Chuck D. Flavor Flav. An oversize clock. A live backing band. Dancers in army fatigues. Magicians. The Public Enemy show at 4th & B this Sunday was everything you could have expected and then something more, just to throw you for a loop.
Though Flavor Flav has gained national notoriety for his reality show shenanigans in recent years, he first rose to fame as part of Public Enemy, one of the most highly regarded hip-hop groups of all-time. Public Enemy represents the pinnacle of political hip-hop, with overtly militant lyrics backed by funk-inspired, riot-inducing beats from the production team the Bomb Squad. Despite their serious politics, they have always been serious entertainers first. That much was clear Sunday night.
After two local hip-hop bands opened the night -- one surprisingly good (Player's Touch) and one expectedly not-so-good (the Legacy Pack) -- Public Enemy's backing band and crew members took the stage for sound check. Even then, you could see the professionalism surrounding this performance: The band actually performed a song and routine created especially for sound check. Toward the end of this pre-show, Chuck D's booming baritone was heard on the mic. He teased with the opening line from their classic "Bring the Noise:" "Bass! How low can you go?"
When Public Enemy's set actually started, they came out blasting. Almost everything that made you raise your fist with Public Enemy was there. Chuck D spit his fiery lyrics. Flavor Flav offered comic relief with his trademark wild dance moves and charismatic personality (he even showed off his skills on bass and drums). Frantic DJ scratches added the right amount of chaos to the band's energetic playing. Those dancers in army fatigues -- the S1W's (the Security of the First World, in case you were curious) -- were even led by the mighty Professor Griff, who at times felt the need to perform flying karate kicks in his bulletproof vest. For a second, you might've mistaken these 50-year-old grandfathers for a group of anarchistic, teenage skate punks from L.A.
Suddenly, Chuck D apologized to us. Their show the previous night had taken a toll on his throat, and he was losing his voice. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't go full-stop to the end. To give his partner brief rest breaks, Flav took over for small chunks of their set, which is about when some awesomely weird stuff happened. One of Flav's friends, a magician from Vegas, shoved a huge, inflated yellow balloon down his throat. Another Vegas performer danced with a huge ring, using the momentum of his body to propel the ring around the floor, looking alternately like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat and a breakdancer stuck in a futuristic virtual reality apparatus. At a rap show. Sure, why not?
Excuse the cliche, but if you hadn't realized by now, a Public Enemy performance is an experience. The best thing about watching legends perform is that they've earned the right to do whatever the hell they feel like doing, knowing crowds will still go with it. Luckily, Public Enemy's professionalism causes them to overachieve. Their loose, "everything but the kitchen sink" structure allows for a completely unique, kinda mind-blowing show. If you haven't seen Public Enemy perform yet, something has clearly gone very wrong in your life somewhere.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog SD Raps.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.