Wednesday, September 19 , 2018, 8:37 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Public Enemy Still Fighting the Power

Legendary hip-hop band brings politically charged songs to Ventura

I caught Flavor Flav. Perhaps I should explain.

Toward the end of Public Enemy’s thrilling show at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Saturday night, Flavor Flav — he who “can never, ever be imitated or duplicated,” he who wears a clock around his neck and a gold grill on his teeth, he who is the “No. 1 reality star of the decade” — started jumping off the stage into the audience, crowd surfing back to the stage only to repeat the exercise. During one such crowd surf, I helped hold him up. But a bit later, I swear he was aiming for me as he bounded 12 or so feet into my (and a few neighbors’) raised arms. Mission accomplished, Flav found his way back to the stage without touching the ground.

Of course, Flavor Flav, who raps and also played slap bass at the end of one song and drums on another, is but one person in the Public Enemy crew. Joining him was the sometimes controversial Professor Griff; DJ Lord, who has replaced Terminator X (who now operates an ostrich farm in North Carolina) and who did an amazing solo spot; S1W (Security for the First World) doing cool choreographed moves; the rockin’ live baNNed consisting of Khari Wynn on guitar (at times played behind his head, behind his back or with his teeth), Davy DMX on bass and T-Bone Motta on drums; plus the one and only lead rapper Chuck D, who is now living in Ventura. Together they put on one of the highest energy, sensory overloading and thoroughly enjoyable shows in recent memory.

Songs spanned their whole career, from “Timebomb” off their 1987 debut album to a few off their latest album released in 2007. Many came from their landmark 1990 album, Fear of a Black Planet, which still packs a punch after all these years. This included tracks such as “Anti-N***** Machine” which calls out police brutality against blacks, “Fight the Power” with the still provocative and controversial charges of racism by Elvis Presley and John Wayne (Chuck D points out that “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps”), and “Burn Hollywood Burn,” which criticizes the entertainment industry for perpetuating stereotypes of blacks.

Also well represented was their undisputed classic 1988 album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, including “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “She Watch Channel Zero?!” that bemoans the hollowness of television. One might notice some irony regarding the latter song, considering Flavor Flav’s television pursuits, but hey, life often has contradictions.

Some nice connections to the rock-‘n’-roll world came with the highly effective sample of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” for “He Got Game” and the live riffage of AC/DC’s “Back In Black” for “Black Is Back.”

The band honored the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend by announcing their Occupy Skid Row event to occur the next day, which was a protest about the plight of the homeless. The band also performed “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” an expression of anger at Arizona written when the state had failed to recognize the holiday honoring MLK Jr.‘s birthday.

With the backdrop of Public Enemy’s politically charged lyrics, Chuck D called for today’s hip-hop lyrics to have more substance, saying, “I would like for rap music to say something that means something some G** d*** time,” and asked if there was anybody rapping about health care, who might be the next president, and the quality of education in California.

He also called on us to “Support your local artists, not just the people, but the radio stations, the local TV stations. Support local artists, because if the community does not support the artists, how do you expect the artists to support or protect the community?” With this in mind, a big “Yeah!” to KidFLowz and J-Ramz Ramirez, who opened the evening and persevered despite technical issues, and Shoddy Cons, who followed with a potent mix of rock and hip hop.

Whether or not Public Enemy’s political messages sunk in, their music certainly kept people jumping during the whole concert. And if Flavor Flav ever needs a hand staying up, I’m there for him.

Setlist

Contract On the World Love Jam
Brothers Gonna Work It Out
911 Is a Joke
Welcome to the Terrordome
Show Em Whatcha Got
Bring the Noise
Don’t Believe the Hype
Cold Lampin’ with Flavor
Can’t Truss It
Night of the Living Baseheads
He Got Game
Harder Than You Think
Anti-N***** Machine/Burn Hollywood Burn/Power to the People
Black Is Back
Say It Like It Really Is
DJ Lord solo Timebomb
Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man
Shut Em Down
Rebel Without a Pause
By the Time I Get to Arizona
Fight the Power
She Watch Channel Zero?!
Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (Sly and the Family Stone cover)

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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