For all the buzz about the promised unveiling of Chuck D’s new hardcore rap and rock combo Confrontation Camp, the small but revved-up crowd assembled in New York’s Tramps to catch Public Enemy’s Digital Club Festival performance Wednesday night were there to revel in Mistachuck’s past, not his future.| To wit: when Confrontation Camp stormed the stage mid-way through P.E.’s “Fight the Power” just over an hour into the set, all but the diehards headed for the door.
Those that left missed some of the evening’s most powerful music, but they certainly didn’t leave hungry. “We’re gonna take a trip down rememberin’ lane,” promised Chuck D shortly after Public Enemy took the stage, and the posse delivered — even without the help of Terminator X, whom Chuck said was held up on personal matters. In his absence, Chuck, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff rapped fast and furious over their own album tracks as spun by DJ Johnny Juice. The first song may have been a little too precise, but for the rest of the evening P.E. powered through the handicap without fear.
After opening things up with a storm through “Do You Wanna Go Our Way???” from the new There’s a Poision Goin On…, Johnny Juice spun the group and crowd on a re-wind through P.E. history, sticking to the songs that put them onto the map: “Public Enemy No.1,” “Miuzi Weighs a Ton,” “Bring Tha Noise,” “Welcome to the Terrordome.” Chuck was strong, his voice resonating with passion both on his raps and through his equally engaging spoken rant against the music industry, the detractors who call him racist, the suckas who mock the digital revolution and the bigger suckas who didn’t appreciate, believe, or understand the “Truth” revealed in The Matrix: take control of technology lest it control you, and above all, open your eyes. Flav, meanwhile, pounced gleefully around like Winnie the Pooh‘s Tigger on speed, playfully knocking Chuck off his soapbox by leaning on him and saying, “Chuck we bleeding, and we in the water with muthaf—in’ sharks.” Chuck responded by shouting out for “Shut Em’ Down.”
By the time Confrontation Camp took the stage, most of the crowd had already heard the hits they came to hear and began to filter out even as the group — Chuck, Griff and singer Kyle Jason fronting a power rock trio — segued from “Fight the Power” into “Confrontation.” Did the experiment work? Brilliantly. Think Anthrax joining P.E. for “Bring Tha Noise,” propelled by all the rage or Rage, times ten. Particularly resonant was a searing examination of the gruesome race murder in Jasper, Texas that began with Griff asking, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do,” and climaxed with D and Jason trading shouts of “My word, what the hell is going on?”
From there on out, it was a long, slow tumble to 2 a.m., thanks to a fun but aimless solo set by Flav in which he gave a whack at the drums, sang “What What” and “41:19” from There’s a Poison Goin On…, “911 Is a Joke” and a cut called “Hot One” from his forthcoming solo album. All told, the party went on for almost two hours. It started as a rager, got reflective later on and ended, appropriately, with senseless, stoner goofing. “Okay, I’m going now,” a drained but somehow still animated Flav told the handful left in the audience after he finished his solo set. “Wait…anybody want water? Who wants water?” True to P.E. form, he refused to give it up.