July 30, 2011
LA Coliseum at Exposition Park
LA Rising promised to be one of the biggest productions in Los Angeles' storied history of concert-going, but whether it achieved that status was due more to the music than to Goldenvoice's production prowess.
After toiling for a good hour, driving at a bumper-to-bumper pace around the perimeter of Exposition Park and the LA Coliseum (finding myself stuck in one place on South Figueroa going toward MLK for another hour and change), I finally got parking after sweet-talking an attendant at an adjacent museum lot.
A USC student told me the Coliseum itself had not been this active since Réal Madrid came to town, which accounts for the parking clusterfuck. Getting into the concert venue was considerably more effortless than parking my car.
Inside, one could have easily mistaken the crowd for that at a big sporting event. Late afternoon, people were merely pre-gaming for the big promise of the night, Rage Against the Machine.
My pre-gaming m.o. involved the Re-Education Camp, which took 30 minutes to find on site. The collection of advocacy
groups, Los Angeles unions and organizations, and NGOs all set up to win
over some participants seemed more like an afterthought to
remind audiences that Rage, Rise Against and Ms. Hill represent “something,”
rather than an effective campaign to re-ignite their fan bases' social
and political consciousnesses.
There was no doubt these activists
were extremely passionate about their respective causes, yet after
seeing how few concert-goers came and left without
engagement, it seemed a measly effort.
Navigating the Coliseum was a continuous mess. The day before, a
Facebook post on LA Rising's fanpage gave concert-goers something of a
24-hour notice that general admissions would be partitioned into three
zones. The earlier you got there, the closer you'd be to the
stage. Those who did not get this memo became increasingly outraged as
the beer began to flow with greater ease in Zone 2 and 3.
In fact, I had to survive something of a refugee camp to get to Zone
1. Rampant crowd-surfing and random literal pick-ups and surfing of
lightweight, concert-going victims made the general-admissions area a
One zone entrance was to the right and another to the left,
all of which I had to figure out on my own. I was often stuck in the
body of the crowd, with people upset and toiling as I did in my car
earlier, fighting pointlessly to the front, pushing, shoving and
attempting to start fights with security.
One guy even said he would
secure my safety if I could get him into Zone 1, to which I kept saying,
“No, man, no thanks,” but I failed miserably in fighting off the guy's
“I'll do anything” mentality. It was exciting and scary, but a somewhat- fun, war-like rollercoaster. How appropriate?
Within the confines and safety of Zone 1, I was free to soak up music
from the lineup. Ms. Hill gave soulful renditions of songs spanning multiple
periods of her career. Playful orchestration through the use of a full band and her
traditional three-girl backup, who were all very much in touch with
Hill's spirit, gave noticeably voluminous body to the rapping and
singing of the soloist.
Unfortunately, the sound mixing and large sound production required
to fill the LA Coliseum made Hill strain her voice more often than
not. Her struggling vocals left me wanting more. “Ready or Not” was a delightful, nostalgic teaser, brought to life with a maturity that reminded me of how influential she has been
to the hip-hop community.
“Doo Whop (That Thing)” began uncomfortably fast. She tried to
steady the tempo with her lyrical rapping, but the drums came and left
unsteadily. Toward the middle, she gave up trying to contain it and
went with the rushed “get out of here” tempo.
Rise Against presented us with a
business-as-usual performance. The band's first few songs were upbeat–powerful and
balanced despite widespread distortion. Tim McIlrath's vocals were spot-on. Before the performance of “Hero,” the band gave a
poignant message about the future of our war-driven lives. The
political undertones of their performance and the spoken interludes
added a level of intimacy between the crowd and the band. It brought an
emotional gravity to their message that seemed to be lacking
in the music they played.
As a big Rise Against fan, I felt like they weren't even trying. It was only toward the end, when the band went into the guitar breakdown of “Savior,” that I felt the band inject any feeling into their set. Afterward, I felt like I just finished listening to their
mp3s in a standing position.
In contrast, Muse's set was an overwhelmingly powerful, sensoral
experience. (Emphasis on overwhelming.) Aside from the many who
came just to see them, the band won over dozens of hardcore Rage fans.
Watching their production was akin to watching fireworks up close and
singing, “boom boom boom” as the stage visually morphed with the music. Their set felt like a
baptism of sorts. Sporting a Captain America shirt, lead singer Matthew Bellamy and his British band mates were backdropped by hexagonal
screens that showed pixelated and digitized videos of the band.
Laser lights brought a club ambience to the set, without the overwhelming
smell of Axe body spray everywhere or the cheesiness of fist-pumping
Highlights of their orgasmic performance included mimicking sounds
and compositional styles from composers such as Beethoven, Lizst,
Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. The song “Resistance” features
a chord-change progression that is unique to Beethoven's Symphony No.
7's Allegretto movement. “Undisclosed Desires” was complemented by a
spectacular laser-light show that bordered on artistic genius. Some
parts of their set reminded me of Blur, Queen, Radiohead, even U2,
but direct quotations of Gershwin and of the piano techniques found in
Rachmaninoff's music blew my mind and convinced me that this
band were beyond such musical associations.
In all, Muse gave the LA Rising crowd a significant display of
their talents in performing music that was both stimulating to the
senses and intellectually profound. At the end of their set, giant balloon eye-balls filled with confetti were let loose–a bit gimmicky, sure.
As the night wound down, the temperature began to drop. We all
waited eagerly for Rage. Their takeover of the stage was swift, but the
first song was marred by sound problems. The volume dropped
significantly twice, drawing boos from the general-admission crowd.
They pushed on, as people who came to see this relic of rock music
perform exclusively for LA Rising got riled up. Song by song, the
crowd got more spirited, and whirlpools of human bodies began to form and
mosh freely to the music. Part of Zone 2 was even set on fire.
It was clear that Rage Against the Machine was ready for the crowd; despite the sound problems early on, their mix of instrumental
mastery and intense lyricism did more than cause the crowd to
time-travel back to the '90s; it inspired all of us to continue to look
for that energy and emotional commitment in music, which they
steadfastly held onto.
Without exception, the energy level of their whole
set was ridiculously high. It was a large collection of hits
from all their past albums, sprinkled with lesser-known songs.
Knowledgeable fans took those moments to show who they were.
Still, there was the rawness for their lyrics, the elements of funk in
their music, and the sick guitar solos and techniques on display that
included in-and-out tuning and intricate patterning of guitar
distortions. It was clear the band were inspired by the crowd, and the
crowd was inspired by the band. It was also clear the night no
doubt was ending on a good note, and Rage struck it with resounding
Critic's Bias: KROQ kid since the mid-'90s.
The Crowd: Pro-Rage and anti-po-po; emo-loving fans.
Overheard: A die-hard Rage fan found Muse's set to be
“shockingly good.” Another said it was “fucking dope.” I was just as