The last gang is back in town. It may have taken a nation of millions to hold them back yet it also seems to take a fair few people to keep Public Enemy on the road. And don’t we know it. Not for the PE road crew a life scurrying across the stage, bent double in a vain attempt to go unnoticed. The sold out Button Factory audience is instead treated to what may be a rather superfluous sound check at the time the band should be arriving on stage, while all the time some random chap tells us what’s going on – ie. a sound check. Proof that Public Enemy still have their roots in the hip-hop old school, complete with its sometimes shaky approach to the live experience.
Still, when Chuck D finally emerges he is in fine fettle and that voice still booms with authority. As is custom he goes it solo for a couple of numbers, before Flavor Flav joins him and the atmosphere really kicks off. The pair aren’t young bucks anymore, both into their fifties, but they are still an odd and engaging couple. They’re joined by DJ Lord, a pair of S1Ws doing camp little dance steps in their desert fatigues, a tight three piece band, two blokes nodding on either side of the stage, our friend from the sound check and, at one surreal point, a woman with a supermarket bag for life and a bunch of towels. If that all sounds a touch chaotic then it is, with the show meandering from moment to moment – occasionally dipping but more often than not brilliantly thrilling.
For a band who were once seen as a threat to society, it’s a warm experience too. Flav is still the clown prince and the bond that they share with their audience is quite touching – especially when they pull a young lad on stage to contribute to ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’. He plays his part perfectly and spends the rest of his moment hugging the two frontmen, who indulge him sweetly. It’s also their first show since being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in LA and the pride all involved feel is clear. As indeed is their affection for Dublin, with constant references to their first visit in 1987. Chuck addresses politics too, although his speech on oppression and dungeons feels a little light on modern detail.
They’re on far safer ground when looking at their own world and history, with the night becoming a celebration of an incredible career. The songs that defined a generation come thick and fast, sprinkled with newer material (some of it still unrecorded) and delivered with a passion and belief that a lot of younger artists – of any genre – could learn from. Sure they’re not the lean, mean machine of yore but it still hits all the right spots. They leave us with a frustratingly short snippet of ‘By The Time I Get To Arizona’ before ‘Harder Than You Think’ sends the place wild. And that’s that. Except it’s not. While the band start packing up, Flavor returns for a ten minute speech that takes in Margaret Thatcher, God, the Hall Of Fame, Elvis (“I’ll shit on his blue suede shoes”) and a moment’s silence for the victims of the Boston bombing and the earthquake in Japan…er China, followed by a reminder that T-shirts are on sale in the foyer. Public Enemy – still taking care of business.