A lot of the people in attendance at the Public Enemy/Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe show in Denver this Saturday were surprised to find out KDTU was headlining the show (the advertisements led one to believe otherwise). After all, the controversial rap artists from Long Island are considered one of the most essential groups in their genre, if not of their entire generation. With no disrespect to Denson, PE was indeed the headliner; regardless of what order the acts hit the stage in. Much of the audience was there to see PE, and promptly left the venue before Denson and his crew even stepped foot on the stage.
Fans packed the Ogden Theater for a potent set of immortal songs from PE’s debut LP Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987) on through their catalog to their most recent release, 2007’s How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul. The evening was more or less composed of blocks of songs from their first three albums, filled in with other jams including “Shut ‘Em Down,” “Can’t Truss It,” “Harder Than You Think,” “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” and “Fight the Power.”
“Hype man” Daniel McGowan came out first to rouse the crowd, and was joined by two camo-clad S1Ws in a choreographed military-style march routine, followed by DJ Lord and an actual band consisting of bass, guitar and drums. With the opening “instrumental,” scratch and sample heavy “Contract on the World Love Jam” underway, Chuck D. and Flavor Flav emerged and the crowd went ballistic. Fans rushed the stage and reflected back the raw power coming at them through the PAs. The intro led into “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” as it does on 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet and was followed by the album’s next two musical tracks “911’s a Joke” and “Welcome to the Terrordome.”
The rap pioneers showed a full house in Denver that they can still deliver their music, even twenty four years since their debut record, with the same power and purpose that put them on the map in the first place and perpetuated their legacy over the decades. Flav switched gears from his current reality television persona back to his surreal, clock around-the-neck, court-jester supporting role to Chuck D’s deep cutting, urgent vocals.
The Fear of a Black Planet block was followed by a showcase from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988). “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” paved the way for the timeless strength of “Bring the Noise,” and the media critique “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Former DJ Terminator X, who left the group in 1999, was honored with a dedication of “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic” with its bold “Flash” (Gordon) intro and dense sonic, scratch-heavy soundscape.
Amidst a current DJ world seemingly ruled by digital mixers, it was refreshing and nostalgic to see a group with a DJ behind the tables spinning actual vinyl. This is how it all began, and Lord nailed it, scratching and manipulating his mixer with blinding speed and accuracy, cutting up “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” during his solo expo, and otherwise flawlessly running through the meat of the PE catalog.
“Timebomb” and “You’re Gonna Get Yours” flew the Yo! Bum Rush the Show flag high, with Flav holding the beat down behind the drum kit, as Chuck D dropped lyrics that were clearly ahead of their time, both in style and content.
I overheard numerous people commenting on how they’d never seen the Ogden so packed before. When you offer up a classic hip-hop show for a single night to the people of Denver and surrounding cities, you can bet they’ll pack the venue tight. PE once again proved that their music and message are timeless, and that their delivery can still raise the roof.