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- Posted on Oct 3rd 2011 12:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
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Only ATP, held this year in Asbury Park, N.J., could bring together beloved indie recluse Jeff Mangum -- who released two Neutral Milk Hotel albums in the '90s and then vanished into thin air -- and Chuck D, the rabble-rousing hip-hop icon who arrived on the scene in the '80s and hasn't stopped talking since. Hats off to Portishead, who curated the event, for achieving such a juxtaposition.
Mangum headlined Friday, ATP's opening night, so when he took the stage at the Paramount Theater on Sunday, there wasn't quite the same level of anticipation there had been 48 hours earlier. Still, fans were visibly awestruck, and at first, no one spoke, as if engaging Mangum would send him scurrying back into his secret hiding place. After opener 'Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2,' the singer and guitarist broke the silence.
"You can sing if you'd like," he said, though surprisingly, as he segued into 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,' from his exalted album of the same name, he didn't get many takers.
"I see some of your lips moving, but I don't hear you," Mangum said afterward.
Far less shy and awkward than his legend would suggest, Mangum was affable and chatty, introducing songs by name and even telling the audience it was cool to shout things at him. This prompted a slew of song requests, declarations of love and variations on the theme, "We missed you -- don't ever leave us again!"
"Do we have to go to my therapist together to work this out?" Mangum quipped at one point.
If the show was an exercise in demystification, revealing Mangum to be less a Brian Wilson or J.D. Salinger than a good-natured dude who dresses like your local hip barista and strums a mean acoustic guitar, it also underscored what makes him such a magnet for adoration. His singing on Sunday was crisp and clear, with just a hint of pained oscillation and rasp, and even his most cryptic lyrics seemed to come from a sweet and genuine place. The standing ovation he received following closer 'Two-Headed Boy' felt deserved, inevitable though it was.
Four hours later, at Asbury's Convention Hall, Public Enemy smacked subtlety upside the head. The legendary Long Island collective was slated to perform its 1990 album 'Fear of a Black Planet' from start to finish, but instead, the group offered a modified version, one "remixed with a lot of other s---," as Chuck D explained. The loose format allowed Chuck's foil and Public Enemy's source of comic relief, Flavor Flav, to chat up the audience, demonstrate his prowess on the bass and drums and generally break up the beat-heavy bum-rush that is the group's music.
Today's Public Enemy includes a live backing unit, complete with bass, drums and guitar, and while the crew still falls victim to some of the pitfalls that perpetually plague live hip-hop, they get it right a lot of the time. 'Don't Believe the Hype,' '911 Is a Joke' and the closing 'Fight the Power' played like the anthems they are, and leading into 'Cold Lampin' with Flavor,' Flav stopped clowning long enough to tell the story of how Mr. Magic -- an '80s-era radio DJ who dissed Public Enemy's debut single on the air -- made it onto the track.
Jason Persse for AOL
Some of the night's best moments came when the band veered away from 'Black Planet.' 'He Got Game,' with its sample from Buffalo Springfield's 'For What It's Worth,' is certainly no Public Enemy classic, but its mellow groove showcased Chuck's ability to do more than bellow. Toward the end of the set, he and Flav rapped over an impromptu beat laid down by guest Dennis Davis, the drummer on David Bowie's 'Fame,' among other famous tracks. Even better was when Flav got behind the kit and coaxed Chuck into doing the 1987 tune 'Timebomb.'
"That's an appropriate record, because we're running out of time," Chuck warned, as the group's two hours drew to close.
"As long as I've got this clock around my neck," a cocksure Flav said, referring to his signature accessory, "we'll never run out of time."