The people behind All Tomorrow’s Parties run a series of events called “Don’t Look Back” where they invite a band to perform a classic album in its entirety in track listing order. This time it’s the turn of Public Enemy, who have been invited to perform their 2nd album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”, a landmark hip hop album released in 1988. Chuck D has previously described it as a “What’s Going On” for the hip hop generation. Some of the tracks on there have never been performed live before so it will be interesting to see how the gig shapes up.

What I really liked about this show was that there was no waiting around for too long between support sets. Too often you get a support band and then nothing for a good 45 minutes until the main act. No music, no indication of when the band are coming on, nothing. It’s a pet hate of mine so it was a refreshing change to see act after act come on stage with only a short break in between. The support slots were really good too – Edan, Anti Pop Consortium and Kool Keith (who we all thought wouldn’t turn up). Each act was lively, entertaining and kept the crowd suitably hyped for the main event. After Kool Keith’s set, Hank and Keith Shocklee together with Eric Sadler brought us those bone crushing Bomb Squad beats for about an hour. Man ! These guys seriously shook the roof with their deeeeeep basslines. I haven’t heard music this heavy for ages. Apparently they’ve been influenced by the UK drum and bass scene (which Public Enemy’s DJ Lord is also into) but their set was louder and heavier than drum and bass. They seriously re-worked tracks like “Numbers” by Kraftwerk and kept the crowd pretty hyped up and up for it for the whole of their set. These guys should definitely be shopping their new beats around… I’d love to hear someone like Saul Williams over a Bomb Squad production.

Anyway, back to P.E. The ONLY disappointment of the show is that when PE take to the stage it’s obvious that Professor Griff isn’t there. Mista Chuck explained that he wasn’t allowed to leave the US due to “visa problems”, the usual Govt. bullshit. I wonder what the deal was this time as I’ve been going to see P.E. since their landmark shows in Hammersmith in 1987 and Griff has always been there. He must have been seriously disappointed not to have made this 20th anniversary show as P.E. have always liked playing London and the rest of the UK.

The set was pretty tight, with the P.E. backing band (called The Banned) in fine form and the S1W’s going through their precision drills despite Griffs absence. DJ Lord Aswod who’s taken over from Terminator X is a seriously dope DJ, doing some lightning quick deck to deck crowd pleasing shit. Incidentally, Terminator X now owns an ostrich farm in North Carolina. That’s some career change for a DJ right there. 🙂

“Nation of Millions” performed in track listing order sounded incredible. I deliberately didn’t listen to the album for a while as I’ve had tickets to this gig for about 2 months and wanted to hear it fresh at a live event. Flavor Flav, the court jester of hip hop, claimed his spot as the best sidekick / hypeman in the biz. All the tracks were greeted with huge enthusiam, especially “Bring the Noise”, “Night of the living bassheads”, and “Black Steel in the hour of chaos” – with MistaChuck performing that track sitting on the monitors centre stage reading out his “letter from the Government”.

Being a Public Enemy gig, you knew you were going to get value for money. I’ve seen these guys play three hour sets before so it was no surprise to hear them play “He Got Game”, “Publc Enemy No 1”, “Harder than you think” and a few other classics as they didn’t want to just do the Nations album on its own. As I’ve already mentioned, I went to that first P.E. gig in London in 1987 (where they played alongside Eric B and Rakim and managed to upstage LL Cool J who was headlining). That was the P.E tour that had a huge influence on the sound of UK hip hop for a good few years after. I still can’t believe I’m going to see MistaChuck and co 20-something years later. To date they’ve now down over 60 tours across the world. Even leaving aside the fact that they’ve been around for over 20 years that’s still 3 full tours a year. An impressive work rate for any band across any genre of music. None of the artists on stage went through the motions. It was a full on, energetic and positive gig that hip hop acts half their age could learn from in terms of presentation, content and stage craft.

Chuck D often refers to P.E as the Rolling Stones of rap. I’d agree with that in terms of longevity but you sometimes get the feeling that the Stones are just going through the motions. On the strength of this show tonight, P.E are still giving the impression that they could never just go through the motions and that they “don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin'”.