Live Review: Public Enemy + Citizen Kay - Metro Theatre (05.03.14)

Forever robust and eternally powerful, Public Enemy have been living and breathing hip-hop since the early 80’s. The contributions – both sonically and culturally - they have made to the entire scene cannot be overstated; simply put, they are an indelible and large part of the foundation of hip-hop.

The foreceful, commanding raps of Chuck D are balanced with the colourful and easy-going presence of Flavour Flav, making for a team which sets the standard for chemistry – both live and in the studio. It’s no surprise that they have remained in-tact as a group for over two decades, watching them complement each other so perfectly on stage, as if P.E’s early days were still fresh in their mind, was one of the strongest parts of this performance.

On the support tip Canberra rapper Citizen Kay looked determined to make the most of his opportunity. Along with his friend James on the drums, Kay took us through his original tracks, displaying a certain finesse on the mic that comes only by studying the art closely. You could easily tell that he was a serious student of hip-hop, with a refined flow that blended well with pounding live drums.

A cover of Nas’ ‘Hip Hop is dead’ could have easily tripped the young emcee up, but Kay held his own and remained consistent throughout his short support slot. It was my second time seeing the artist live (the first being in support of the recent Danny Brown/Earl/Run The Jewels gig), and it cemented my opinion that Kay is a very welcome addition to the new batch of Aussie rappers that are doing a mighty fine job at representing our country’s hip-hop talent.

The staple S1W duo were first to march out onto stage, performing a short routine in front of the trademark Public Enemy logo before DJ Lord, Khari Wynn and the rest of P.E’s live band took their positions.

The boys must be quite used to the Metro Theatre stage by now, having shown the venue love multiple times within the past few years. The fact that the venue was packed out – despite them touring almost every year – is a testament to the awesome performance P.E consistently deliver. Everyone in the venue – who had seen them before – knew that they were getting value that far exceeded the ticket price.

Before P.E were to hit the stage, the night’s host hyped the crowd up while the band sound-checked. A notable moment came with the band playing an amped up version of ‘Sophisticated Bitch'; the host gave out $400 headphones to whoever guessed what song it was; a middle-aged woman won the prize, while most of the crowd were none-the-wiser of the Yo! Bum Rush the Show cut.

Chuck D was the first to pop out, walking out slowly onto the stage with a big, welcoming smile on his face, acknowledging many members of the crowd as if this was home to him. The crowd simply raised their fists in the air, with solemn looks on their faces, all relatively quiet until Chuck D burst into ‘Get Up Stand Up.’

It wasn’t until the classic cut ‘Rebel without a Pause’ that Flavour Flav walked out onto stage, putting his arm around Chuck D for a brief moment and then running to the right side to tease the crowd.

The classics continued with ‘911 Is a Joke’ and the wall-to-wall mayhem of ‘Welcome to the Terrordome,’ with DJ Lord deftly blending beats with one another for a fluid Public Enemy live mixtape feel. The group switches up arrangements, often surprisingly melting songs with one another; rapping verses from one track over beats from another track; splicing tracks into each other; and bringing back elements of certain cuts throughout the show.

There are no walls in the structure of a Public Enemy show, which is why you will always get something slightly different every time you see them live. It is a live style similar to The Roots, and is something only a band with a rich and exceptional back catalogue can pull off.

From blending AC/DC with ‘Black Is Black’ to recalling the raw energy of Anthrax on both versions of ‘Bring the Noise’ (welded into one), P.E know exactly how to get as much energy from the crowd as they want.

A nice inclusion of ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ preceded the immortal beat of ‘Fight the Power,’ with both tracks given full performances and remaining up there with the highlights of the night; right alongside the very surprising performance of ‘He Got Game.’

The big beats and the fervent spoken-word raps did not stop or slow down until over halfway through the 2.5 hour set, when Chuck D and Flav pointed out that DJ Lord tripped up. As a crowd, it was barely noticeable, but somewhere along the way DJ Lord made a mistake. “When we fuck up, we got to do push-ups,” explains Chuck D as they made Lord drop onto the stage and do 10 push-ups before the crowd.

DJ Lord certainly needed to stretch his arms, because he was then instructed to get back behind the wheels of steel and scratch through a little solo. He chopped up Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with lightning fast hands, breaking the beat apart and putting it back together to resemble something closer to a rap-rock production. It’s a standard part of the show, but one which never fails to impress.

After the solo, Flav let his man Chuck D rest for a bit while he took on the stage by himself, taking us through ’31 Flavours,’ the historic ‘Cold Lampin’ with Flavour,’ and the tongue-in-cheek ‘Shake Your Booty.’

It wasn’t long before Chuck D was back again, leading a medley of Yo! Bum Rush the Show tracks before jumping into an electrifying version of the undeniable ‘Shut ‘Em Down.’ The only thing left to compete with such an energetic performance was the almighty bass of ‘By the Time I Get to Arizona,’ which was followed by set-closer ‘Harder than you think.’

Public Enemy have one of the largest and most consistent discographies of any hip-hop group; performers that lean towards the medley-style to fit in as much as possible should really take note from these Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. P.E know how to cram as much of their work in and still make everything sound as brilliant and satisfying as they can.

One of the most interesting things about Public Enemy's live show, is seeing how much they remain unchanged after all these years. The evolution of hip-hop has bear minimal influence on their sound, with them remaining insular to the many perversions that have plagued the genre for years. Public Enemy made it clear that they will never filter their unique sound, and always remain one of the most exciting hip-hop outfits in history.

This was a true hip-hop performance, and a cultural movement at the same time; as Chuck D encouraged the fans to support Aussie hip-hop: ”support your own, especially if they’re speaking to the conditions in your community”, because let’s be honest, "fuck the jam if it ain’t sayin nothin." Chuck D knows exactly how to inspire people to become more passionate about hip-hop as an artform and as a cultural phenomenon. These thoughtful muses from Chuck D make for a hip-hop show like no other.

(Most of the) Set List:

Get Up Stand Up
Rebel without a Pause
911 Is a Joke
Welcome to the Terrordome/B Side Wins Again
Good Times/Rappers Delight (Chic/Sugar Hill Gang Cover)
Hoover Music
Black Is Black/Back in Black (AC/DC Cover)
Show Em Whatcha Got
Bring the Noise (Original + Anthrax Cover)
Don’t Believe the Hype
Can’t Truss It
He Got Game
Give It Up
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Fight the Power
I Shall Not Be Moved
DJ Lord Solo (Nirvana - Smells like Teen Spirit Cover)
31 Flavours
Cold Lampin’ with Flavour
Shake Your Booty
Megablast/Timebomb/Get off My Back
Shut ‘Em Down
Miuzi Weighs a Ton/You’re Gonna Get Yours
By the Time I Get To Arizona
Harder Than You Think

Photos captured by Dan Turner from The AU Review