back with an annoying refrain of "aight" after almost everything he said. I'm not sure if he was buying time or if this was a case of legends becoming divas since not much was said for the late start time. The crowds anticpation seemed not only to wither away but the crowd seemed to thin out considerably.

     The S1W came out in army fatigues and did a choreographed routine and then stayed relatively still the rest of the show. Chuck D and Flava Flav followed the S1W and the crowd seemed to forget the wait. After just one song, Flava Flav broke into a monologue thanking the Public Enemy fans as well as supporting his second job reality television, which he boasted that he was "the reality star of the decade". It seemed odd and out of place. Something that plagued the show. Despite having a shorter set since of the late start time, Public Enemy went along with more of these long monologues, band introductions, Flava Flav drum and bass solo. Hell, they even brought a local rapper on stage for a song. Oh and a kid to say, "Don't Believe The Hype" because he has a Public Enemy cassette tape. It seemed like it would be a great show, if only they had more time or didn't have any openers. In the end they played most of their hits, but about an hour in they had to resort to what Chuck D called the two-minute drill or the greatest hits medley. The crowd seemed to thin out as the night wore on and was about a third full by the time Public Enemy left the stage or rather stopped playing music. Flava Flav took the stage to give a speech condemning racism and separatism. Urging people to make the peace sign if they really meant it. It was a refreshing way to end the night, but I can't help feeling that this was a victory lap. The crown is still waiting to be passed or reclaimed.

Chali 2na's "International"

 Karl Denson's Tiny Universe "The Rebel"

Public Enemy's "Fight The Power"


kmudrick said...

Did Flava Flav wear a Vick jersey, or was he just pulling that crap in Philly?

They brought out two female rappers: Yo Yo and I think Lady Rage.

They played for a solid 2 hours here I think. They played Fear of a Black Planet almost in its entirety (though some of the songs were cut down in length)

kmudrick said...

Oh and ironically, Chuck D at the end said you should hold rappers accountable at shows when they show up late and run through the motions!!!!

Joe Snow said...

nope, no Vick jersey. they were raffling off an autograph clock, though. Ha, Chuck D should live up to his words.