fear of an old planet

Things that in my entire life I would never have expected to see anywhere, much less less than ten feet in front of me:

Brigitte Nielsen, passionately kissing Flava Flav.

…but I guess that it’s no weirder than going to a Public Enemy / Living Colour show in NYC and realizing that the median age of the audience is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 35. Which in turn is no weirder than realizing that even the 35-year-olds in the audience are a decade younger than Chuck D.

Well, actually, I take it back. Flav tongue-kissing Red Sonja is still the weirdest of all of those things.

So, yeah, I’m old, my peer group is old, and the hot/edgy/controversial bands we liked in high school are also: old. So what do you do when your gold records are a decade behind you, Rolling Stone is no longer calling you for commentary on current political events, bald spots outnumber bare chests at your shows, and nobody under the age of 25 even knows your name anymore? Well, hopefully you suck it up, screw it on, and put on a monster show regardless, which is exactly what PE and LC did last night.

I’d never personally seen Public Enemy in concert before, so I’ve got jack to compare it to other than a dim memory of them playing Saturday Night Live. Still…they pulled it off like an old prizefighter who never got the message that his day was done. Most of that is down to Mr. Chuck D: he’s got a voice like an old testament prophet, the stage presence to match, still bounces around like a jackrabbit, and had enough respect for the audience to work PE’s back catalog with both enthusiasm for the old beats and enough embellishments to keep the attention hooked. Does “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” still rock? Yes, yes it does. Did a James Brown-style funk breakdown of “Fight the Power” work? Yes, yes indeed. Was a 5-minute long audience participation chant of “FUCK GEORGE BUSH” necessary? Hell yes. Res ipsa loquitor.

The “Security of the First World” dancers/bodyguards/whatever were kinda cool/menacing in 1989 when there were like twelve of them: the 2004 incarnation of the band is down to two, still wearing the same grey jumpsuits and striking the same poses, and suddenly seem a lot more Devo than Huey Newton. Terminator X is long-gone, but “DJ Lord” stood in well enough. Professor Griff is still onstage, doing…whatever it is that he does. (Seriously? Anyone? I mean other than stand uncomfortably and think bad things about Jews?)

And Flava Flav was, of course, beamed in direct from planet Neptune.

So yeah, after a good 90 minute set from PE, Chuck and the rest of the band cleared off, leaving us, the unsuspecting audience… alone with Flava Flav. And his three children. And Brigitte Nielsen. See, apparently, Flav and Brigitte now have their own reality TV show, called “Mad Love”. And this concert was to feature in an upcoming episode. So for a good 20 minutes after the set, we were treated to Flav canoodling onstage with Brigitte, introducing his kids, attempting to play a drum solo, trying to lure DJ Lord back onstage, trying (and failing) to play a beat on Lord’s turntables on his own, having his oldest daughter mercifully shut down the turntable, giving a shout-out to his ex-wife (who apparently was in the audience) and then doing about half of “Can’t Do Nuthin For Ya Man” a capella before being coaxed offstage by Living Colour’s road crew, who were not-very-patiently waiting in the wings to set up.

Oh, and did I mention that Brigitte was wearing fake all-gold Flava Flav teeth? And speaking with a lisp because of them? I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

How do you follow an act like that? There is only one answer: pretend it didn’t happen. Which is exactly what Living Colour did, thank all the gods.

I last saw LC live about two years ago at Summerstage in Central Park, which was actually their first live show in something like 7 years. For a variety of reasons, it basically stank. Part of it was that the audience was awful: most of them were there to see the opening act (Asian Dub Foundation) and they left in droves once Living Colour was on. But mostly it was the band: they sounded like… well, they sounded like a band that hadn’t played together in nearly a decade, which is exactly what they were. Vernon looked kinda embarrassed about the whole thing, and poor Corey’s theatrics couldn’t connect with a rapidly departing audience that was mostly still in grade school the last time he’d had a gold single.

This show was…not like that. The band was inhumanly tight from two years of touring and cutting a new album together. Vernon Reid tends to get most of the musical attention for the group for his “video arcade on fire” art-skronk guitar shredding, but for my money there may be no better rhythm section in the world right now than Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish. From the opening crunch of “Type” through the final, inevitable encore of “Cult of Personality”, they didn’t let up for one instant.

(Well, except for the new, Wimbish-penned “Terrorism”, about which the less said the better.)

An interesting consequence of going to a rap/metal show where there is basically nobody under the age of 25 in the audience: even when the band onstage is pounding your lights out, it’s almost… relaxing. No fights. No attitude. No teenage testosterone bullshit. Even the brief appearance of a slam pit during “Cult” was all smiles and happy nostalgia. Age has its privileges.

After the encore, the band hung around onstage to sign autographs and shoot the shit with their fans: a class finale to an excellent night.

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