Photography: Mike Sheerin

Public Enemy

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  • Age Of L.U.N.A
Sound Jar @ 02 Academy 3/12/15

I must admit to being more nervous than usual climbing the perilously steep stairs of the Academy tonight. More than just a hip hop group, PUBLIC ENEMY have been an indomitable force, blowing minds and speakers worldwide for over 30 years. It would be truly heartbreaking to see them deliver the same kind of listless, phoned-in performance as De La Soul did on this very stage 6 months ago.

PE’s ground-breaking album It takes a Nation… was already celebrating it’s 10th Anniversary when these kids were born, but support act Age of L.U.N.A are respectful of their elders, as evidenced by their run through a medley of  “the songs that made us”. 90’s hip hop and R&B is very much the nostalgia of  choice at the moment, and it’s a very good tactic to get the crowd in full voice and onside. They even provide their own twist, as vocalist Daniella Thomas appears from the wings playing the classic riff from the Pharcyde’s Passing Me By on Sax . Unsurprisingly their own songs struggle to maintain such standards, staying just the right side of Ndubz thanks to the vocal prowess of Thomas and the impressive live sampling of 16-year-old wunderkind producer A.K.O.L.

Maintaining high standards is one reason Public Enemy remain such a potent live proposition. They have also clearly retained their flair for the dramatic. There’s a touch of the James Browns at play as Chuck comes to deliver the perfect opening salvo of Lost at Birth (“Clear the way for the prophets of rage”) without his partner in crime. Audible whispers travel through the crowd like wildfire: “Where’s Flav?” “Is he not here?” “Has he been arrested?”. It’s a cunning veteran move; turning a potential weakness – namely Flav’s reputation for getting himself into trouble – into a strength, as he enters the arena like a triumphant gladiator……riding a Segway. As the crowd erupts Flav is lapping it up like we’re his energy drink, barely stopping to disembark, or remove the first of three coats he’s wearing, before ripping into My Uzi Weighs a Ton.

Man Plans God Laughs is a lot better than anyone’s 13th Studio album has any right to be, but you’ll have to take my word for it (or y’know, buy the thing). Tonight we’re given the title track and no more – this show is about wall to wall hits.  The poignant emotion of He Got Game acting as the perfect counterpoint to the unhinged energy rush of Bring the Noise and Don’t Believe the Hype.

DJ Lord may not get as many name checks on record as Terminator X, but he’s actually been a part of Public Enemy for longer than his predecessor.  Like all good DJs, he’s able to blend perfectly into the overall sonic assault, occasionally raising above the parapet to lend a little scratch flavour where it’s needed, such as the still peerless Welcome to the Terrordome.

PE’s military overtones are normally attributed to their stance as aggressive, anti-establishment revolutionaries, but it also ably represents the band. This is a well drilled squad; everybody knows their role and plays it to perfection. The unsung heroes such as guitarist Khari Wynn, bassist Brian Hardgrove and drummer Mike Faulkner all get their chance to shine towards the end, as does DJ Lord who unleashes a superb beat juggling scratch routine that shows it’s age by using Smells like Teen Spirit as the source material, but is no less impressive because of it. Even poker face pair S1W get a chance to showcase their high stomping routine for a few bars. Now it’s Flav’s turn. Anyone who’s seen Public Enemy before will be aware of the slightly cringe-worthy section of the show where Flav shows the world he can play bass and drums to the level of a particularly talented 8 year old. To his credit he’s clearly been practising since Kendal Calling 2014, as Timebomb isn’t ruined by his timekeeping behind the kit.

On the day our government voted to send more bombs to a foreign land, Chuck’s opening lines of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos are fittingly draped in venom and disdain: “I got a letter from the government the other day. I opened and read it. It said they were suckers”.  That this and so many incendiary statements are still relevant 26 years later is a sad reflection on the world we live in, but it’s also why these 50 year olds have retained the energy and vitality that seemed to have deserted De La Soul – we still need them.  For two men that have spent so long battling injustice wherever they see it, there’s no signs of jaded cynicism – Chuck still believes that people have the power to change, and Flav still believes he’s Peter Pan. I imagine they will receive ample fire for these beliefs on every night of the tour.

Maurice Stewart / theviewfromthebooth.tumblr.com

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