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Coachella 2009: Public Enemy brings the noise

April 20, 2009 | 12:19 pm


Before launching into its late '80s smash "Rebel Without a Pause," Public Enemy's frontman Chuck D became conscious of a certain ageism in the air, cautioning the Coachella crowd: "This is from 1987, before some of you were born." Before launching into the song, though, he thought better of it, adding: "But you was here for Paul McCartney, which is before everybody was born!"

With acts such as McCartney, Morrissey, the Cure and Leonard Cohen accounting for this year's surfeit of "dad rock" at the festival, it fell to the Strong Island firebrands of Public Enemy to be the token "dad rap" booking of this year's event.

The group understood that expectation, however, and performed its 1988 opus "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" for an appreciative crowd.

Minus DJ Terminator X, who has not performed with Public Enemy in years, the original lineup was intact: Minister of Information Professor Griff made repeated references to the "Obama deception," hype man Flavor Flav appeared bouyant in a jester hat and signature giant clock necklace; he executed no fewer than four stage dives (to the chagrin of fans, no doubt, by going in feet first). And Chuck D, in New York Knicks shorts and a New York Mets cap, has lost none of his stentorian rhyme-spitting ability in the 21 years since the group's epochal album debuted. All of them (accompanied by PE's onstage security detail, the S1Ws, DJ Lord and a three-piece band) rocked the house even while some of the Cure's lugubrious guitar wash bled into their set.

By the time Public Enemy performed its Slayer-sampling anti-TV screed "She Watch Channel Zero," the audience exploded into a paroxyism of rap-metal jubilation. By reputation, Coachellans are looking for any excuse to rage against the proverbial machine. This time, they were collectively fighting the power.

-- Chris Lee

Photo of Chuck D by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times