LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy & De La Soul at Bayou Music Center, 7/3/2013

LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul Bayou Music Center July 3, 2013

Classic-rock acts who were never more than B-list tour every summer and pack amphitheaters by the thousands. It takes four of the most important acts in rap history to fill up Bayou Music Center. Something seems off there.

Nevertheless, a predictably older and diverse audience ready to get their July 4 break off on the right foot flocked to Bayou Place Wednesday night.for LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De La Soul, dubbed the "Kings of the Mike" tour. If things didn't quite go off without a hitch, it did keep the crowd's heads nodding and hands in the air for four solid hours, providing dozens of opportunities to shout back their favorite lyrics and tossing in P-Funk godfather George Clinton and Black Sheep MC Dres as added value.

DJ Chuck Chillout did what he could with a mix of Biggie, Slick Rick and Bob Marley, taking it all the way back to "Rapper's Delight," but a late sound check meant a half-hour delay before De La Soul took the stage just before 9 p.m. The Long Island rappers struggled to engage the crowd early on, but DJ Maseo's heavy boom-bap from and the effortless back-and-forth between MCs Posdunos and Dave loosened their resolve with cuts like "Potholes on My Lawn."

Even though they fell back on the familiar "this side of the room vs. that side" ploy, both men very much came off as just a couple of regular dudes who happened to be unusually agile rappers. They were a little playful too; at one point Dave had a call-and-response going using only meows.

One Native Tongues shout-out later, Dres came onstage to rap through "Fever For the Flavor," and stuck around for the familiar "engine, engine, No. 9" that signals the opening of "Me, Myself and I," and the first point Wednesday's crowd officially lots its collective shit. All the pieces were there: a floor-thumping foundation, that great bluesy shout of a hook, Dave leading a "party over here chant," Maseo's nimble scratching. Indeed it was a party, at last.

Fans barely had time to run to the bar before the sirens went off and Public Enemy bum-rushed the show. The Strong Island-formed assemblage must have been still buzzed about their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year (or something), because their no-quarter barrage of plutonium beats and savage scratching -- with DJ Lord up for the challenge in for the one and only Terminator X -- with a fatback-funk backbone sounded more than potent enough to kick in a few doors at various halls of power. In fact Flavor Flav, who dedicated his performance to Michael Jackson before plugging his YouTube tribute to the King of Pop, said their recent induction was the reason he was currently clockless before launching a rafter-reaching "yeeeeeeeeah boy!" and lighting the fuse to "911 Is a Joke."

It was a little crowded up there with Flav, Chuck D, Lord atop his imposing DJ tower, a live band and the fatigue-clad S1W security detail, and got more crowded when Chuck welcomed Dr. Funkenstein to the stage for "Caught, Can I Get a Witness?", but PE spent zero time on formalities. The group ran through most of their better-known tracks -- "Public Enemy No. 1," "Can't Truss It," "Bring the Noise," "Don't Believe the Hype" at a military-drilled clip that made it seem like breakneck is the only speed they have. (They did let Flav have a little fun on bass guitar during "Welcome to the Terrordome, though.)

It's tempting to wonder what they could do with more than half an hour. More new material like "I Shall Not Be Moved," no doubt. PE may be a Hall of Fame act now -- and were always Hall of Fame caliber -- but their ferocious set made it clear they're hardly resting on their laurels. Chuck D repeatedly acknowledged that PE was running short on time, but it would have been uncharacteristic of him to leave before before lobbing one last lyrical Molotov at Texas, saying, "This motherfuckin' state has killed too many fuckin' people" before closing with a good and satisfying "Fight the Power." So what if it made the concert run a little longer?

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray