“Feels good to be around some familiar surroundings” Flava Flav announces during the opening to Public Enemy’s DVD, Live from Metropolis Studios. For someone that has listened to Public Enemy as an impressionable youth, it’s great to be in familiar territory also.
Where there is perhaps a sect who think that Flava Flav is this reality TV celebrity more so than a musician, this DVD and CD soundtrack (it was originally part of a Showtime Documentary, so we can call it a soundtrack, right?) demonstrates why time and time again, Flav is one of the best “hype” men in history. That erratic energy off stage is channelled and distilled into an incredible demonstration that, despite everything you have seen or have heard about Flav outside of Public Enemy, this is where he excels.
Despite it’s well polished appearance, London’s Metropolis Studios is still an intimate setting for such a performance from one of Hip Hop’s most important acts. Though by no means a grimy, dilapidated venue one imagines hip hop performances should normally be set in (as if straight outta’ 8 Mile), the proximity Chuck D spits his socio-political venom into the faces of the audience is unaffected by their surroundings… despite complaints of the air conditioning.
“Welcome To The Terrordome”, “Black Steel In The Hour” and “Fight The Power” are all still resolute in their messages today as they were when they first came out. Thematically they may seem a little anachronistic but in modern day context they still resonate with what is (still) going on in society. When classics such as “Don’t Believe The Hype” and “Bring The Noise” appear across the 21 song set, the audience do not suddenly come to life; this isn’t a nostalgia trip where people pick and choose their favorite songs but treat the entire proceeding as if this was a breakout performance from a new group – fervently appreciating all of the output from Public Enemy. It helps there are flourishes between songs to break up the monotony some bands fall into when venturing into their back-catalog alone. Admittedly I geeked out when they dropped a Pharaoh Monch sample between tracks.
Like a house party, the energy throughout the room transcends the band to the punters and then back again – it fails to be lackadaisical even if, by all intents and purposes, this is somewhat of a “greatest hits” outing. Which is why in the grand scheme of live albums, this is one of the better ones. The DVD is integral to the proceedings however, given that the band pride themselves on their visual aesthetic through the incorporation of The S1W (a point Chuck D discusses during an interview found in the extras), and it has been exquisitely shot. It had to be – it was a documentary on the hallowed Showtime network.
I’ve given live albums a bum rap in the past because it seems, well, kind of lazy. But if one was to treat this as the soundtrack it’s intended to be, you can look past that aspect and treat this as a means to introduce those curious to hip hop folklore to one of the forerunners of conscious hip hop. In which case, it’s pretty important and, admittedly, a lot of fun on this occasion.