I was a bit apprehensive about seeing Public Enemy. In fact, I’m a bit apprehensive about saying I was apprehensive in case my worry seems a little bit… I’m not sure I can even say the word. Put it this way, if I was explaining it to Spinal Tap, they might mishear me and say, “What’s wrong with being ‘racy?'”
I am a typical white liberal Guardian-reading Brighton-dwelling guy. I’ve never been accused of being “racy”. But back in the day, Public Enemy seemed to me to have a kind of scary militaristic vibe. And now I couldn’t help but be a little worried that Chuck D might start preaching and say, “The problem is fascistic power-grabbing white people, like that guy there!” pointing at me.
I know this is stupid. But as a typical white liberal Guardian-reading Brighton-dwelling guy, I also worry that it is all my fault. Or our fault. Is that wrong?
Also, I don’t actually own any of the bands records which is always a concern when going to a gig. It’s like going to church because you like wafers.
I’d always regarded “Fight the power” as a classic song and, of course, “Bass! how low can you go… Something something something… Something something year ago!” And then they did “Bring the noize” with Anthrax, didn’t they? Which put them well within my circle of rock-related interest when I was a teenager.
So, I’ve always regarded them as a brilliant, and important, band. I’d loved the documentary I saw about them on BBC4 (I think that says it all) but I didn’t know if I’d fit in.
But as soon as I got there I could see that the people queuing outside were an eclectic bunch of old men, indie kids, folky beardy types, young stylish couples. Although I didn’t fit in, I did as much as everyone didn’t fit in with everyone else. It seemed like, if you didn’t fit in generally, you did fit in here.
Inside, I found I’d missed the support band but was just in time for the real show. Two guys came on who I didn’t recognise and started rapping. There was a backing band of DJ, drums, bass and guitar. It was VERY LOUD.
They did two songs: Soundcheck parts one and two. At the beginning of the third song, Chuck D walked on stage and they room went mental.
Next up, Flavour Flav emerged in a hoodie and made a big deal of revealing his Big Clock.
The army-looking backing dancers were there doing their thing. And though they looked rather well-fed it didn’t stop them bringing a real work ethic vibe to partying, or from spending one entire song doing press ups.
The DJ, DJ LORD, did an amazing solo bit mixing up Nirvana. Apparently Terminator X retired in 1997. But I wish I had a recording of DJ LORD’s solo. He was awesome.
Flavour Flav played bass, Flavour Flav played drums. An when he wasn’t doing that he was prowling the sides of the stage beyond the monitors, or holding a note longer than you would think humanly possible, or just going “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeah Boyeeeeeeeeeee!” which I have come to believe is the coolest thing anyone can do.
And through it all, Chuck D was spitting out rhymes and giving short sermons and throwing out energy. And the whole gig seemed full of such power and love and discipline and anarchy and sense and humour and warmth.
Near the end he gave a sermon about how people made culture, it was what unified us and we should be wary of those that sort to control it. Flavour Flav told us how the band loved us and thanked us for coming to see them. He led the whole crowd in a series of salutes that meant “love, power and fuck you!”
It blew my mind. And elevated my soul.
I didn’t dance though. I spent the whole epic gig sitting at the side, nodding my head and wishing I wasn’t so shy and reserved. As soon as it over, and I was leaving with my ears ringing (in a good way), I wanted to do it again. But not take my bag or my coat or my inhibitions.
I think it’s one if my favourite gigs of my life. Which puts Public Enemy into a strange allegiance with The Cure and The Cardiacs.
In other news, I saw Muse at the O2 on Saturday. It was alright. They had lasers.