reviews may 2005
Enemy, It Takes a Nation (MVD) DVD/CD
It's now late 1987 or maybe early 1988. I'm in the back of a rusty Maxi on the way to the Birmingham Hummingbird, giddy with anticipation. Beddy, the chap I sit next to in Maths, parks down an empty back street miles from the gig. The car has the fuel efficiency of an oil tanker and the same turning circle, so I can't complain if he takes the easy way out but my legs wobble as we walk back across town. I worry that I've brought a shopping list instead of my ticket. I start to panic that perhaps I've rubbed the ink off what might be the ticket, clutched so tightly in the sweaty hand jammed tightly in my pocket. I start to draw it out. Then I'm worrying: what if the wind blows and takes the ticket with it? Perhaps I'll leave it where it is and take my chances on the door.
This is my first gig. I've been listening to Yo! Bum Rush The Show on repeat since it came out. I know all the words. I don't know what all the words mean. I don't live in the ghetto. I'm not black. I live in the middle of a vast council estate in the Black Country. I never have too much posse and I don't know anybody whose Uzi weighs a ton (although I know a few people whose sister comes close.)
We're in. The ticket was in my pocket. The ink hadn't rubbed off. I'm in. I immediately buy a t-shirt, one I will wear pretty much every week until it disintegrates 10 or 12 years later. It's black with Public Enemy screenprinted diagonally across the front and the brother in the crosshairs logo on the back. I pull it on. I'm in. Hijack are playing and their DJ scratches the 1812 overture. They tear the place up but I'm wishing them off the stage. The She-Rockers are playing. Professor Griff is producing their single, someone tells me. I don't care. Get off. I'm only here for one thing. The lights are back down. A klaxon is blaring. Two S1Ws strut harshly but simultaneously camply in step onto the stage, toting their Uzis, scowling. Griff strides out, scowls, stares, throws a couple of shapes. A beat drops and Griff barks a few lines about the revolution before Chuck D and Flavor Flav shoot in from the wings.
Dressed all in white, Flavor is a hypermanic hypermaniac, hyped up on the tangible expectancy of the crowd. He sprints across the back of the stage and onto the speaker stacks, lurches off and crosses again trying to keep an imaginary football up on his knees. His arms flail, the oversize clock hanging round his neck swings violently, his kooky lop-sided grin is somehow wider than his face and his plastic seaside sunglasses give no clue where he's really looking as he whine-drawls his half-nonsense lines into the mic, counterpointing Chuck's bass back-to-basics.
White head-to-toe also, Chuck D is a lesson in working the crowd as he spreads the word. Like a tightly coiled spring he releases energy in abrupt bursts, every other rhyme punctuated by a left or right hook or a finger in the face of someone in authority. If you could plug him into the grid he'd light up half of Birmingham for a week so intense is his presence, so powerful his delivery.
The young Jimmy in the crowd is blown away. The gig is seared into his memory. That gig was years ago. That gig was yesterday.
In fact that gig's today. Well, almost. The first in a series of Public Enemy archive DVDs brings that experience back to life. It's a bit earlier than the Hummingbird gig - the Hammersmith Odeon, November 1987 - but everything else is exactly the same. You can't live in the past (although I try) but this DVD is a welcome second chance to see PE at their raw best.
The live footage is cut with backstage clips that show a young Chuck still perfecting his explanation of the PE manifesto in interviews and giving Flavor some grief for spilling orange juice in the dressing room. Outside, Flavour is outdone by a totally random old woman who tries to take his pulse and then hilariously bursts into song and some berk who looks horribly like Nigel Kennedy bumps into the band wearing a bomber jack with a 12" stuck to the back. There's a bonus CD with audio footage of the gig which anyone with a copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back will recognise (all the live samples from that record are from this gig) and a bunch of remixes the pick of which is DJ Spooky's Drums of Death remix of Public Enemy Number One.
We saw the band again a few months after the Hummingbird gig (we went on the bus, and the future missus came along that time) supporting Run DMC. Griff had said one or two controversial things about Jews and wasn't allowed into the country and the band knew that the second album was in the bag, was like nothing before it, and was going to be massive. The show was still tight and they still rocked and I still bought another t-shirt, but the chance to see them doing it for the first time, when it was all new to them as well, had gone.
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On Strings, 4 song E.P (Pickled Egg) 7"
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