Public Enemy – Rock City, April 2003

As thousands of Adidas-clad feet shook the ground to Bring The Noise I smirked and turned my head. Safe in my own knowledge and on familiar territory, wandering through a field in the Home Counties, I manfully staggered back to my tent contemplating the misguided kids and the misguiding Public Enemy. But I didn’t care too much; Reading 1992 had already brought me The Milltown Brothers and their Dylan covers. They had a real point to make…man. As my stick-legged teens gave way to a slightly surer strut it only took a few eclectically minded friends, rather than a nation of millions, to make me realise that Chuck D & CO’s point was actually much sharper than my stemmed mind that night. Not all music with a message comes armed with just three chords. Nottingham Rock City was about to give me another chance to see the light. And on God’s day too. Bass! How low can you go? A challenge PE have set soundmen the world over and one that this black-clad cathedral was going to match, judging by the rib vibrations. Welcome to the Terrordrome is seamlessly fused with Bring the Noise to open the night and create an unholy cacophony. The heaving masses begin to spill dangerously close to the deceptively low pulpit, from which Chuck D – the self-titled Messenger of Prophecy – appears to be inciting Armageddon. Listening to Son of a Bush from their latest album, Revolverlution, it’s clear that PE are not dedicated followers of the current Republican regime. But tonight the historically informed lyrics give way to a Bush/Blair mantra as Chuck and Flavor Flav spit vitriol to the backdrop of rousing cheers. However, too clever to let a political rant muddy the message they launch into a cover of War.  Subtle? Perhaps not. But prefixed by a genuinely affectionate tribute – and response – to Edwin Starr and Jam Master Jay and meted out by a lithe, live band with a 4/4 jackhammer, the meaning is clear.    Amid the surging crowd and searching beats it’s hard to make mental notes.  The underlying groove threatens to take you under until the booming baritone of Chuck D brings a watery-eyed focus to proceedings, as we pause for thought. But not for long. Far from labouring opinions PE celebrate a medley of music melding Stax, Mowtown and Atlantic sensibilities with mixing, scratching and thunderous riffs. It all gets too much for one wasteful soul as he launches his arm – and drink – to the heavens. As the beer hits the stage the proverbial hits the fan. A, up to this point kindly looking older guy, turns his face inside-out and propels the Security of the First World to deal with the offender. Thankfully Rock City’s peacekeepers get there first and make an intact eviction.       By this time the classics have been coming thick and fast, slow and mellow and scratched and warped. Don’t Believe the Hype gives Flavor Flav centre stage, complete with chest-slung clock. And a quite literally breath-taking yeah boys! leaves Professor Griff checking his watch as the Sunday curfew is easily passed. With time running out Chuck D shatters yet another groove-laden moment with the eye-popping intro to Night of the Living Baseheads.  The intensity is unbelievably increased during this final vignette until he suddenly – and fittingly – finishes with BASS! As Public Enemy sat on the stage, exchanging post-gig handshakes and brief conversations with some of the audience, I smirked at my naïve ignorance in 1992. The intimacy of tonight’s final gesture was touching and real, especially compared to the recent cash cow shows hosted by some rock’s leviathans. I tightened the laces on my Adidas trainers, joined the exiting 2000-strong throng and went home to listen to some Dylan.  

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