DOCK OF THE BOYEE
DOCKLANDS ARENA is an absurd venue for an event like this. In the Bermuda Triangle of London no wonder Public Enemy had a hard time pushing tickets. Tonight it’s about two-thirds full. Those who are here seem bored and listless as The Afros come on. The Afros are cuddly men in afro wigs and Sloppy Joe cardigans who use the word ‘afro’ in every song title. They seem to be on a mission to inject a little humour, a little cabaret into rap. They’re shite. If they were white everyone would be horrified. They’d think The Grumbleweeds had reformed.
Similarly The Intelligent Hoodlum has got one half of his moniker drastically wrong. His act consists of shuffling around in an over-sized anorak to the sound of hissing, pinging bomb noises. Mr Hoodlum also moans about white oppression and black pride a lot. Unfortunately, he does this with all the wit and bite of an NF meathead enquiring if you’ve spilt his pint in a pub.
Things get even more disappointing when EPMD come on. On record they are thrilling, delivering slow, sensuous raps over thrashing beats. Tonight all they want to do is get us to swear at them. “SAY OH F—!” (Certainly not), “SAY F— YOU!” (No, I shan’t!), “SAY DO THE SHIT!” (Do the… WHAT????? Are they taking the piss or wot?) When EPMD do drag themselves away from corrupting the minors in the audience they squeeze the life out of their material, bellowing and strutting around the stage like overgrown playground bullies.
Public Enemy save the night. Four beautiful sailor boys camp it up at the sides of the stage as the set kick-starts with a wild, almost sluttish performance of ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’. Flavor Flav — monstrous in orange — provides the blurred, surreal frills to Chuck D’s dignified deadpan. Flavor is, of course, an indefatigable attention junkie and at times his goofy dancing, clown faces and extended mono-raps do become rather annoying (anyone got a bucket of water handy?). You have to accept that the guy is completely insane before you can enjoy the bullshit.
It’s Chuck D who gets on with the real business of keeping the Public Enemy motor running. Mind you, I’m biased. The hook that dragged me into the Public Enemy orbit and kept me there in the first place is — has always been — the merciless intelligence and humour within his lyrics. Live their energy and passion is indisputable. Informing here, running on the spot there, getting under your skin everywhere.
During ‘Who Stole The Soul?’ the crowd perform collective backflips and forward somersaults, while ‘Bring The Noise’ goes on to prowl like a beast through every brain in the auditorium. Nobody really needs the 20-minute version of ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ to confirm their suspicions that Public Enemy are one of the three best bands ever to walk the earth but it was nice anyway.
They finish with ‘Fight The Power’ and I tumble out of the auditorium, noting with relief that the huge number of appreciative white faces in the audience means I won’t have to go waffling on about the price of inverted racism nowadays. That’s what Public Enemy are about. No black or white — just lots of grey matter.
© Barbara Ellen, New Musical Express, 17 November 1990