Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Now I'm looking for the steel"

So I'm in Chicago for a bit, mostly to catch the annual Pitchfork Music Festivals. While the Saturday and Sunday headliners are a little disappointing this year (Animal Collective/Spoon vs. last year's Yoko Ono/De La Soul, and if you think I have it backwards then it's probably a dealbreaker), the first night was headlined by the mighty Public Enemy performing their ultra-super-classic It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

It could not have been better.

We started with the Bomb Squad, the geniuses behind that albums production, doing a 20 minute warm up set, which they called "dub-bass," but was for all intents and purposes as dubstep set. It was so fun that I was worried the actual PE set couldn't top it. The bass felt so amazing. I could've been deaf and still felt great.

PE was even more amazing though. I could write thousands of words on it, but I'm a little drunk and tired so I won't. I will say, though, that Chuck D moves around the stage, shuffling, spinning, and running, more than any other rapper I've ever seen. This includes Flav, who was a wonderful foil. I love the Chuck/Flav relationship, because while Chuck definitely plays the responsible, politically (and otherwise) responsible one and Flav the clown, it isn't a typical straight man/funny man dynamic. Chuck smiles and runs and mugs as much as Flav does. "Speed", a word which Chuck used often, is so, so important to the Chuck and Flav aesthetic. Chuck uses it in a project of intelligent, righteous anger and Flav in a project of, more or less, aggressive silliness. But they both contribute to the overall PE project.

Which is why it bothered me when some people actually fucking booed when Flav thanked the crowd for making him #1 in Reality TV. Why? Do you really see anything incongruous in Flav's PE image and the type of shit he does on Flavor of Love? He acts like a clown, sure, but he always has, and I guess that might bother you if you think that clowns can't be important, but, well, that would be stupid, let's be serious.

The other thought I had, maybe an even more obvious one, is that, good God, is It Takes a Nation the perfect progressive/liberal/whatever record or what? And not because of the lyrical content itself, but because the beats are as outrageous and forward-thinking as the lyrics, hell, probably more-so. PE understood that the Bomb Squad's beats (faster, noisier, sharper, funkier) were integral to their message. That's why It Takes a Nation is utterly classic and hundreds of (Kweli, etc.) songs that look backwards instead of forwards are decent at best.

Back with more Pfork tomorrow, maybe drunker, maybe more sober, but definitely with more Jarvis.

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