Public Enemy, Seth Sentry @ The Metro, Sydney (11/5/12)
There’s nothing like seeing a legendary group live for the first time, their legacy and back catalogues often having been exploited for years, decades, to the point that the group themselves can be obscured by the hype. But don’t believe that Public Enemy aren’t as relevant twenty-five years on as they were in 1987, because they still put on an amazing show, and their rhymes still cut to the core of all the things that make the disenchanted folk stand up and yell something.
First, on this night, though, a dose of Aussie hip-hop from Melbourne artist Seth Sentry . Seth was in all senses endearing during this set; it might be difficult not to be, what with the inclusion of sweet, crush-ridden poetry like The Waitress Song, for starters. His lyrics are mostly those of a young guy struggling to get by on artist’s wages, living in undesirable sharehousing situations, feeling a bit down about the necessities of life, and I daresay a lot of his down-to-earth musings on this kind of lifestyle resonated with much of the audience there tonight. His delivery was confident, showing a strong commitment to the songs, and he looks like he’s genuinely having fun on stage. All of these things made this a really enjoyable set to watch and a great way to set the mood for the night as well as remind us that Australia has some really decent things going on in hip-hop.
Public Enemy don’t do things by halves. Even the set-up for these guys buzzed with a theatrical sense of anticipation, and as the band and PE members The Security of the First World took to the stage to pump us up, the energy in the room was tense. Chuck D soon strode onto the stage and launched into a powerful rendition of Rebel Without a Pause from 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and it seemed like he hadn’t aged a day. The live sound that these guys create is pretty astounding from the get-go; the tightness of the band plus the talents of DJ Lord on the decks and the essential vocal punch of Chuck D create something that makes it impossible not to want to shout along, if you can summon that kind of skill, of course.
But none of this was quite complete without the presence of everyone’s favourite clock-toting rap-larrikin, Flava Flav, who took to the stage soon after in no small fashion, sticking his arms in the air and offering vocal challenges to the audience as well as a 30-seconds-of-noise tribute to the late Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who Public Enemy originally opened for during the Licensed to Ill era. We were then treated to a set almost full of classic tracks from the PE’s seminal albums Nation of Millions, Fear of a Black Planet and Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, to name a few, including Bring the Noise, 911 is a Joke, Shut ‘Em Down, and Don’t Believe the Hype. An energetic version of He Got Game and 2007’s Harder Than You Think also brought the crowd to squealing pitch.
Almost every element of these songs was brought to life with a great dynamism and enthusiasm, and although it would have been great to be able to hear Chuck’s lyrics a bit more clearly in the mix, the performance element itself made this almost unimportant. After a showcase of DJ Lord’s scratching skills as well as a cameo from Flav on the drums (which it might be wise to forget), the show closed with an insane rendition of the huge track, rage-programmers’ favourite, Fight the Power, as amazing and explosive as ever.
From this show, totalling almost two-and-a-half hours in length, it was clear to see that Public Enemy remain a group that know how to entertain and agitate at the same time. There was no shortage of enigmatic banter from Flavor Flav, as well as Chuck D, during this show, as well as plenty of political messages and messages of encouragement to the crowd. Flavor Flav left saying, ‘Nobody takes care of you like yourself… Good luck with your life, good luck with your future,’ and this was a surprising and touching thing to hear at the end of a gig.
All in all, this show proved that Public Enemy, despite their punching through of a third decade, have not slowed down or compromised their passion for hip-hop; their songs are still alive and relevant, and they’re committed to keeping them that way through live shows that hopefully continue to be this good.