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POP REVIEW : Rap-Meets-Rock Concert Marred by Violence

“History in the making” is the way Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid described Saturday’s rap-meets-rock concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Reid’s comment--only a bit of hype--referred to the lineup that brought together black rock bands Living Colour and headliner Fishbone (both with largely white audiences) with the politically charged rap acts Public Enemy and Stetsasonic (whose core fans are mostly black).

“There’s one of everybody here” was a comment overheard in the crowd. And, indeed, all sorts appeared to be on hand--from white collegiate types to heavy metal fans to colors-wearing homeboys.

And that was just the intent of what Fishbone manager Roger Perry described backstage as “an experiment” in combining diverse audiences.

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Unfortunately, the experiment was marred by violence: During Living Colour’s second-act performance--and shortly after Reid’s “history-in-the-making” statement--a fight broke out among several people described by security and Santa Monica police as gang members that sent many in the audience scurrying toward the exits.

Other fights broke out during Public Enemy’s third-act set.

The consensus in the audience seemed to be that the incidents were not racially motivated. And before and after the fights, the differing cultural elements at worst ignored each other and at best blended amicably and unconcernedly.

Although the concert promoters had promised to keep gang members out, Goldenvoice promotions head Gary Tovar acknowledged that several dozen gang members had been allowed inside. (Santa Monica police reported Sunday morning that no arrests were made and no injury reports filed, but paramedics were summoned to attend to at least one person with an unspecified head injury.)

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The fights raised doubts about just how successful the audience mix can be. As long as a fear of gang violence exists, the link between the rock and rap musical cultures is likely to remain tenuous.

That was brought into sharpest focus during Public Enemy’s violence-abbreviated set. Though pleading for “peace and togetherness,” the group performed in the guise of a paramilitary organization backed by a five-member, uniformed and Uzi-toting drill team. And when fights broke out, tough-talking Public Enemy left the stage--after just half an hour and 3 1/2 songs.

And one must wonder just how much the group’s confrontational approach--and speeches and lyrics that draw on the philosophies of Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan and are often characterized by critics as anti-Semitic--contributed to the tension. The political speeches given from the stage by lead Enemy Chuck D were eloquent and well thought out. But he took a stance that left little room for racial or political harmony: “America, Israel and South Africa are all whorish devils. . . . Public Enemy is ready to go to war now.”

In contrast, Living Colour’s dynamic set was well-received, with the group’s version of Talking Heads’ “Memories Can’t Wait"--incorporating elements of metal, progressive funk and reggae toasting--as dynamic a performance as you are likely to see.

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And L.A.'s Fishbone keeps getting better and better. Though about one fifth of the audience left after Public Enemy’s set (including, apparently, the worst trouble-makers), the hyperkinetic L.A. sextet was still left with a wider racial mix than it has generally played to in its numerous prior local shows--appropriate in that the band’s latest album, “Truth and Soul,” deals with more specifically black issues than the band has been known for before.

Best, the band delivers the message in a sassy, wild ‘n’ woolly (yet technically astounding) brew of ska, rock, funk and punk. Bet that kind of message even gets through to the dozens of youths who formed a slam dance ring that circled with enough fury to rival the Supercollider.


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