Of all the things I thought that I would do in life, I never ever thought that I would review a Public Enemy album, live or otherwise. They were one of the bands that all the bullies and the cool kids at my school were into. They always seemed just that little bit out of my reach. They always seemed, from what I had heard of them, to be too out there and too scary for me to enjoy properly. But times change and so do musical tastes.
I had been given this live album, unprompted, to review for www.isthismusic.com. It is well outwith my normal remit of guitar bands and soulful girl or boy singer-songwriters. It makes, in other words, for a very nice change.
i switched it on, full of fear and anticipation. I was still expecting Chuck D, Flavor Flav and co to jump out the speakers and gun me down when I hit play. I don’t know why. I need not have worried. instead of a full-blown Uzi attack, I was hit first by a huge, seething, sweating and swooping wave of audience noise. Clearly, they were part of the gig and this had not been dubbed on afterwards for cheap effect. They certainly got me up in my seat and shouting.
Then, once this has subsided, you get a full-on patchwork of samples, a queasy sea of sound that sweeps you up and carries you off to the violence and mayhem of Public Enemy world. This is certainly more violent and exciting than any rock concert I have been to recently. Clips of film dialogue (I’m sure I heard Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now in there somewhere) are slammed together with James Brown bass and rhythm riffs. It’s like, you avoid one, only to collide blissfully with another. Violence, fear and ecstasy are never far apart on this album. This gives the whole set a fantastic energy, one you wish you could mainline off, because it would would surely keep you buzzing for the rest of your life. Right from the get-go, here, where Chuck D stretches his vocal chords to breaking point and back and the audience responds in type, you sense that this is a band who are playing as though their lives depended upon it.
They’ve got a message to get across and they want everyone to know it. This comes across particularly strongly on songs such as ‘Miuzi Weighs A Ton’, ‘Get Up Stand Up’ and ‘911 Is A Joke’. Nearly thirty years after each of these were recorded, each sounds as strong relevant now as it did upon first release. In the case of ‘Get Up Stand Up’, this is arguably even more true, given the number of stories which have crossed the news in recent days about refugees meeting unfortunate and sad ends, on their ways (they hope) to better lives elsewhere.
There is a real air of menace, a real venom and swagger to this set which one does not hear enough of in modern-day music. For a good example of this, just play ‘Welcome To the Terrordome’ or ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’. Chuck D and Flavor Flav are in fine form as Mcs throughout, screaming out lyrics as full of fire now as they were 30 years ago and putting rappers half their age to silence and shame with their intelligence and articulacy. The audience, in turn, love them and respond physically and audibly to everyone lyric and command. Your front room will surely be shaking by the time Rebel Without A Pause kicks in on the CD player.
Indeed, it seems almost scary (scarier than Public Enemy, even) to believe that tracks such as 911 Is A Joke , he Got Game and 31 Flavours are all at least 25 years old.
the fact that they sound as relevant now as they did way back when is a sure testament to Public Enemy’s power as a band and their excellence and skill here as live performers.