The hip-hop legends grace the Liverpool stage with unbridled passion and energy. Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby finds them giving the youngsters a run for their money.
We would love to give you a well-rounded critique of Public Enemy’s Liverpool show. Believe us. We’re writing this having just showered out all the bounce-induced sweat and with our ears still ringing so much that we can barely hear our keyboards as we type, so it’s still fresh in our minds. But, to be honest, the whole thing is a blur. In the best possible way. So, we can only try our best.
We remember Age of L.U.N.A. coming out just after 8pm and surprising us throughout their set. What was essentially some laid back, pop-informed hip-hop was carried by their infectious personalities and enthusiasm. They consist of a DJ, two rappers and a female vocalist, who earned a rapturous response when she unexpectedly produced a saxophone halfway through the set and busted out a solo.
Despite the ambivalence of the crowd early on, they slowly won most of the room over.
Before Public Enemy took to the stage, we remember some bloke called Obeah…or Ooobe…or Obi Wan Kenobi…an MC who has been working with PE’s DJ Lord. He played about four songs and managed to pump the crowd up further, racking up hype and anticipation for the main event.
And when the main event came, it was glorious.
Chuck D bounced on stage with Yo! Bum Rush The Show’s Miuzi Weighs a Ton, before introducing the band members and S1W’s and launching into Rebel Without a Pause from 1988’s landmark It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Halfway through the song, Flavor Flav – arguably hip-hop’s ultimate hype man – rode on stage on a Segway, goofing off with his classic cry of “yeeeaaahhhh, boooiiiiiiii!”
From there on, they didn’t let up. The hits came thick and fast; 911 is a Joke, Welcome to the Terrordome, Don’t Believe The Hype, Bring The Noise, He Got Game, Fight The Power.
Flavor Flav slapped on a bass and did a pretty nifty solo, before doing the same on the drums (yeah, apparently Flavor Flav is a multi-instrumentalist. Who knew?), whilst Chuck D played harmonica during the latter. DJ Lord proved that turntables can be instruments too and jammed on Smells Like Teen Spirit and Seven Nation Army, much to the crowd’s delight.
This is not a nostalgia show. New album Man Plans God Laughs may not have been aired too much, but Public Enemy’s material and message remains all too relevant. Consider the aforementioned 911 is a Joke, and think of all the issues with American healthcare that still persist, or the stories of police brutality we’re hearing from the US right now. Consider Don’t Believe The Hype and think of the media’s constant games. Furthermore, you just need to look at them on stage and feel their power, energy and sheer passion.
Chuck D is in his 50s now, but he puts plenty of whippersnappers to shame. He remains a powerful voice. Firey and cutting through the bullshit, calling it as he sees it. He is potent, and leads the group to astonishing levels of vibrancy.
Flavor occasionally gets some stick for his role, but it’s clear the whole operation wouldn’t work without him. He is the ying to Chuck’s yang. He eases the heaviness of Chuck’s words and makes the whole message more palatable. It’s impossible not to smile as he bounces around the stage, completely extroverted and full of joy, that big old clock dangling around his neck. Chuck makes you think, Flavor makes you laugh.
Harder Than You Think closed the show – the lost 2007 track that became a surprising belated hit following its use in the 2012 Paralympics – with the riff of The Beatles’ Day Tripper thrown in to honour the city, with Chuck appearing to laugh out loud at the inclusion.
A mindblowing set. Without an ounce of hyperbole, we can undoubtedly call it one of the GIT gigs of the year. It was as much an experience as it was a gig. We need more Public Enemy‘s. To call them legends is an understatement, and they are utter masters of their craft.
At the end of the set, Flavor took the mike and told us to raise our middle fingers. “Fuck racism, fuck terrorism, fuck hatred”. He asked us to fight against separatism and for peace, togetherness and our own power, before DJ Lord blasted Edwin Starr’s War.
As we checked our phones leaving the venue, we discovered just how apt that message was.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Michelle Roberts