Rage Fight the Battle of Oakland

Rage Against the Machine launch the war
Posted Nov 22, 1999 at 12:00am
The banner flying high above the stage read, "The Battle of Oakland," a custom-tailored version of the cover of Rage Against the Machine's new album, The Battle of Los Angeles. Presumably the band has had such a flag for all stops on their twenty-town, cross-country sweep, and, if the sonic offensive unleashed in Oakland is any indication, the analogy of Rage show as combat will work in every city they power through. This tour, it seems, means war. So when singer/rapper Zack de la Rocha leapt up and kicked in the gig, asking the packed house, "Who controls the present now?" in "Testify," he became the incendiary general, prepping his Bay Area troops for a night in the trenches.

Per usual for the amped foursome, nothing, from first riff to last, was phoned in. That the hits from their eight year career - "Bulls on Parade," "No Shelter," "People of the Sun," "Bullet in the Head," "Bombtrack" -- sounded fresh and potent speaks volumes for Rage's undying devotion to their myriad causes, even those that have otherwise faded from public consciousness.

Equally if not more brutal, was material from the recently released Battle, most of which the packed house seemed to already know. The first single, "Guerilla Radio," was massive and anthemic; "Calm Like a Bomb" lurched and stomped; "Born of a Broken Man" (the chord progression of which bears a striking similarity to Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now") was an eerie exercise in tension and release; and a burning and crashing rendition of "Sleep Now in the Fire" was the fattest chunk of poli-thrash-funk you'll likely hear.

A prediction: Generation Y will soon begin scrawling "Morello Is God" on the walls of convenience stores and construction sites. So spot on was every riff, wail, squeak and squeal Tom Morello conjured from a revolving cast of guitars and pedals that you'd swear there was a frantically scratching DJ tucked away offstage. But as befits a band devoted to speaking the truth (their version of it anyway), there was no deception or chicanery in what howled from the Harvard man's amp.

Besides briefly warning some moshpit Neanderthals against groping girls ("If I see any of that shit, you'll be f--king out of here!"), de la Rocha offered little else in the way of stage banter. Between songs he stood nearly motionless, back to the crowd, drawing in giant breaths as though reminding himself of his motivation to scream the next number down the set list: a man he believes innocent rotting in jail, ten-year-old girls dying in a Third World sweat shop. Then, when drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford (aka Tim Bob, Tim.com or Y Tim K) kicked in the thunder and boom, as they always do after four or so bars of Morello's intro riffage, the wiry frontman sprung up like a busted mattress coil, his mane of clumpy dreads dancing like so much frayed rope in the wind. He paced the stage, spitting out chunks out bile and filling the giant hall with sharp screams and guttural growls.

Despite the relentless call-to-arms, there was an unnerving disparity between the band's leftist ideologies and the decidedly capitalist nature and bonehead mentality of arena rock (lofty hot dog prices, corporate logo-splashed venues, guys who still think it's funny to yell "Moooooo" in the exit tunnels). But all contradictions seemed irrelevant when, in the set-closer, "Killing in the Name," de la Rocha screamed, "Fuck you! I won't do what you tell me!" as the house lights were suddenly flicked on to reveal thousands upon thousands of young middle fingers flying and pumping in unison; a thing of rebellious beauty to see.

Written by GREG HELLER for RollingStone.com News

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