If you live in the NYC/tri state region, I hope you made it to one of Rage Against the Machine’s five shows at Madison Square Garden last week. And if you didn’t… well, you shoulda.
It’s hard to even choose which part of RATM’s run was most astonishing – that the band is back together and playing after a 15 year absence from the planet? That they sold out five nights at the World’s Most Famous Arena? Or maybe that vocalist Zack de la Rocha performed for a combined 10 hours with a torn achilles, technically sitting the entire time on a road case but never not twisting, smashing, and raging in place.
What made my head spin the most personally was just how goddamn good the band still sounds. Plenty of retired acts go on tour again to make some cash and play the hits as best they can, but from the moment the band exploded into set opener ‘Bombtrack,’ it might as well have been 1994 again as we all lost our minds to the most revolutionary rap metal sound ever heard.
If you were in fact one of the 100,000 ticketholders at the Garden last week, you could’ve also skipped your cardio for the day. A Rage concert is effectively a heavy metal HIIT class – Zack’s barely contained fury rasped over funky basslines driving the crowd to the beat, awaiting the one-two-three knock from drummer Brad Wilk that inevitably precedes a skullsmashing riff and full-mosh go-as-hard-as-you-can chorus.
“Burn, burn!” we all screamed along to Bombtrack. For ‘Bulls on Parade’ Zack didn’t even bother to shout it himself – he just held the mic out for the crowd to scream the title lyrics. A few minutes later Zack whispered “A bullet in the head” over Tim Commerford’s maniacally descending bassline. “A bullet in the head” we all hissed back, bouncing on the soles of our feet until Tom Morello and the band pulled the rhythm into one of Rage’s heaviest riffs and the Garden shook from 20,000 of us screaming “you got a bullet in your fucking head!”
You might think that a band who debuted in 1992 would pull in an older-skewing fanbase… and you’d be right. The average attendee looked to be right around the late thirties-early forties range, although supplemented by plenty of kids too young to even have caught Rage’s 2007 Rock The Bells show on Randall’s Island, their last area appearance. But whatever ailments might hobble us day-to-day, on Friday night every dad bod and corporate drone was headbanging, fistpumping, and absolutely losing their minds to RATM’s vicious rap metal attack.
It’s impressive that Zack, while certainly living comfortably thanks to Rage’s success, still screams with the fire and ferocity of a man inflamed by global travesties and injustice. You wouldn’t think that lyrics about the Federal Reserve centralizing would prove to be this iconic, but with every vengeful line Zack poured out his white hot anger at the government, the corporations, and the military. “We’re the wealthiest country in the world!” he ranted during the band’s cover of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad,’ a Springsteen tune lamenting homelessness and poverty.
In contrast, anyone with a view of Tom Morello’s face could see firsthand that the mild-mannered axeman was having the time of his life. It’s easy to imagine that the Chicago-born political science major / noted scratch guitarist never dreamt he would play Madison Square Garden, let alone for an entire week, and unbridled joy was plastered across his face every time he crunched a power chord or shredded a solo.
Fan favorites like ‘Testify,’ ‘Take The Power Back,’ and ‘Guerrilla Radio’ were played every night of the weeklong residency, but Friday night’s show did have a couple of setlist swaps to keep things interesting for those of us attending more than one show. (I sat next to a couple who had tickets to all five!). ‘Fistful of Steel’ was one of Friday night’s substitutions – taking the slot occupied by ‘Down Rodeo,’ ‘Vietnow,’ and ‘Without A Face’ on prior nights. ‘Tire Me’ also made its second appearance of the week, although I would’ve loved to hear ‘Wake Up’ again like we did on Monday.
The back half of every night though, was reserved for pit-stirring favorites like ‘Sleep Now In The Fire,’ ‘Freedom,’ and of course, iconic ‘Killing In The Name Of.’ Rage has never played by the rules of their industry, so it was no surprise that the band didn’t bother leaving the stage for an encore, or even make a big deal announcing their last song. The house lights simply lit up as they played Killing In The Name Of’s distinct intro, and stayed on as everyone in the building chanted their way to heavy metal’s greatest climax.
Tom Morello played the song’s guitar solo with all its overdriven, tone-flicking might, and as he let his last note ring out, threw both middle fingers at the crowd, prompting us to throw them back and shout along with Zack, Brad, Tim, and everyone watching a Facebook livestream at home: “Fuck you I won’t do what ya tell me!”
“Fuck you I won’t do what ya tell me
Fuck you I won’t do what ya tell me
Fuck you I won’t do what ya tell me!”
Is there even a more cathartic song in all of rock n’ roll? If there is, I don’t wanna know it.
While working our sweaty, exuberant way out of MSG’s infamously awful exit stairwells, a pair of thoughts revolved in my mind.
1) How nice is it to finally experience the Garden takeover like all of our Phish friends have been doing every December? There was an extra feeling of belonging, of ownership, of camaraderie, both inside the Garden and in every bar and bodega in the West 30s. By the second or third night everyone knew what to expect and which sections had the best views, which tshirts were desired and where the best beer stands were, and everyone could simply focus on rocking out as hard as possible. It felt like a weeklong party with the best band in the world.
2) It was striking how much the lyrics and message still feel relevant. If anything, Zack’s venom-barbed criticisms of our government, greed, and injustice seem even more timely than ever. As much as Rage’s music was a product of the ‘90s, history has proven that if anything, they were actually ahead of their time. Will they still feel as prescient in another 15 years? Let’s all plan on being back in the Garden pit together with Rage Against The Machine to find out!
Check out photos of Rage Against the Machine and opening act Run the Jewels from the August 12th show at MSG below (click to enlarge). Pics by Johnny Perilla.
Run the Jewels:
Rage Against the Machine:
RATM MSG 8/12 setlist (via):
02. People of the Sun
03. Bulls on Parade
04. Bullet in the Head
06. Tire Me
07. Take the Power Back
08. Guerrilla Radio
09. Fistful of Steel (First performance since 1997)
10. Know Your Enemy
11. Calm Like a Bomb
12. Sleep Now in the Fire
13. Born of a Broken Man
14. War Within a Breath
15. The Ghost of Tom Joad (Bruce Springsteen cover)
17. Township Rebellion
18. Killing in the Name
Check out fan-filmed footage below:
Also Check Out: Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Crowbar & Art of Shock at Irving Plaza (photos)