photos by Tim Griffin
"The marquee event [at this year's Roots Picnic - June 6, 2009 in Philly] was Public Enemy's performance of their epochal 1988 album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, performed for only the third - and, they have said, the last - time on American soil, and the first time with a band.The also performed the album at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival. More pictures from Saturday's show, below...
Public Enemy's Chuck D famously called rap music African Americans' CNN, an analogy that bodes ill for the exhumation of a 20-year-old album. But fueled by an expanded Roots lineup that included a horn section from the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas, Nation sounded like anything but old news. Chuck D's stentorian voice has lost none of its power to command, and Flavor Flav washed away years of reality-TV embarrassment, seeming more like a sharp-witted jester than a fool.
Rather than approximating Nation's sonic thicket, the Roots added melody and depth. The prison-riot saga "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" gained a funk guitar riff and blaring horns, with ?uestlove's snare hits ringing out like rifle shots.