Public Enemy: In:Motion, Bristol – live review

Public Enemy

Motion Skatepark, Bristol

28 October 2012

The amazing Public Enemy are celebrating 25 years together. Part of those celebrations included an inevitably sold out date at Bristol’s Motion Skate part as part of this season’s ‘In:Motion’ series. Bert Random was there for us & here’s his report of what seems to have been a quite brilliant night.

On the night Hurricane Sandy first began to batter the East Coast of America, Public Enemy swept through a rain-soaked Bristol and blew us all away. With a hunger that belied their ages (as Chuck D says, at 52 he is only the fifth-oldest member of this full band set-up) and with a heavyweight presence honed over 25 years in the game, Chuck and Flavour Flav showed us why these original kings of hip-hop have survived for so long.

Storming straight into ‘Public Enemy No.1’ the band did the legendarily dense Bomb Squad productions proud, with DJ Lord’s scratching razor-sharp despite his decks being stationed under a drip in the warehouse’s leaking roof. The first half of the show passed in a relentless flurry of classics, including ‘Rebel Without a Pause’, ‘911 is a Joke’, ‘Bring the Noise’, ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’, ‘Timebomb’, and ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, each weightier than the last. It’s only when they are laid out next to each other like this you realise how many absolutely indispensible songs PE have released, a peerless chronicling of the hardships, challenges, and stupidities of the late-20th and early 21st centuries.

Sometimes the wall of noise threatened to overwhelm the soundsystem, but Chuck’s deep strident voice cut through, exhorting us to think for ourselves, to think of others, to just *think*. Between songs Flav rambled on about being a reality-TV star back in the States, while behind him Chuck smiled and raised a sceptical eyebrow. His between-song banter was brutally honest, regaling us with his opinions on US politics (“Don’t be like America, most of us don’t know shit”), art (“We believe in culture. Culture brings people together. Governments fuck people up.”) and, to the biggest cheers of the night, the one-percent-ers and our own chief parasite: “Freedom for all the land, not just the greedy mother-fucking 1% that own everything. Where did yo’ Queen get her fucking money? She didn’t work for that shit, the people worked for that shit. Her family didn’t work for that shit, her family killed for that shit…” Then… POW! straight into an intense rendition of ‘Can’t Truss It’. Fucking spine-tingling stuff. The proud flow of ‘Harder Than You Think’, their surprise UK hit from this summer (following its rousing use in the Channel 4 Paralympics coverage), was received with raptures, and set closer ‘Fight the Power’ was heavier than a freight train. They left the baying crowd deaf, shell-shocked, and reminded of the righteousness of fighting the powers that be.

After 25 years on the frontline of musical culture, talking about racism, ignorance, and idiocy, they would be forgiven for sitting back and selling out; instead they are still pounding on stages, sparking new thoughts, making new connections, better than ever, harder than you think. Somehow, they still feel utterly essential.

All words Bert Random. Bert is the author of  ‘SPANNERED’, an illustrated novel about free-parties, freaks, and friendship – for more info & to grab a copy go here.

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  1. Nice review. Saw them a few years ago in Glasgow and although they weren’t on their best form, it was just a sheer privilege to see such an important band. Got to respect them for spreading their message for such a long time.

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