Rage Against The Machine comes back to life as the reunion tour kicks off

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Rage Against The Machine comes back to life as the reunion tour kicks off

Towards the end of Rage Against the Machine’s first concert in 11 years, frontman Zack de la Rocha walked to the end of the stage, narrowed his eyes and roared the “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” climax of “Killing In The Name” as around 30,000 fans shouted along in unison, some of them crowd surfing right at his feet despite looking about 20 years too old for such activity.

It was a cathartic moment that Rage fans have been waiting for since the band announced that tour in 2019 and then hit it back multiple times due to the pandemic. The original plan was to start in a small arena near the border in El Paso, Texas, but they ended up starting out at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin, which seats 37,000 and seemed pretty close to capacity .

Most bands who were more than two decades from their last album and had already sunk plenty of time on the reunion tour wouldn’t garner much attention for another round of amphitheater and arena dates, but Rage Against the Machine is A very unique event and this tour has sold out across the country. Not only are they one of rock’s most exciting live acts, fusing rap and rock into a totally unique fusion, their politically charged music was decades ahead of its time and almost feels tailor-made for this very moment.

After a high-energy set by opening act Run the Jewels, Rage kicked off their performance with an explosive rendition of “Bombtrack” from their 1992 self-titled LP. Zack de la Rocha has rarely been seen in public in the past decade, but he’s got ahead of this tour clearly done his job as he was in near perfect vocal form and had boundless energy and looked at least a decade younger than his 52 years. They followed with “People of the Sun” and “Bulls on Parade” and sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

Over the next 90 minutes, the group plowed through another 13 songs, occasionally leaving the stage to present chilling images on screens, including a police car on fire in El Paso, a helicopter descending on a group of helpless refugees in a boat, and a stern Boarder Patrol agent standing near a drone and a German shepherd. Highlights included a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” which they hadn’t played since 2000, a frenetic “Guerrilla Radio” and a wild “War Within a Breath”.

Guitarist Tom Morello, drummer Brad Wilk, and bassist Tim Commerford have performed many of these songs with both Chris Cornell on Audioslave and Chuck D and B-Real on Prophets of the Rage, but none of them performed anywhere near as well as de la Rocha. It might be unfair to compare the other groups to Jimmy Page’s Zeppelin-heavy tour with David Coverdale, or the Cars rebranding as the New Cars with Todd Rundgren at the helm instead of Ric Ocasek, but not as wildly.

At no point during the show did any member of the group address the crowd or their long absence from the stage, although Morello, who can still make his guitar sound like anything from a siren to a turntable, sang an “I Love CRT” Shirt wore on for the last few songs, and “Abort the Supreme Court” appeared on screen. The group may have some right-wing fans, including former House Speaker Paul Ryan, but this wasn’t a show for them. (However, the guy next to me wearing an “I Love Guns, Titties, and Beer” shirt was having a great time.)

Rage Against the Machine had a strange habit of only existing when Americans were least open to their revolutionary message. Its initial run from 1991 to 2000 fitted almost perfectly into the post-Cold War/pre-9/11 era when Bill Clinton was President, the economy was booming, and the country’s gradual tilt to the right was invisible to most Americans. They returned during a brief moment of optimism early in the Obama era and last played four years before Trump came down the escalator and launched his presidential bid.

In other words, they’ve been gone for a really, really long time and missed a lot of moments that we were ready to rage against. They finally got the timing right this time, so let’s hope this reunion lasts longer than this tour. The next few years will probably really suck. We will need them.

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