Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pitchfork Music Festival Day One: Public Enemy Almost Killed Me, or “It Takes A Nation of A Millions to Hold Us Back”

After a mile and a half walk because of our ignorance of the public transportation system, we finally arrived at Chicago’s Union Park; the location of the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival. The three members of Moustache Salad (Clint, Ira, Kyle) passed through the virtually nonexistent security, and into the still uncrowded confines of the park. As if Mission of Burma knew that the Salad had arrived, the first notes of the Vs.
(1982), floated across the crowd and grass. Being unfamiliar with the album, only having listened to it a couple times, we agreed that it was easier to appreciate live. After the first few songs into Mission of Burma’s set, we sneaked our way over to the Aluminum Stage where Public Enemy was slated to perform at 8:30. Despite the distance between us and Mission of Burma, their songs still grooved and hummed among the diverse hip-hop heads that were slowly gathering to kneel at the distinguished altar of Chuck D and Flavor Flav.
Following the epic Vs., Sebadoh (or as the emcee thought “Suh-bee-dough”) started in on their 1993 album, Bubble & Scrape. Aptly titled, the album indeed scraped live, although not necessarily in a good way. Sebadoh switched instruments between almost every song, bringing what should have been an album-like experience to a crawling, meandering mess. These frequent halts lowered the crowd’s energy, which had a negative effect on the band as well. The coup de grace on Bubble & Scrape came when the Bomb Squad began dramatically testing their equipment, letting loose a bowel-shaking bass thump that had to leave everyone within a two-mile radius wondering what the hell had just happened. The Bomb Squad got shut down by the festival coordinators about twenty seconds into their assault, which happened to coincide with an acoustic Sebadoh song. Chants of “Sebadoh Sucks!” arose from the crowd, quickly changing into a raucous chorus of “BOMB SQUAD! BOMB SQUAD!” Sebadoh finished their set, and slunk off the Connector Stage, as thousands raced to get a somewhat decent spot behind the already sizable horde gathered for Public Enemy.

All Your Bass Are Belong To Us.

As dusk settled on Union Park, the Bomb Squad thoroughly warmed up the crowd with their “New Dub Music”, cleansing the festival’s collective palette of Sebadoh. Hank and Keith Shocklee brought a “trunk o’ funk” to the lily-white audience, prompting mass uncoordinated dance moves. Most of the Bomb Squad’s new stuff has a reggae feel to it, unlike their earlier work with Public Enemy. After twenty-five minutes of beats, Keith Shocklee finally decided that the crowd was ready for Public Enemy. When a member of the audience requested sirens from the Bomb Squad, Keith responded, “You want the noise, you make it!” Upon hearing this, a legion of mouth-sirens started blaring from the audience.
The sirens and cheers grew louder when the S1Ws marched on stage, clad in Persian Gulf camo. A shortened version of “Countdown to Armageddon” was played before Chuck D hopped out onto the stage for It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back for the first time in its entirety, beginning with “Bring the Noise” inquiring in his Marv Albert inspired flow, “Bass. How low can you go?” We grew concerned about half-way through the song, when Flavor Flav was still nowhere to be seen. Chuck D was wondering the same thing, exclaiming immediately after the song ended, “Where the FUCK is Flavor Flav!?!?” This query was followed by thirty seconds of confusion and curse-laden inquiry before Flavor Flav made his grand appearance. The Clocker-rocker was weighed down with gold and ice, and of course his signature timepiece. Flavor claimed he had been held-up trying to get his family through security. After a rousing round of applause for Flavor, the duo launched into perhaps the best party jam off of It Takes a Nation, “Don’t Believe the Hype.” The audience responded, jumping and rapping along with Chuck D, “Back, caught you looking for the same thing.” With Flavor Flav on stage, Public Enemy exuded energy, driving the crowd wild with Chuck’s political and social rhymes with Flav’s nonsensical humor.
The track that followed displayed Flav’s particular humor, “Cold Lampin’ With Flavor”, Flavor’s only solo track on the album. He told the back story of the song, explaining how a New York City DJ played their first radio single, “Public Enemy No. 1” and completely dismissed it with the now immortal quote, “No more music from these suckers.” (which coincidentally begins the song). Other highlights of the night were “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic” (which was dedicated to their former DJ, Terminator X), “Night of the Living Baseheads”, and “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”, which was performed by Public Enemy’s live backing band. Chuck D is electric live; his voice booming, hands gesturing, jumping all over the stage even at the age of forty-seven. It Takes A Nation of Millions closed with “Party for Your Right to Fight”, during which Chuck and Flav simultaneously rapped back-to-back, cementing the album as both a political and party masterpiece.
Everyone expected the show to be over with the album finished, but Chuck and Flav had other plans. They treated all the sweaty fans to what was basically a short greatest hits, including “Welcome to the Terrordome”, “911 is a Joke”, and “Can’t Truss It”. Public Enemy closed their show on a high-note with the anthem “Fight the Power.”
We’d never been to a hip-hop show, let alone an entire festival devoted to music. We each entered with different expectations and indeed experienced different things. Some of these experiences were absolutely fantastic and some not so great. However, none quite compare to the experience that the Illustrious Kyle Mitchell had at the Public Enemy show. Here begins his account of those events.

I thought “The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me”

Let’s start this off with some back story.

I was really excited for this weekend to happen. I think that really goes without saying but I just wanted to make it clear that I had been anticipating its coming from the moment directly after Ira asked me, “Dude, have you heard of ‘The Pitchfork Music Festival?’”
In the 36 hours before attending Night One, I had obtained only an hour and a half of sleep and ingested a package of toaster pastries, a granola bar of sorts, and a bottle of water; and all during a six to seven hour car ride through the giant, majestic corn field that is Northwestern Illinois. Upon entering Union Park at about 6:30 p.m. we were instantly greeted by a good number of people soon followed by musical tones from Mission of Burma. We watched some of that set, Ira got his picture taken by a guy from The Riverfront Times who noticed his St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap, and then decided to get a spot for Pubilc Enemy, as the spaces to stand in front of the Aluminum Stage were already starting to be filled. There we waited for two hours before any sign of performance life from the A-Stage, where we eagerly waited.
A premature sonic blast from behind us quickened pulses and reawakened the anticipation that I felt for Public Enemy. Much to my chagrin, it would be almost 45 minutes before my appetite for annihilation would be quenched. When The Bomb Squad was finally allowed to launch their assault, we had managed to be only four people away from the front rail but there was really no way to distinguish one person in the crowd from another. As the volume went up, hands went up and bodies went up and the battle was joined, as it were.
Bomb Squad roared for…forever. I began to think to myself, “I really hope I don’t overdo this.” Turns out, I had probably already overdone it. I welcomed the short break in between The Bomb Squad and the obliterating noise that was soon to be brought. I was able to catch my breath a bit, but I had developed a weird twinge in my leg, almost like a periodic pulse of electricity; I ignored it best as I could. When DJ Lord gave the introduction for Public Enemy and Chuck D appeared on stage, the slightly subdued mass of bass-heads erupted in a manner as I have never heard or seen a crowd of any sort do. The crowd surged forward as one and Lord guided Chuck into “Bring the Noise” sans Flavor Flav. I was confused and worried at this. As, you read earlier, it wasn’t too long before he made his appearance and after that, things never settled down. I mean, the crowd quieted a bit to hear what one of these legendary gods of hip-hop wanted to quip to it, but for every song, every mouth screamed every lyric.
At the end of the album I was exhausted and drained. For almost ninety minutes I had been dancing and pumping my fist and screaming as loudly as I could manage some of the most deadly serious rhymes ever written. That was only half of it… For another hour, the geniuses behind Public Enemy treated their fans to their greatest of hit songs and histories behind the band and hip-hop in general. I wish I could say that I made it to the end of that, too. Instead, somewhere in the last four songs, my exhaustion and dehydration took over and my head began swimming. I tried to shake it off but when another song found my ear, my body took hold of my brain and said, “It’s time to get the fuck out of here.” Again, I tried to resist and Mr. Body countered by causing a nosebleed. I grabbed Ira’s shoulder to steady myself at which time he noticed the red faucet that had appeared on my face. I think I mentioned that I knew it was there, turned, and fell into Clint. Pushing through the crowd with Clint keeping me from falling over was a difficult process; there were people everywhere. It took almost four minutes to reach an area where there was space enough between people that I could sit. I remember a few people laughing at my situation, thinking I was way strung out on some substance or another. I also remember thinking, “If you don’t move, I’m gonna hafta bleed all over you.”
By the time I had recovered enough to realize I had stopped bleeding and tell Clint I didn’t need the paramedics, Chuck D was beginning his exit speech. I had to get some water so I shakily stood and found my way to the water fountains, again with Clint’s assistance (of which I am exceedingly grateful). Slightly re-hydrated, I found that I wasn’t seeing Public Enemy; that I was missing the end of the greatest show of my life thus far. “Dude, we gotta get back in there!”
By the time Clint and I found our way close to where we were before, Chuck D had already exited and Flavor Flav was saying his goodbyes: a parlance against racism, the current military conflict, and President George W. Bush… but most importantly, a plea for the like-minded individuals in the crowd to preserve their peace with each other and themselves.
There really can’t be much more said than that…
Except, maybe, this was certainly an incredible way to end a night and an incredible way to begin a weekend music festival…
And I say, “Goddamn!” That was a dope Jam.

Public Enemy's performance of It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back receives a much-deserved handlebar moustache (5 out of 5).

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