Rage Against The Machine

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author DY date 18/08/07 venue Rock The Bells Festival, San Francisco, USA

The stage; Rock The Bells hip-hop festival. The location; a parking lot sitting behind the Giants' ballpark in San Francisco, California. Yes this was the setting for one of the most eagerly anticipated and memorable concerts to date for this reviewer. Until now, seeing the mighty Rage Against The Machine live in concert was something I could have only dreamt about, so when the band's headlining slot on the four-date festival coincided with my travels in the US, it was an opportunity I could not pass up. So on a gorgeous August night in San Francisco by the bay, I arrived at the venue in time to catch the end of Cypress Hill's set and a few other lesser known hip-hop acts performing on various stages across the parking lot. I found my spot in the main stage crowd at the start of the Wu Tang Clan's set, which was a necessary forfeit to have to pay in order to get a good position and view of the stage for the headliners.

After a frustratingly long wait after the Wu's set, an eager crowd, flammable with excitement and anticipation were ignited when front man Zack De La Rocha entered the stage, greeting us with "Good evening we are Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles, California" while the opening bars of "Testify" blasted through the sky-high speakers sending the crowd into sheer chaos. Oh yes, by this time I was in a state of ecstasy, much like the majority of the rest of the audience, and literally living a dream. There are only few ways you can really explain the feeling you get when you are finally given the chance to experience something that you could only ever have wished for before. The passion in the eyes of every crowd member around me as they sang every word of "Bombtrack" showed just how much these next 90 minutes meant to them.

"Know Your Enemy" provided the kind of experience that people would give when asked what their 'ultimate fantasy' is in life, and had the entire crowd jumping up and down. It has to be said that for a band that split up 7 years ago, they were remarkably tight on stage, suggesting hours upon hours of time spent in rehearsal before the handful of shows the band had chosen to play this year. Zach's politically charged vocals during "Bullet In The Head" were delivered with all the aggression and conviction we could have hoped for and one thing's for certain, he still means every single word he sings as much right now as the day he wrote them. Watching this guy is like watching a crusade, he's a man with a purpose and there is clearly a reason why the band re-united when they did. To make things better, the sound at the venue was far better than I had expected. Depite the often harsh San Francisco winds, not a single note was lost on it's way across the crowd. The sound tech's had the perfect balance too, with no instrument overpowering any other and every one clearly heard. The atmosphere in the crowd was awesome too, it seemed everyone was a dedicated fan of the band and were having the time of their lives. There was a real feeling of togetherness in the crowd, like everyone was sharing their dream with everyone else and everywhere you looked their were smiles and people having fun.

During the set the crowd's attentions were temporarily distracted by some drunk guy who had decided to climb up the 40ft steel scaffolding supporting various lights and cameras. He was soon followed by about 5 security guards who eventually managed to drag him down despite the crowds pleas of "up, up, up!".

Storming through their 90-minute set, the band covered material spanning their career. Tom Morello's guitar work was, as it always has been, a spectacle to watch as he crossed the boundaries of what noises we all thought guitars were able to make. His solos were delivered in a fresh, yet familiar enough fashion for us to be able to recognise them from their recorded versions and during one of them, Morello treated us to some one armed guitar playing. "Wake Up" was received with huge excitement by the crowd and Zach used a break in the bridge as one of his few chosen opportunities to talk to the crowd. Unsurprisingly, he used it to condemn the state of America and it's government today and ranted about how power should be 'returned to the people' and not the 'pigs' (by which he meant police) who run the streets. This won rapturous applause from the crowd and the band left the stage after finishing the song.

The band returned on stage about 5 minutes later for an encore after chants of "RAGE, RAGE, RAGE" from the crowd. After playing the end of "Township Rebellion", the band launched into a personal favourite of mine, namely "Freedom" which sent me absolutely nuts. The verses were played at a slowed pace and gradually slowed down until they ground to a halt before Zach's screams of "your anger is a gift!" and the band launched into the heavy part of the song at full speed. "Killing In The Name" closed the set in an emphatic way and featured some altered lyrics. During one of the verses, Zach changed the words to "some of those who burn crosses, are the same that hold office". The festival was closed with the sight of the band uniting centre stage for a group hug for cameras, which surely was deliberately meant to be interpreted as a sign of the band re-forming.

Overall, the concert was everything I expected and hoped it would be. A faultless performance from a band who is just as on form now as they have ever been, and for a band that hasn't played together in 7 years, thats an impressive feat. The choice of songs was spot on and each one was played with energy and skill. The only detail I would have changed would be the size of the venue, because 99% of the time the smaller venues make the better shows. So it is this which drops the show half a grade below perfect. To be honest, I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to witness a live performance from this band and it will stand as a landmark for me in the history of the 65+ concerts that I have attended over the years. I can only say that whenever this band plays a show anywhere near you, i.e. on planet Earth, make the effort and go and see them, you won't regret it.

Setlist:

1. Testify

2. People Of The Sun

3. Bombtrack

4. Know Your Enemy

5. Bullet In The Head

6. Renegades Of Funk

7. Guerilla Radio

8. Calm Like A Bomb

9. Sleep Now In The Fire

10. Bulls On Parade

11. Wake Up

---Encore---

12. Freedom

13. Killing In The Name

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