A cynic might say that new-metal heroes Anthrax included rappers Public Enemy on the bill at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday for the same reason the L.A. Philharmonic sticks an Elliott Carter piece on a program otherwise devoted to Brahms: because it's something their audience should hear, and it's good for them.
On paper, of course, the synergy between the hardest, most uncompromising forms of rap and metal makes a lot of sense. They're both loud, aggressive kinds of music, seemingly custom-designed to annoy parents and probation officers, and rap and metal's sheer incomprehensibility to the vast majority of KIIS listeners both empowers and brings together large groups of kids by setting them apart from everybody else.
Producer Rick Rubin made a fortune by fusing metal sounds onto the classic hip-hop formula: the first albums from L L Cool J and the Beastie Boys; Run-DMC's version of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." And rapper Ice-T's new speed-metal band is making a lot of noise. Reportedly, white teen-agers buy a huge percentage of gangsta rap records.
But historically, rap and metal audiences--and artists--have remained almost entirely separate.
One notable exception this year was a collaboration between Ice-T and Jane's Addiction. And another, even braver collaboration was between Anthrax and Public Enemy on a version of PE's "Bring the Noise," which appears on both groups' most recent albums and which marries metal's crunch with rap's sting more effectively than anything yet recorded. The song just cranks .
The two bands' co-headlining U.S. tour is designed to expose Public Enemy to audiences that would otherwise be unlikely to see them--Saturday's crowd was virtually all white. Perhaps inspired by the oppositional energy, both bands played more compellingly than they have in years.
Public Enemy, following sets by noisy, funk-flavored neo-metallers Primus and white rappers the Young Black Teenagers, played the show you may have always wanted to see them do, free of ex-member Professor Griff's Anglo-baiting and lead rapper Chuck D's long-winded speeches about flag and country, relatively free of the time-killing Flavor Flav antics that sometimes used to take up half a set.
This was professional rap at its hardest and most entertaining, hit after cleanly articulated hit, scratch after scratch. The goal here, one suspects, was less to challenge the audience with rap than to help them like it--on Public Enemy's own terms.
The phrase "Elvis, was a hero to most . . ." from "Fight the Power" was pointedly repeated three times before Chuck D continued ". . . but he didn't mean ---- to me." The group also did its infrequently performed "Channel Zero," possibly because it thought the prominent Slayer sample would appeal to the masses.
Chuck D bounded across the stage like Michael Jordan across a basketball court, energetic, athletic and seemingly genuinely excited about performing in front of a huge crowd of Anthrax fans.
Anthrax came out to jet-engine screams from the crowd, launched into its backwards-talk, alienated-teen anthem "Efilnikufesin," and exploded into manic life. What seemed like two-thirds of the people in the amphitheatre sang along not only with the choruses but with the verses as well. Horned fists were pumped. Anthrax's patented white-noise metallic crunch was physical enough to tempt even the nonbelievers to bang their heads, or at least to pluck out their earplugs and fling them 20 rows down.
The encore, of course, was a prolonged, extremely rocking version of "Bring the Noise," metal and rap at last fusing into a seamless whole.