In an interview about the Nightwatchman, his solo political folk project, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello said that his album would appeal to those who "liked Rage for the right reasons." At Alpine Valley Music Theater, thousands of drunken jocks and pasty kids in baggy Ozzfest shirts congregated for what can only be considered the wrong reasons.
However, the vast swarms of shitheads provided me with slight bemusement and proved only mildly detracting. After all, I was seeing Rage Against the Machine. Rage and I had a long history. When the reunion was announced I was beyond thrilled that I would finally see them.
A week of heavy rains in the region for a week prior to the concert caused problems in the venue. Alpine Valley Music Theater is a large outdoor amphitheater with a sloping grassy hill leading down to the stage. Massive slick areas on the grass and strips and patches of mud everywhere made navigating the area difficult. About an hour into the concert, everyone was coated in mud. However, the sloping hill approaching the stage thankfully moderated the likely rowdy crowd.
We entered in the middle of Queens of the Stone Age's set. I hardly paid attention to this band until this moment but they sounded simply sloppy and loud. The bassist was definitely off beat too many times. The one single I knew (from Guitar Hero) got the crowd energized, but all momentum was lost because of an unremarkable three-minute jam/guitar solo in the middle. The crowd responded relatively placidly to all banter from stage. The largest cheers came when the QOTSA singer mentioned Rage.
After a long break and dozens of tech and stage crew swarming the stage, Rage took the stage with Tom Morello's elderly mother introducing the band as the "best fucking band in the world." They kicked off a nearly perfect set to the typical backdrop of a red star. It seemed surreal. We were seeing Rage Against the Machine. In many ways, this carries enough connotations to sum up the entire experience, but several aspects of the show stood out.
Despite being nearly 10 years since the breakup, the band sounded tight. Zach’s vocals were spot on, and Tom Morello, the human killswitch, thrashed about while playing perfectly. A definite performer, most of his solos were performed on top of the monitor. This was no “LIHNERD SKIHNERD FEATURING THE BASSIST OF LYNRD SKYNRD -- THIS SATURDAY AT THE STATE FAIR!” reunion show. This was a band, clearly professional, and clearly there to rock.
Highlights of the set included "Take the Power Back," my personal favorite and a welcome surprise in the otherwise predictable set list. During “Bullet in the Head,” a light mist began to cascade downwards. The band “ended” with "Wake Up," which Zach used to squeeze in a lengthy diatribe about how the fascist powers that be are scared of us Rage fans. The drunken meatheads cheered emphatically to this. Zach then leapt into the pit in front of the stage before the band returned for the obvious encore. The band then played "Freedom," during which Morello broke his low E-string, testament to the energy he displayed. The band closed with "Killing in the Name," with the predictable chanting occurring appropriately.
Throughout the show, Zach seemed slightly less energetic than his normally frightening and almost manic stage persona of years past. But it soon dawned on me that the whole band was almost fighting back broad grins. Contrary to the deadly serious DVD presentations, in which the band appears to be humorless crusaders, it was obvious from the performance at East Troy that the band was glad to be back. The Rage might not have been as ferocious, but there may have been a little more love in the air. The Disturbed/Ozzfest fans (clearly all about the revolution), were happy that they were back, too. So was I. The show was brash, memorable, loud, unsubtle, and fun as hell. So it fit every long-simmering expectation.
Set list (out of order):
- Guerilla Radio
- Calm Like a Bomb
- Sleep Now in the Fire
- Bulls on Parade
- People of the Sun
- Tire Me
- Killing in the Name
- Take the Power Back
- Bullet in the Head
- Wake Up
- "Freedom" w/ "Township Rebellion" ending