The Greatest Show On Earth
Maybe a slight exaggeration, but Public Enemy at The Dome in Brighton last Monday was an incredible experience.
This was my first live encounter with PE- missing the iconic Def Jam tour in 88, I missed them again later at the Brighton centre when I had a 90’s Brighton Centre snobbery thing going on, I’ll explain.
- Me V’s The Brighton Centre
At the end of 91, The Wonderstuff bought their Hup Tour to the Centre- the venue so disappointed me, that me and my mate Gav went to see them at the Portsmouth Guildhall a few days later, paying tout prices, but rewarded by a blistering gig- polar opposite of that only a few days before. I went to see Black Grape there mid 90’s (I had guest list due to selling tickets at my place of employ) to see if things had changed. It hadn’t- warm cans of lager on tuck-shop tables, for example.
Because of this, I have missed The Who, New Order, Massive Attack, PE amongst others who choose to play there. I saw Primal Scream ‘do’ their Screamadelica thing there, the venue made the night less than perfect.
The Greatest Show On Earth Part 2
I wasn’t sure what to expect, really. I wasn’t even certain Flav would be there- last I had heard was he was being held for assault and Battery charges (how something so serious can sound so funny is beyond me…). The use of Harder Than You Think throughout the Paralympics have helped bring Public Enemy into the British conscience- whether they knew it or not. Chuck D is as political and vocal about the Rap genre as ever- just follow him on Twitter, and you can see how ‘keeping it real’ the guy is- an example, he shot apart the myth that being ‘from the streets’ is somehow a Passcard for ‘keeping it real’, by proudly exclaiming that he was from a strong family set up and it was the guidance of both his parents that helped make him the man he is.
And what a Man. Like the majority of the audience, he’s a little larger than he was 25years ago, in shorts PE vest and baseball cap he bounded on stage to great applause, in front of a full band- Drums, Bass, Guitar and on a raised platform- DJ Lord. No Flav.
It wouldn’t be long though before a pile of clothes on legs ambled on stage- relieved layer by layer, the unmistakable form of Public Enemy’s Minister Of Hype Flavor Flav. A large circular shaped bulge under his penultimate layer was, of course, an item that has become synonymous with the outrageous MC- his oversized clock pendant.
The crowd went wild.
The opening track Public Enemy No.1 had the assembled masses pogoing as one, ‘gun fingers’ pom-poming aloft, all of us ‘Gangsta’- utterly ridiculous, but what fun? The sound was incredible- by which I mean loud- positioned as I was, in front of the right-hand speakers (you’ll usually find me there), I placed my pint on the stage side next to me- the Bass from the speakers ‘danced’ my beer away from me- that wouldn’t do, so I finished it.
They were to deliver a ‘Greatest Hits’ style set, which if I’m honest is exactly what the punters wanted. ‘911 Is A Joke’, ‘Night Of The Living Bassheads’, ‘She Watch Channel Zero’, ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ all being present.
Interspersed between the tracks we had Chuck D praising Brighton and Britain in general for their support of Rap and Hip Hop, saying that the best crowds of their touring history tended to be over here. Flav ramping-up this praise a little further by telling us the crowd in Bristol a few nights ago was one of the best ever, and they ‘smashed it’- but by the end of the show he’d let us know that we were better, whether this was true or not didn’t matter, it felt GOOD- Minister of Hype indeed!
‘Bring The Noize’ bought out the most energy within me of the night- it was phenomenal. Utilising the full band, the version was more akin to the Anthrax version with the guitar and bass, but with the PE beats to the max- I really can’t put into words the sound it generated, but it was fitting of the title.
One of the things that hinted to the age of the band was the SW1’s. Two in number, and in camo- uniforms- Uzi’s long gone, their parade ground routines seemed camp rather than menacing, and when they and Flav did some push ups, the 52-year-old Flav easily looked the fitter. Indeed his constant leaping around the stage whilst rhyming, had you wondering whether he had aged at all! He would approach the crowd for us to show our appreciation of him- yes, I got a touch.
And that wasn’t all- he took the Bass guitar, and started slapping out some riffs that would make Mark King jealous (not really) and then the Dude got behind the kit and started laying down a Phat old Hip Hop beat for Old Skool and the other guy (sorry, didn’t catch his name but a] he had great technique and b] I shook his hand after the show) to rap a-long too. Not bad.
The Buffalo Springfield sampling ‘He Got Game’ was well received, but for me it was the Ac/Dc sampled ‘Black Is Back’ that had me rocking to ‘Bring The Noize’-like levels- that riff is MONSTER.
There was more ‘Rock’ in the form of DJ Lord’s showpiece. Flav introduced the section as his favourite part of the show- obviously fed up of the constant mentions of the retirement of previous DJ Terminator X 14 years ago (he had an accident that damaged his leg and is now rearing African Ostriches on his farm), he created Flav- style hype, before DJ Lord laid down a straight forward four to the floor beat, then a bit of White Stripe’s ‘Seven Nation Army’ before ripping Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ to shreds- an awesome display of turntable tricknology that has seen him win many a DJ contest. Pity it wasn’t filmed for all to see, raised as he was, and the decks behind the DJ LORD banner in front, only those in the upper circle could see his technique. Where I was standing, I could see the shadows which were projected on the back curtain by the spotlight, and can confirm he was doing this live- that cross fader was a blur!
‘Shut ’em Down’ and a raucous ‘Fight The Power’ were to close the nearly 2hour show and the band left. Flav remained to thank us and to deliver a heart-felt speech about the two things he hates most in the world- racism and separatism, that these were the roots of all the wrong doing in the world. After saying that it didn’t matter what religion, race, class, colour, background you were from- he sort of ruined it by saying we were all God’s people. His intention was Good though, and I think we all appreciated and agreed with what he said. So after getting us all to chant ‘Fuck Racism’ and ‘Fuck separatism’ he was off.
Public Enemy are as relevant now as they have ever been. Chuck D’s opinions are always credible, and his voice is really like no other- so unique. It could get all too serious if it wasn’t for Flav’s playful stage presence. The ‘White rock’ sampling works so well with the Black Beats and words. Public Enemy are an awesome (in its proper meaning) force and who knows, maybe in another 25 years they’ll still be telling us what time it is.
For a short while on this cold, late October Monday night it felt like I’d seen The Greatest Show On Earth.