Live Review: Public Enemy - Esplanade

19 May 2012 | 3:00 pm | Josh Ramselaar

Chuck D wastes no time launching into Rebel Without A Pause, demonstrating that his flow has lost nothing in Public Enemy’s 25 years.

Unsurprisingly for a hip hop show in Australia, things are running late. It's almost 45 minutes after the advertised starting time when local group The Psyde Projects take the stage. The two MCs trade rapid-fire rhymes smoothly and move around the small front-bar stage with a lot of energy, while the DJ plays a mix of funk samples and lower-end heavy beats. They have no trouble hyping up the already large crowd. Next up is another local act, Seth Sentry. His music is much more laidback, allowing the crowd to sing along to his better-known songs that are spread throughout the set. Triple j favourites The Waitress Song and My Scene get the best crowd reactions, as does his contribution to the 'rapper tag' series.

There's a brief changeover period as instruments are set up while some band members, DJ Lord and two members of the S1W take the stage. After a bit of crowd hyping, Lord plays the famous air raid siren heard at the beginning of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, heralding the arrival of Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. He wastes no time launching into Rebel Without A Pause, demonstrating that his flow has lost nothing in Public Enemy's 25 years. Immediately after this, Flavor Flav takes to the stage, sending the crowd into a frenzy. 911 Is A Joke comes next and is delivered with such intensity that it's difficult to believe we're witnessing performers in their 50s.

What follows is a ferocious set that visits the highlights of their peak work. Bring The Noise, Don't Believe The Hype, Can't Truss It and Night Of The Living Baseheads all have the crowd bouncing and doing their best to keep up with Chuck D's rapping. They throw in quick covers as tributes to recently deceased Beastie Boy, MCA and funk legend Chuck Brown. The second half of the set drops off a bit – they play some of their slower work and seem to be taking longer breaks in between songs. This feeling is compounded in the section where crowd members are brought onstage to show their MC skills while Flav drums. Most people who volunteer aren't really rapping and the segment seems to have no purpose but to extend the show.

Thankfully, their energy seems to be back after this as the group get stuck into some quicker material and finish on the excellent trio of By The Time I Get To Arizona, Fight The Power and She Watch Channel Zero?! Flavor hangs around to give a speech on racism and unity before the group leaves. However, as we make our way down the Espy stairs, the crowd's united feeling comes more from knowing that we've just witnessed hip hop legends deliver another knockout performance, 25 years after they started.

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