Public Enemy in Belfast (review by A to the L)
(Check the exclusive concert pics at the bottom of this article.)
Wow. PE live. In Belfast. I never, ever thought I’d see the day that this would happen, and as the date for the concert drew nearer I actually began to feel a bit nervous. Would it be as dope as I’d always pictured, or would their performance tarnish an image I’ve spent the best part of 16 years building up in my head? Checking other reviews on the PE website’s Enemy Board, I was also a little worried at how many heads mentioned the live band giving the gigs a much “rockier” feel Heads who know my tastes will already be aware that A to the L and rock guitars don’t mix. Never. Ever.
So as I entered Queen’s University’s Mandela Hall last Friday night it was with mixed emotions. Anticipation – of an event that I had waited so long for, and which Chuck had actually got me even more amped for during the interview earlier that day, but also a little fear – was this going to be the anticlimax that part of me was dreading?
Oh and one other emotion quickly sprung to the fore too. I couldn’t help feeling a bit “elitist” as I checked out the other members of the crowd. Now with this being a show on a student campus, its obvious who will make up the majority of the crowd, and I couldn’t help thinking that many of them were here because it was “cool” to do so, rather than for actually supporting a group who have given so much to Hiphop in general during their career. The “trendiness” factor of the students was also reinforced as the warmup DJ dropped some classic Hiphop tunes (‘The Creator’, ‘Jack The Ripper’, ‘PSK’, and the ‘Scenario Remix’ to name a few) to a lukewarm response, before he too seemed to cave in, throwing on Cypress Hill, Jurassic 5, and 2pac to rousing applause from the “I buy this to look cool” set. Now don’t get me wrong, I KNOW not everyone was down like this, but I made it a point of checking out how many people during the show seemed to actually KNOW what tracks PE were playing, and the answer seemed to be “very little”.
After a nice little 2 and a half hour wait (grrrrr), one of the PE tour crew came onstage and started to get the crowd warmed up. Unfortunately this really got the crazy drunken bitch behind me HYPE – she’d already spent the last hour shouting at the sound men and the warm up DJ how much she loved them – she was so gone she actually thought THEY were part of PE. But when the crew guy came over to our side of the stage he made the cardinal mistake of giving people some dap, which resulted in the crazy lady thrusting her outstretched arm out and KEEPING IT THERE FOR THE NEXT 10 MINUTES DESPITE THE FACT THAT THERE WAS NOBODY THERE. Women and alcohol do NOT mix. Luckily a few minutes before PE actually took the stage the heat got to her, and I overheard her telling her boyfriend that she was “going outside to barf.” Somewhere up there, there IS a God.
So anyway… from nowhere DJ Lord, and the live band take the stage, followed by Griff. The music kicks in and Chuck and Flav bound onto the floorboards, and for the next 2 and a half hours – it is ON like a muhfucka.
From new shit from the “Revolverlution” album to the classics from “Yo”, “Nation”, and “Black Planet”, PE covered all bases. As well as the quality of the back catalogue thought, two things REALLY stood out for the majority of the show.
PE brought an energy level to their gig that I don’t think I’ll ever see surpassed, and SUSTAINED it throughout the night. I’ve seen the Beasties and Run DMC live before and thought that they both brought the pain, but PE live are something else – whether its the manic Flav flitting from side to side of the stage doing the now familiar Flav dance, Griff in the back urging the front duo to do more audio damage, or Chuck himself rocking shit non-stop, the end result was that the crowd was whipped into a frenzy, and stayed that way throughout the show.
The OTHER thing that stood out, was how much the whole group themselves seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage. Chuck wasn’t just gonna come out, and stand still for the show, nor even do the trademark “ice grill rapper” trick of boredly roaming from side to side of the stage pointing at the audience with cocked finger – he OWNED the fucking floorboards – he covered every spot of the stage, checked every member as they did their thing to make sure the crowd recognised that this was a TEAM effort, and on the instrumental breaks actually got busy with a few bounces and dance moves that betrayed his normally serious exterior. And it wasn’t only Chuck – it was refreshing to see the normally equally serious Griff cracking a wide grin as he shared a private joke with Flav, and Brother Mike at stage right smiling and enjoying the scene as the band tore shit up. To me it kinda proved that this wasn’t just a business… here was an extended family of people truly doing something they enjoy, and having fun while they were doing it. Its something that’s not very widespread in Hiphop now – where the idea usually seems to be to stare down and beat down your opponent without showing emotion. This was different. This was refreshing. This was how it should be all the time.
So anyway, the music. Yeah – it was dope. We got a full PE show for about an hour and a half, with classics like ‘Bring The Noise’, ‘Black Steel’, and ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ interspersed with newer (and to some more unfamiliar) material like the awesome-when-played-live ‘Son Of A Bush’, ‘He Got Game’ and ‘Do You Wanna Go Our Way?’, as well as a cover of ‘War’ in tribute to the recently passed Edwin Starr, and in protest to the current situation that Msrs Bush and Blair have forced upon the world, before Chuck took a well deserved breather. During this time we were properly introduced to the magnificently skilled DJ Lord, who’s taken over duties on the 1’s and 2’s from the gone-but-not-forgotten Terminator X. Let me put this simple and plain – Lord is sick on the wheels. His hands were a blur as he tore shit up, and the only downside was that he didn’t get long enough to showcase his skills. Griff then went through the members of the band one by one, and they each displayed their own impressive talents on the drums, the electric guitar and the bass guitar. (More on these cats later.)
Anyway, following this, Griff bounced and we were treated to about 20-25 minutes of utter madness as Flav took the stage solo style. He chatted to the crowd about his opinion on the war in the Middle East, and even the clown prince couldn’t disguise his genuine emotion as he talked about “too many people dying – Iraqi people, American, British – lets just get this shit over with and let everyone be at peace again.”
Madness is never far away though with Flav, and the sombre vibe quickly lifted as he informed the audience of his musical skills (he can play 14 instruments), and then demonstrated this by throwing down a nasty beat on the drumkit. He then launched into classic Flav material, with ‘911 Is A Joke’, ‘Too Much Posse’, and ‘I Can’t Do Nuttin For Ya Man’ all getting an airing, and ‘Shake Yo Booty’ being made more interesting by the inviting on stage of a couple of “honeys” to get down with Flavor. Honeys though is really a loose term, and someone on the PE crew needs to visit an optician with the quickness.
As Flav’s energetic display came to an all-too-quick end, Griff took the stage along with the band, for a set that was definitely more rocky than I would normally be used to. He again introduced us to the band members and then explained the different influences that inspired them all – Jimi Hendrix, Funkadelic, and Thin Lizzy all got namechecked, and then musically checked as snippets of ‘Voodoo Chile’, and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ floated in and out of the jam session, as Griff covered AC/DC and Rage Against The Machine tracks. The whole thing ended with dude on the electric guitar really going for his – he looked almost trancelike as he played, eyes closed. Even Griff, Mike, and Lord seemed almost disbelieving, nudging each other to draw attention to how caught up in the moment he was.
Chuck then bounded back on stage, and amped the crowd with renditions of ‘Prophets Of Rage’, ‘Shut Em Down’, ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’, and ‘Fight The Power’, during which PE raised middle fingers to “Tony Bush and George Blair” telling them to “clean up their own backyards before going and fucking up someone else’s” and urged Belfast to fight for what the people believe in to help achieve peace in its own struggle with terror. The group then closed with ‘She Watch Channel Zero’, before leaving the stage, promising that they would come back.
And the verdict? Dope. Even the “rocky” parts of the show were impressive to this musical philistine, I think because I was actually able to see with my own two eyes exactly what the live band were doing to make these sounds, and it was hard not to respect their talents. As for PE? Well despite the fact that they’re getting on a bit (sorry guys!) its plain to see that Public Enemy put on a tightly honed show – from start to finish these guys intend to give you your money’s worth, and in this case they certainly succeeded. In addition to this, the feeling that they were actually having fun doing this gig transferred itself quickly to the audience, and the repartee between group and crowd was truly genuine. Belfast gotta lotta love for PE, and I think this was truly reciprocated. I’m already looking forward to a return visit.
(Exclusive concert pics: Click on each to see full size version)