Monday, July 21, 2008

P4k afterthoughts: Friday

So I cashed in and went to the pitchfork festival this past weekend.
First off, I'd like to thank Owen Ashworth and Holly Rotman for making this possible by opening up their couch to me and making Chi city feel like a place I can call Chi city without sounding like a white kid that listens to Kanye. Oh, wait, that's impossible because I'm a white kid that listens to Kanye! But still, hearts warmer than the weather.
SHOWTIME - already accepting that there were relatively few token rap acts, and that I could look forward to skipping Spoon and taking advantage of lackluster options to skip around on scheduling conflicts, I was pretty much ready for thunderdome.
I arrived late and unfortunately missed Mission of Burma. The entire Don't Look Back curricula requires a band foregoes making a live mixtape for its audience and sets the odd stricture of having them perform an entire album that you may or may not skip around when listening to on your own. I guess it's the emergency action directive from the save the album campaign. From what I read about their history I assumed that it was the spontaneous nature of their improvised setlists that allowed for their shows to be either chaotically awesome or novelty trainwrecks that either way would have been transfixing, otherwise they'd be forced out of their element. I used this excuse to comfort myself when I saw Barlow and Co. were setting up while I was walking in.
In middle school my neighbor burned "bakesale" for me and I developed an abstract concept of relationships as burying your head in your lover's bosom in order to bestill their beating heart, possibly yours too (wasn't double suicide so superficially poetic back then? Ugh. Kids need more Myth of Sisyphus (I did, it's sadly gone unread by me). If you're going to piss off the world, stick around to gauge its reaction, no? Pissing off yourself does no one good, though I haven't ever been in a situation that was unbearable and inescapable, so I'm not one to talk. Though I think I'll always be morbidly fascinated and stuck in awestruck reverence when it comes to self-immolation). So yeah, bakesale. It was awkward, and this is probably made up because I was into it more for the lingering traces of light in his melancholic delivery. Music was all about moods back then. But reading about Barlow's awkward virginal sexual history, and how it made him odd man out in Dinosaur J, taking homophobic potshots from J Mascis and adding disturbing psychosexual undercurrents to sucking on the cookie monster's eyeball in J's face as revenge strategy, until he pulled the band from its Mascis Comes Alive! trappings to play a Gnostic God's underling with two tape decks and in doing so falling in love with a college DJ at age 20, gave me some comfort during high school. Kind of like reading about Fugazi cooped up in a motel room and becoming friends for life by revealing their deepest, darkest secrets to each other. I didn't envy it as much as appreciated that bonds like that could be created, and sure, would have liked to sit in and tell them everything. I was in odd confessional mode in high school, not realizing how awkward that can make some friendships. But aren't friendships better than psychologists because with friends your not paying them 100 dollars to measure your sanity but giving them morsels of your heart so you can know that everyone is a little fucked up? Lou Barlow's lyrics seemed to stem from not being able to let out like that.
Any ways, I had never heard Bubble and Scrape, but it pretty much sounded like a Sebadoh album. I was in the port-a-potty when they started, which is where I can imagine the songs were either written or meant to be heard, or a real john, slumped up against a sink hung over from too much drama. For a few moments I thought, hey, this is what Sebadoh used to make me feel, tonight's going to be all right! And then I got bored and darted for the record fair. Numero Group was there, reliable as usual, taking 55 dollars for a selection worth over 80. Waiting for public enemy I met a photographer who thought it was worth a free download (I later tell myself that the packaging and the liner notes are worth it. Did not get into the ethics of downloading, because I totally have half the bands from the coming weekend on my mp3 player illegally). Found out the vegan Soul Veg cart in Tallahassee, run by Hebraic Africans raising money for a pilgrimage to Israel, was also a Chicago staple and are directly related to the Soul Messengers from Dimona. From the liner notes ",,,Dimona, Israel. It's an arid and rocky landscape: perfect for secret nuclear facilities, ideal for raising goats, and according to track twelve, the spiritual capital of the world." Way to bring on the apocalypse. So looking forward to this.
A great moment was catching Lou Barlow reacting to the Bomb Squad cutting into his solo acoustic encore on the Jumbotron. It looked like a kind of a shrugged acceptance. "If my music isn't sad enough..."
Yeah, bomb squad, I would have loved an hour DJ set from them. I can safely say that was the best usage of the soundsystem all weekend, as, intending to move the crowd they forced the crowd to move by shaking the ground. The Shocklee claims of still bringing us something new rang false considering Public Enemy's decline and forever waning status outside of Robert Christgau's head as politically or even sonically relevant, but that really didn't matter because their dubstep/dancehall blitzkrieg brought ear-shattering body rocking nonetheless. Before the Shocklee exit, "we made the public enemy sound, we won't be on stage, but don't you forget!"
I hadn't been keeping tabs on public enemy so Terminator X1's absence took me by surprise. Also Chuck D's loyalty to Professor Griff, outfitted for the new rap era, and apparently at a loss for words on his own contributions to the old one. More later. S1W's in ROTC formation marched Chuck D out, who, reliant on the power of his words, was done up in a basketball Jersey (perhaps a reference to He Got Game, the last time a music contribution of theirs made any waves?). I haven't heard the album in forever, and always favored Malcolm X over Farrakhan. Finding out their politics were informed by his was a somewhat harsh blow to my understanding of them as progressive. At least the follow for now line gave room for growth. Except when it came to Professor Griff, who locked himself up in black muslim conspiracy theories. And Flava Flav, too, really, who locked himself up in his own exploited image.
I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, their relevance at that point in time can't be stressed, I honestly can't think of another rap group that seemed to have the ability to affect politics radically, as opposed to now where a celebrity endorsement for Obama and a spot at the Democratic National Convention is the epitome of high-powered celebrity activism.
Though I wasn't expecting them to come out and say something in support of a gay, atheist communist like Angela Davis I was still a little glum over their Obama endorsement.
Anyways, show sounded awesome, Chuck D ran out and did his thing like it was embedded in his system and if he didn't periodically release it he would explode. As per usual, I couldn't decipher any lyrics in a rap show, all I could follow was the cadence. Of course, it seems the point of rap shows is to know every word before going so you can sing along. My retention is shit though, so I went back to moods, and the mood read blown away.
Various contingents of the mostly white audience reacted as if they grew up on public enemy via the Anthrax collabo on Tony Hawk and thought it was appropriate to mosh. Just because they collaborated with Scott Ian doesn't mean you have to get caught in a mosh, kids! A man of east-asian ancestry brought his two year old to the show, outfitted with ear plugs, a tiennamen square reference could probably be written off as an example of orientalism, but if he doesn't go opposite pop's route like alex p. keaton, who knows what power will come through the barrel of his gun (or guns like popeyes, but the guns of his mind, wishful thinking, right Gelderloo?)! Almost made me wish my first concert wasn't U2 in a baseball stadium in elementary school. But I used to really like the batman forever soundtrack when I was 10, so in retrospect that worked out really well!
So Flava Flav clocked in one song late and played that loveably goofy foil to Chuck D's fiery rage, decked out in clock and green medallion advertising his new sitcom about a wild street-savvy black guy crashing a bourgeois negroes upscale seclusion from his brethren. I was surprised Flava Flav actually rapped, he carried a whole song by himself while Chuck D went all Parents Just Don't Understand behind him. He asked Professor Griff to join in and then called him out for not remembering a word of his own venerable institution.
Best part:
Flava Flav - Hey, check out my new show Under One Roof every wednesday at something something on TBS.
Crowd - Boo!
Flava Flav - What? Don't boo me! All y'all booin', what, what, what are you, ghosts? You know who you boo, your spouse, you call your spouse boo. You should be proud of a brotha!
Now I'm not one to talk about one man's actions setting an entire race 15 years back, because that's usually a misconception of how a race should be presented in white eyes, calling for some kind of fascistic united but homogenized front as opposed to allowing for said race to express all expressions of the human psyche. But his reality tv shtick probably did a lot to aid in the undoing of Public Enemy's image as a consciously political group. Unless they decided to become a dada parody of the worst aspects of capitalism's instant gratification in the form of exploitative self-glorification. Chuck D kept dissent to Flava Flav's image to a minimum, but I remember him leaving Flava Flav at the altar when it came to the friar's club roast.
Chuck D asked all the REAL hip hop heads to make some noise, making another silly old guard distinction between their music and what's on the radio. If only they knew that this white audience might have heard NPR's eloquent deconstruction of MIMS' This is Why I'm Hot. If only they knew this audience loved listening to radio rap when recontextualized by a white nerd with a keyboard who threw their parents record collection as a backbeat! If only they made more songs with Buffalo Springfield as the backbeat! (Oh, whiteness, how self-aware you can be while remaining entirely ignorant at the same time! Don't worry, i'm totally including myself in that)
The saddest part came right before I left midway through the album. Chuck D made a claim that thanks to the audience's reception of their album as the rap Sgt. Pepper, the world realized that rap was here to stay. I got my nostalgia kicks in, and cashed out after the only possible damage they might have caused was to pitchfork's relation to the city's noise ordnance.
Looking in the DIY record tent it seemed that not only was rap not there to stay, but neither was Public Enemy, themselves underrepresented in a festival they were co-headlining. When the token rap act doesn't have a token prop, then a token ain't worth nothing more than flop. Jazz, having lost its cutting edge unless it frees itself into atonality, was widely present in the used record bins. I fear that rap itself will suffer the same fate, forty years after it caused a stir it would be relegated to elevator music until something new came along with a widely polarizing effect. Accepted only when it's a tourist trap on bourbon street. Old blokes doing renditions of Soulja Slim and the Hot Boys for white folks with a new sense of intolerable non-p.c. kicks. Hand grenades will still be their drink of choice.

Related posts:
P4k afterthoughts: Saturday
P4k afterthoughts: Sunday