It’s been 11 years since Rage Against the Machine last performed.
The group’s return to a capacity Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy on Saturday couldn’t have come too soon.
It was supposed to happen in 2020; the reunion tour was timed to precede the US presidential election. Starting two years later than planned due to COVID-19, the tour has begun with the state of the country still a dumpster fire, and Rage and their fans have a growing number of issues to anger.
And one of their biggest targets on Saturday, unsurprisingly, was the United States Supreme Court, specifically the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24.
“Forced birth in a country that is the only wealthy country in the world with no nationally guaranteed paid parental leave,” read an on-screen caption as Zack de La Rocha let out grunts, “yeahs” and calls for “freedom”. to the accelerating beat of guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk.
“Forced birth in a country where black birth attendants experience maternal mortality two to three times higher than that of white birth attendants,” the captions continued. “Forced birth in a country where gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.”
And then, in capital letters: “DROP THE SUPREME COURT”.
It was the most specific political statement the band made on Saturday. No one in the band made a speech during their 90-minute set. But they channeled their fury through their visceral music, which felt as urgent as ever – despite the fact that none of the 18 songs hit on Saturday were created in the 21st century.
RELATED:From Kendrick Lamar to Mötley Crüe, here are the 20 best gigs in Milwaukee this summer
RELATED:These are all the arena, amphitheater and stadium concerts happening in Milwaukee in 2022
In fact, one of the few things De La Rocha said on Saturday outside of singing or rapping duties was “Turn that bass up,” at the start of the night’s second song, “People of the Sun.” one of five tracks played at Alpine from the 1996 second album “Evil Empire”.
Keep in mind that bass, drums, guitar, De La Rocha’s screams, everything was already very strong for the opening number “Bombtrack” – fittingly, the first song of the band’s self-titled debut album. , 30, who had the biggest share of the setlist with seven tracks – and you could see the energy rising from the stage through the explosive mosh pit to the sea of people on the hill of the amphitheater outside.
But the band wanted to push the volume, the fury, everything, to the brink.
For “Bulls on Parade” – which came just after “People of the Sun”, so Commerford’s crucial bass growls were very loud, practically vibrating through your chest – Morello interrupted his charging guitar to run his fingers violently all the way down his neck, the sound like scratching records.
Morello got even flashier from there, shredding the guitar with his teeth for the next “Bullet in the Head”. For “Testify,” one of five songs performed Saturday from Rage’s final all-original studio album, 1999’s “The Battle of Los Angeles,” Morello ripped the guitar cord and slammed the end into his palm, creating high-pitched squeals that sounded like Morse code being sent to an alien planet.
This guitar stunt involving Morello’s chompers, for virtually any band, would be the grand finale. For Rage, it was just a fleeting peak for a debut issue, with Wilk’s drumming brilliantly bringing the intensity down to a simmer, before the band (and fans) rose to an even more intense finish under De La Rocha’s murderous cries of “Shot in the head.”
As good as Rage was, well, unleashed, the band realized that quieter, more bubbly moments were just as powerful. And in that regard, De La Rocha was a critical channel.
Of course, the band’s doomsday preacher unleashed hellish screams, kicked across the stage, punched the air, banged his head. (His hair is a bit cropped now, the most apparent physical difference among the group since 2011.)
But De La Rocha was equally captivating crouched by Wilk’s drum kit, quietly repeating “I think I heard a knock” over and over during the edgy bridge of “Wake Up.” This made the ending even more intense, with the frontman rising to shout the title song over and over again for the climactic ending, before cutting out the noise with these urgent closing lyrics: “How long? Not long / ‘Cause what you reap is what you sow.”
There was only one song where a more reserved De La Rocha didn’t gel, a surprisingly disappointing “Sleep Now in the Fire.” His misplaced smile, a static stage presence, the looser vocal delivery, the recording’s lack of a climactic scream, all detracted from the musical hell the De La Rocha bandmates were conjuring up.
But for the show’s final issue “Killing in the Name” — their response to the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991 — De La Rocha sounded even angrier than on the original, apparently flabbergasted that the black police brutality he sang about 30 years ago is still happening today.
And for the performance at Alpine, De La Rocha tweaked the lyrics slightly towards the end, turning the song into a broader condemnation of systemic racism, adding that there are “politicians”, not just “people who work forces”, which also ” burn crosses.”
There hasn’t been original Rage music for 23 years. Until this weekend, there hadn’t been a Rage show since 2011.
But judging by the band’s urgent comeback gig on Saturday, it’s clear they feel there’s still a lot of work to do.
Remarkable Run the Jewels with Opening Set
The last song you’d probably expect to hear on a Rage show is “We Are the World,” but hip-hop supergroup Run the Jewels had a blast using the ballad as backing music for their 45-minute set. . .
“Take a look,” El-P said at one point to his rhyming partner Killer Mike. “There are 30,000 people who have held their tickets for two years.”
They repeatedly expressed their gratitude for opening for Rage, and they performed as if they had practiced for this set every day for the past three years. Their vibrant delivery and relentless swagger for “Legend Has It,” “Close Your Eyes” and other Jewels gems were matched by rigorous beats and cutting platinum chops provided by their Madison-born DJ Trapstar (from his real name Gabe Moskoff).
It was largely a fun dance party peppered with lots of funny dad jokes, but towards the end of the set, El-P dedicated a song to “people who have unjustly lost their lives at the hands of people paid to protect them” .
The song was the sobering and breathtaking “Walking in the Snow” from the 2020 album “RTJ4”.
“Every day on the evening news they feed you fear for free,” Killer Mike rapped. “And you’re so numb watching the cops choke a man like me / ‘Til my voice goes from a scream to a whisper, ‘I can’t breathe.'”
The song was actually written before the murder of George Floyd — and a sentiment that tragically hasn’t lost an inch of its relevance.
“No matter what color you are, no matter your gender, no matter your ethnicity, it’s always us versus them,” Killer Mike said after the song. “Always we against the mighty (swearers).”
For at least one night, Run the Jewels, speaking truth to power, made “us” feel more empowered.
- Beyond criticism during the Supreme Court spectacle and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Rage previously announced that $475,000 from ticket sales to benefit charity at the Alpine show and two concerts at the United Center in Chicago, would be donated to reproductive rights organizations in Wisconsin and Illinois.
- In addition to the 17 Rage originals played on Saturday (which included a few outtakes), the band also delivered a gripping cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” from their 2000 cover album “Renegades.” It was also the first time they performed the live coverage since that year.
- Rage had an unorthodox song choice to help calm fans down as they walked out of the room — Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
- The Rage show featured several simple, cinematic, dialogue-free music videos that kept the night’s tension going, often playing as the band briefly left the stage for a breather. Among the images: a Border Patrol agent posing menacingly with a barking German Shepherd; an idling El Paso police van; a boy in a ski mask kneeling before a bull; and a boy with a blindfold who opened a piñata that looked like an ICE agent.
- At the start of the Run the Jewels set, Killer Mike said he was a Packers fan, which drew as much cheers from the people of Wisconsin as boos from the large number of Bears fans at the show. .
- This was my first alpine valley since 2019 – this is also the first season at East Troy Historic Site in two years. And, of course, climbing the hills is a bear and the bowl and stage are relics compared to most large contemporary venues, but it’s still a lovely, special place to see a show, especially when the weather was so splendid than Saturday night. Remember, if you’re attending a show at Alpine this summer, getting in and out is an ordeal. I left Summerfest at 5 p.m. Saturday and didn’t park at Alpine until 7 p.m., and spent the last 45 minutes driving less than two miles to get into the venue. I didn’t even bother to start getting out of the parking lots until 12:30am – 90 minutes after getting back to my car – and traffic was still heavy at that late hour.
2. “People of the Sun”
3. “Bulls on Parade”
4. “Bullet to the Head”
6. “Tired Me Out”
7. “Wake Up”
8. “Guerrilla Radio”
10. “Know Your Enemy”
11. “Calm as a Bomb”
12. “Now sleep in the fire”
13. “War in a Breath”
14. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (Bruce Springsteen cover)
15. “Freedom” / “Rebellion of the Townships”
16. “Killing in the Name”