THIS IS how it supposedly goes in the cyclical world of pop: angry rebel firebrands become generational heroes via early, definitive releases. Then they become rich, fat and jaded, their spirit numbed by the deadly effects of middle-age comfort and success.
The Prodigy and Public Enemy
Stung by criticism that they’re no longer relevant, they eventually make an embarrassing attempt to reconnect with their youthful wrath. Sad self-parody ensues.
Public Enemy and The Prodigy will be all too aware of this pattern, hence this co-headlining tour in which, with admirable brio, they make a united stand against the reductive notion that rage is a luxury of youth.
I’ve attended countless stadium gigs in my time, but this was undoubtedly the loudest. That alone is worthy of praise.
Granted, an element of crowd-pleasing cabaret permeated proceedings. But that’s no bad thing. I’d rather be harangued by showmen than dullards. This is showbiz after all.
The righteous, politicised indignation of Public Enemy hasn’t faltered over the years, nor has their desire to entertain a crowd. Still flanked by an amusingly useless pair of “dancers” attired in military costumes – their three settings are: standing still, wandering about and stiffly spinning around – the hip-hop legends haven’t altered their stage act in 30 years. But if the shtick ain’t broke.
One of the great pop double-acts, stentorian Chuck D and clownish Flavor Flav thundered through timeless protest anthems such as Don’t Believe The Hype and Fight The Power as threatening Klieg lights scythed across the masses. Face facts, Status Quo, most oldies acts don’t tend to evoke the iconography of apocalyptic revolution. D and Flav still thrill.
Under squalling sirens and retina-scorching white light, the war intensified with the arrival of The Prodigy, whose bone-shaking tumult of punk metal techno made Public Enemy’s formidable bass attack sound like a pin-sized kazoo quartet.
Unlike their co-headliners, Liam Howlett’s wild bunch are revolutionary in a purely nihilistic, hedonistic sense: political by proxy. Even after all these years, their live show is an utterly relentless assault, hilarious and hysterical in its deranged, unstoppable Ramones-like intensity.
Fairground front-men Keith Flint and Maxim are in no danger of looking ridiculous in middle age, because looking ridiculous was always part of their subversive remit. They’re the dance equivalent of professional wrestlers, faux-scary entertainers masquerading as comic book villains. Resistance is futile.
The likes of Breathe, Voodoo People, Smack My Bitch Up and, inevitably, Firestarter are testament to Howlett’s gonzo craftsman knack for ruthlessly simple, aggressive hooks.
The crowd, liberally stocked with ageing ravers going bananas in a surging mosh pit, lapped it up.
They were so lost in the chaos, most of them didn’t even notice when zombie-eyed, imposing Maxim, who isn’t hard to spot, ran around the arena’s vacant perimeter.
He was presumably expecting to be followed, Pied Piper style, by a conga line of hysteria. His failure was endearing. Bathos is a luxury of age.