The original idea behind Public Enemy’s set in the Asbury Park convention hall was that they’d play their landmark 1990 album Fear Of A Black Planet in full, for the first time ever. Well, they did that. But because of Mogwai’s last-minute cancellation of their entire North American tour, P.E. ended up having to do a whole lot more. With their set stretched from one hour to two, the noise-rap originators ended up doing Black Planet and a greatest-hits set, shuffling the two together into a continuous barrage of drums and bellows and siren-sounds.
Seeing Public Enemy is always, always fun. The S1W dance crew/security detail executes its military-precision lockstep steps. Flavor Flav provides a much-welcome energy jolt, dancing hard and interjecting ecstatic nonsense even when he’s just plugging his reality-TV career. And Chuck D remains an absolute dynamo onstage, moving with more energy than rappers half his age. That level of showmanship, combined with a ridiculous catalog of classics, means you’re getting a worthwhile show whatever happens. But Public Enemy has been playing with a live band for years now, and their chaotic rumble, combined with the echoey sound that torpedoed Company Flow’s reunion set earlier in the day, meant that P.E.’s set was a sometimes-frustrating mixed bag, equal parts badass and bedlam.
Still, two big highlights stand out. One came when they pulled a random audience member onstage to fill in for the absent Media Assassin Harry Allen on “Don’t Believe The Hype.” That audience member turned out to be Stereogum buddy Christopher R. Weingarten, aka @1000TimesYes, who jumped onstage with bugged-out diehard-fan enthusiasm and stage-dove immediately after uttering his one big line. P.E. should really consider making Chris their new full-time Media Assassin; after all, the man has already written a book about them.
The other highlight actually came after Public Enemy’s set ended. Portishead, headlining once again, played what mostly amounted to the same set that they’d done the night before. But on their sci-fi banger “Machine Gun,” Chuck D came to the stage and spat his opening verse from the P.E. classic “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos,” sounding great and making Portishead producer Geoff Barrow look like he was about to die of dizzy pride. This was a repeat of something Chuck and Portishead had done at Spain’s Primavera Festival a few years ago, but that didn’t matter. It was still the stuff ATP dreams are made of…