Rage Against The Machine is BACK, People! Just as the world could not need this iconic band more, they returned Saturday night to launch their Public Service Announcement Tour at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin in what was their first show together since 2011's LA Rising show in Los Angeles. I was at that show too, and I can tell you that they have not missed a beat since then. WOW.
People were tailgating in the massive parking lot for hours before the show began, and the anticipation level was HIGH. The merch lines stretched to the horizon, as everyone wanted a piece of this moment to last - and to show that they were THERE. The majority of the crowd were wearing Rage shirts from concerts past, though I was encouraged to see several statement tees in the crowd, like "Get a Vasectomy", "Fuck the Supreme Court!", and more of that ilk. This was a crowd of like minded folks, that's for sure - at least for this show.
Alpine Valley really is a valley, with steep grassy hills leading down to the stage. The bad news about this is that there is absolutely ZERO cell service, making meeting up with friends and colleagues impossible. That was a huge drag, especially as my brother, Paul, had just flown in to road trip to this show with me, and was going to shoot the bands, but we were never able to connect ... so you'll have to settle for the old Iphone shots, sorry. But whatever, the show more than made up for any drags we encountered (we'll get to that more later). After grabbing some overpriced, mediocre concert food, we made our way down to our seats near the stage. I saw guys stretching, warming up for what was going to be maybe the most long awaited mosh pit ever - as this show was originally scheduled for over two years ago. It was about to go OFF.
As weed smoke swirled above the crowd, more and more alcoholic beverages were being consumed while the excitement built. You could feel that it was going to be ROWDY. Opening act, the excellent Run The Jewels had their big inflatable fists hanging above the stage, and all of a sudden we heard Lionel Richie singing the opening line of "We Are The World", as Killer Mike and El-P took the stage. Everyone sang along until Killer Mike said, "Nah, I hate that song", and they launched into their song, "Run The Jewels" from their first album. They had the crowd in their big hands the entire set, even though I lost a shred of respect for Killer Mike when he admitted to being a Packers fan while shouting out Wisconsin. Boo.
"We're so moved to be here, our friends Rage Against The Machine believed in us to bring us out, and we're here to see them too! Like, what would happen if Zak gained a lot of weight, and smoked a lot of weed - it would be us!", said El-P, with Killer Mike adding, "We are the scrappy opener though " ... and they hit us with their great, "Ooh La La" jam. "Nobody Speak" with the Wisconsin-born DJ Trackstar filling in on the DJ Shadow track was next, and they wrapped up their high-octane set with one dedicated to "People who died at the hands of the people paid to protect them!", the powerful "Walking In The Snow". It was great, and I thought they'd close with their "Ju$t" that features Zack de la Rocha on its chorus, but nope. Maybe later on in the tour? I love Run The Jewels, Man. They are the perfect openers for this tour of top shelf rock and rap."We love you! We're Run The Jewels!" - and Killer Mike urged everyone to remember "It's ALWAYS us versus them! That's right.
That was a perfect lob pass to Rage, as their message has always been that the People have the Power. The RTJ set began to disassemble, and the spare set for RATM was put together. It was getting dark now, and the excitement built more by the second. A drunk guy behind us was yelling, "You have no clue how excited I am!" - but I'm pretty sure everyone there got it. As Rage hasn't played live since 2011, many in attendance had never had the chance to see them before, so they were losing it. And were about to be richly rewarded with a show for the ages.
Now, there have been performances of Rage songs in the last decade, with Chuck D. and B Real filling in for Zack de la Rocha ... but there's nothing like the real thing, and when the lights went down and a P.S.A. came over the P.A. with Zack's voice repeating a phrase that was impossible to understand with the incredibly loud yelling for Rage - and then lights came on, and there was everyone's favorite band, BACK with a "BOMBTRACK"!!! The energy in that space was off the charts, and the pit immediately erupted in a sea of bodies flying, heads banging, and fists pumping in the air. It was so exciting, I felt emotional. I got all choked up, thinking about how long it's been since I'd been at a show like this, ROCKING my face off with a huge crowd, and all that has happened since. I was also so, SO happy for my friends rocking out on stage, with their wide smiles, it was clear that they too were extra happy to be back. It was also very moving, as my friend Tom's wife and young sons were there on the side of the stage, and it was the boys' first time seeing their dad rock the fuck out with Rage! How cool is that?! Super special, and I'm just so glad I was there. Again.
"People Of The Sun" and "Bulls on Parade" were the one-two punch that came next, and a huge screen behind the band showed both them in close up, and real serious video content about the state of the world right now. For "Bullet In The Head", Tom Morello ripped out his famous solo, adding a riff with his teeth that had the bros in the pit losing their ever-loving shit. Every word of every song was being shouted along with the band, and there was not an ass in a seat in the whole place. You are on your feet at a Rage show the whole time - unless you're off them in the air (They say jump, you say how high?!). All of these songs were written in the 1990's, but all are even more relevant today. What an incredible feat that is for any music group, but for one that is so passionate about what they're saying (and walking the talk, by the way, with major proceeds from every show goes to charities that fight the power, they do more than any other band in that way), it really is incredible, and very moving.
These guys are all in their 50's now, but they way they were jumping around the entire show, you'd think they were a college band getting their first big break. The energy was relentless, and they took a quick break as a video of a police van burning took over the large screen. It felt - and was - HEAVY. Tim Commerford's bass and Brad Wilk's drumming bore down like a rock freight train all night, and I found myself grateful for the ear plugs a man gave me, because I could feel the weight of it all in my heart. "Testify", "Tire Me", and "Wake Up" riled everyone up even more, if possible. "Wake Up" was SO forceful, I feared Zack might have ripped out his vocal chords, but nope. With its admonition that What you reap is what you sow! more prescient in today's world than maybe ever before. There is a global reckoning happening ... and we're here for it.
They were right back with "Guerilla Radio" and "Without A Face" and then "Know Your Enemy", which had the audience screaming along with Zack, "All of which are American Dreams!" "Calm Like A Bomb" and "Sleep Now In The Fire" were next, and the force of it all was relentless, if maybe a little slowed down, as Zack went into his what I call Teacher Mode. He is so wise with those lyrics, and he was making points. Points that he made real sure were listened to, and as every fist in the valley went up, that was confirmed. "War Within A Breath" was sheer musical firepower, and then it was brought down just a little for the Springsteen cover of "The Ghost of Tom Joad", but bodies were still flying, even for that story song.
"Freedom" merging into "Township Rebellion" was about to be the heaviest jam of the night, as we all know our freedoms are in true peril here in the United States. The screen behind the band lit up with various phrases and facts about forced birth, ending with a big "ABORT THE SUPREME COURT" as the crowd roared its approval, and the pit exploded at the same time as the band did, with Zack screaming, "YOUR ANGER IS A GIFT!!!" Phew.
Then it was time for "Sleep Now In The Fire" and its chorus of "Some of those who work forces/hold office, are the same who burn crosses!" was to be the last song of the show, and zero punches were pulled. I mean, a video showed little kids swatting at a pinata of a cop - the point was well made. The music kept building, and building, and building, until the place absolutely BLEW UP with all the middle fingers in the air and every single ticket holder screaming, "FUCK YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!" at the top of their lungs, in total solidarity with Rage, and with each other. That is POWER, People. Let's use it. For GOOD. What better place than here? What better time than NOW? Right?
The last chord rang out, and the screams for more began, but that was it. The band embraced, and it was a beautiful thing. They soaked it all in, and left the stage with fists raised, reflecting the crowd. People stayed put, screaming for more, but soon Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" played over the P.A., and the exhausted. beat up crowd realized that was it, and began to file out, all effusive about how that was maybe the best show they'd every seen. It really was something else, and I'm so grateful I got to be there to see this band answer the call that the fans have been clamoring for for YEARS. Let's hope this tour fires us all up to band together and make some positive change here, and maybe the band will give us some new music that reflects it all. The 16 epic songs we got were all fresh as if they'd been written the day before, but also so much has happened since they last toured, that there should be ample inspiration for even more powerful music. I can't wait.
THANK YOU, RAGE!!! WE NEED YOU! WELCOME BACK!!! Have fun tonight, Chicago. You're in for one hell of a show.
*A note to future show attendees: We waited for nearly THREE HOURS to get out of the parking lot after the show. Not a single car had moved two hours after the show ended. And don't forget there was no cell service, so no one could find anything out. There seemed to be no one in charge, or even working, with just a few Sheriffs to be seen as we left, and they were laughing about it. People were PISSED. They had been partying since the gates opened at 3 pm, and they were tired. But now they were drinking more in the parking lot while we waited, getting even more hammered, as they were about to drive on roads at 3 A.M. A complete shit show. The rumor began that the Sheriffs did it on purpose, closing it down to one road to get out, perhaps in retaliation for all the very well deserved Anti-Cop propaganda on screen during the show. Well, if that's true, they're not helping out their cause at all, because it only made everyone like them even less, if possible. So ... beware of Cops when you're leaving these shows. In other words, Know your enemy. And have a complete BLAST right in front of them.