When I read Joel Shanahan’s Summerfest recap yesterday in the AV Club, the opening sentence made me angry. “Some brat yammering on his cell phone about how he was on his way to see the ‘Flavor Flav group’ and how it’s ‘gonna be totally fucking hilarious?’” I wonder if that kid was singing the same tune after Public Enemy’s blistering set on Friday night. That kid probably heard Chuck D encourage the 30-year-olds in the crowd to get crazy “so we 50-year-olds don’t feel so bad,” and probably rolled his eyes at these over-the-hill codgers. Man, fuck that. Public Enemy were amazing.
Those of us born before 1991 know that Chuck D has a keen mind for African-American politics and American history, but it was still impressive to hear Chuck drop some Milwaukee knowledge. Where most bands would reference Happy Days or the Brewers (which the band did, jokingly poking fun at bands that stick to boilerplate shout-outs—“nobody rocks like *checks back of guitar* Springfield!”), Chuck had a message for any Black fans in attendance: “y’all better know your history and read up on Michael McGee and Michael McGee Jr.!””I remember that bullshit curfew they tried to pull on you some 20 years back!”
After charging through relentless classics like “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic,” it was time for a turntable solo from DJ Lord, followed by Favor Flav’s proclamation that he wanted to do a drum solo. A bit of schtick I saw when the band played all of Nation of Millions at Pitchfork Fest in ’08, the drum solo was a good place for me to duck out, as I unfortunately had to bail and play a show downtown. Still, what I saw had me charged up for the rest of the night. Chuck and Flav may have hit the 50s, but their stage show still puts most 20somethings to shame. “Totally fucking hilarious?” There’s some hype that was flat-out unbelievable.
But hey, this is Fan-Belt. How were the locals on Friday? My local band report for Friday’s Summerfest activities can be summed up as such: the trip I took to get new tires on my car kept me off the grounds until 6:30, goddammit. However, I did manage to catch local pop-rockers Surgeons in Heat for the first time. If P.E. were a typhoon of hip-hop punk, Surgeons in Heat were a pleasant summer drizzle of airy, simple guitar pop. Singer-guitarist John Mayer (no relation) opened with a Prince-channeling falsetto that transitioned into more traditional vocalizing during the rest of their inoffensive, radio-friendly set. The Cascio crowd took a shine to it for sure, applauding all the way and even in the case of one adorably awkward middle-ager, busting out some…well…I’m pretty sure they were dance moves.
I swear we’ll get the locals covered in more detail in the coming days. We’re gonna be at Summerfest all damn week!