Public Enemy at Summit Music Hall, 12/21/13
All photos by Eric Gruneisen
PUBLIC ENEMY at SUMMIT MUSIC HALL | 12/21/13
One of the most powerful moments of Public Enemy's set came when Chuck D told us they were reaching back to It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back for the next song. It was hard to say what was coming next, since by then the act had already played many of the biggest hits from its back catalog. But then we got a ferocious version of "Louder Than a Bomb," and it was like getting to hear a new song, thanks to the richness of sound and the raw energy the guys poured into it.
The act brought tons of energy to its set, which ran close to two hours, with plenty of movement and vibrant vocals from Chuck D, who threw his mic in the air and swung it like he was knocking one out of the park. Flav, meanwhile, took up the bass for one song and showed us what slap bass and popping should sound like. And then late in the show, he played some beautifully nuanced drums while Chuck rapped "B Side Wins Again."
The band experimented a bit with older songs, otherwise breathing life into material many of us have listened to for more than two decades, and played excellent newer cuts like "Hoovermusic," "31 Flavors," "I Shall Not Be Moved," and "He Got Game." "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos" got a hard funk treatment that gave an already intense song an edgier feel.
"Don't Believe the Hype" had a reggae flavored middle section that everyone in the band went into without missing a beat. During "Can't Truss It," Flav took off his hat and let his short dreads fly wildly like he was in Bad Brains. "Black In Back" was a highlight of the set and a perfect live mash-up of AC/DC and Chuck and Flav's inimitable lyrical flow and delivery.
With so many great songs, it didn't really matter what came first or last. Still, performing the classic "911 Is A Joke" in the first quarter of the set seemed bold. But then P.E. is a bold and confident act, and the group was in top form here, as was guitarist Khari Wynn, who offered expertly smooth transitions. His masterful playing gave the music a depth and texture that helped everything else seem vivid and powerful. For his part, Davy DMX kept the smooth, strong, low end going for most of the show, with T-Bone Motta on drums.
Another interesting moment came when Chuck highlighted how his vocals didn't really use effects, even though it sounded like he was sampled on the records. When he and Flav demonstrated how they did it naturally, it felt like they were having a little fun, but it was also impressive to see at the same time.