Anger Is a Gift

Rage Against the Machine

photo by Jack GouldOhhh, my god, I looove Rage. They make me so aggro!" says the quite buzzed, petite Cameron Diaz look-alike who has somehow latched onto me moments before the start of this not-much-of-a-surprise surprise Rage Against the Machine show at LA's El Rey Theatre. "I've been into them ever since the Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me album," she continues, the pungent aroma of rum rolling off her every exhale. I don't correct her error—Rage's first album was self-titled—because she's just too much fun to watch.

"How did you get your tickets?" I ask. "This thing sold out in two minutes."

"Weeell, me and my brother paid a scalper, like, $175 each for our tickets, but it'll be, like, soooworth it. It's for the revolution! They rock!" she exclaims, jabbing the air with a clenched fist.

"Um, wouldn't it have been better for the revolution to have given all that money to something like the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee or any of the other causes that Rage champion?" I ask.

" . . . "

" . . . "

"I loooveRage," she coos on obliviously. "They are, like, just so friggin' awesome. And Zack is so cute!"

Listen to The Battle of Los Angeles:
Real Audio Format Testify Guerrilla RadioSleep Now in the Fire <!INPUT TYPE="button" VALUE=" Play! " onClick="loadPage(this.form.elements[0])">

Download the RealPlayer FREE! The lights go down, and "Cameron" slips off somewhere—just a victim of the in-house drive-by. An unusual person to run into at a Rage gig, sure, but when you move 430,000 copies of your new album in its first week of release—as Rage just did with The Battle of Los Angeles—you're bound to attract a few oddballs. Just as strange is the room they're playing. The El Rey, a tiny movie house in a previous life, was converted to a concert hall several years ago, but its walls seem way too fragile to hold the sonic wallop that Rage regularly delivers. What's more, three opulent, glittery chandeliers dangle above the socked-in crowd, a slice of extravagance that seems unfitting for a group of proletariat-praising socialists. But the T-shirts draped over the chests of 1,200 pumped-up Rage fans really tell you what time it is: Free Leonard Peltier; Students for a Free Tibet; Aztlan Underground; Che Guevara (a bunch); EZLN; a quote from Emiliano Zapata—"Tierra, Justicia y Ley!"; Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The band members take up their arms—guitars, bass, drums and mics—and prep for battle. There's the ever-scowling Brad Wilk on skins; Tom Morello, in his standard Army shirt and buzzword ball cap ("GUERRILLA" this night), ready to make his axes—on which are scribbled "ARM THE HOMELESS" and "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS"—sound like anything but; and the two grads of Irvine's University High School: immaculately sleeved bassist Tim Commerford and frenzied, dreadlocked front man Zack de la Rocha. De la Rocha does some quick warm-up stretches, and then the band crunches into the new album's lead track, "Testify," an angry rant on media complacency and the aftermath of the Gulf War that doesn't sound dated in the least (seen any news reports on the effects of UN sanctions on the Iraqi people lately?), with de la Rocha bathed throughout in a blood-red spotlight. "Guerrilla Radio" drops next, which turns into what you expect out of a Rage performance—total Aggro City, with a wild-eyed de la Rocha leaping around the stage, throwing down rhymes like prime Chuck D, waving his finger like a wigged-out Jimmy Swaggart, screaming, "All! . . . hell! . . . can't stop us now!" as the band churns out teeth-grinding, post-metal riffs. The pits, of course, are going off, while the songs slip freely from one into another: "People of the Sun," de la Rocha's paean to the 1994 New Year's Day Indian uprising in Chiapas, Mexico (as is the new "War Within a Breath," which they do later, a tune in which they effectively swipe from U2: "Everything can change on a new year's day/As everything changed on New Year's Day"); "Sleep Now in the Fire," which has one of Morello's most slamming riffs ever; "The Ghost of Tom Joad," a Bruce Springsteen song; and "No Shelter" (which, with de la Rocha's casual utterance of Godzilla, the lame-ass movie it was penned for, seemed like a case of subtle product placement when it was all over the airwaves during the summer of 1998. But in a crafty bit of bite-the-hand-that-pays-me subversion, it was easy to miss the rest of the line: "Godzilla/ Pure motherfucking filler/Get your eyes on the real killer"). The set ends, there's an unusually long break, and the band bounds back out for "Killing in the Name"—a.k.a. the "Fuck you! I won't do what you tell me!" song (sudden fear: in 50 years, it'll be used to sell Toyotas). Rage slash through it like a hot sickle through a Soviet wheat field, and they exit again.

The crowd will have none of a mere 70-minute set, so they start up a "Rage! Rage! Rage!" chant. No luck. The lights go up, and some wretched '80s synth starts oozing through the sound system, seemingly designed to drive us out of the El Rey as quickly as possible.

Next Page »