Rage Against The Machine. As one of the most controversial and divisive alternative rock bands of the ’90s, the Los Angeles four-piece fought corruption, inequality and oppression with a raised fist, a firm middle finger and feedback. These were the guys that took the main stage of Lollapalooza 1993 naked, mouths covered by black tape and their bodies spelling out the letters PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center); that stormed the New York Stock Exchange without warning for their song “Sleep Now In The Fire”; that featured a fucking Vietnamese Buddhist monk burning himself as the cover art for their debut album. Inevitably, as what happens with most bands, they dissolved: some reunions happened here and there, and there were talks of recording new material.
Then, May 2016, posters popped up across Los Angeles titled, “prophetsofrage.com,” accompanied by five silhouettes, one of them with a raised fist. The speculation began: “Is Rage Against The Machine really reuniting? If so, will this be a one-off performance? A tour? A festival circuit?” Fans finally got their answer on June 1 when Prophets Of Rage unveiled as a project featuring everyone from Rage Against The Machine except former frontman Zack de la Rocha, with rap heavyweights Chuck D and B-Real sharing lead duties in his absence.
To rebrand themselves as the Prophets Of Rage is fitting. All of the members have challenged and spoken against America’s hypocrisy for over two decades, and continue to do so. But they’re older, too: the young musical militants now elder statesmen, still outspoken but less in your face, less fuck you.
That last reason was why the group’s surprise show last night at Warsaw was simultaneously good and poignant. Without Chuck D’s Public Enemy and B-Real’s Cypress Hill, we wouldn’t have Rage Against The Machine, and seeing them share the stage together was a testament to the three’s influence on one another.
But there’s no way you can listen to “Bombtrack” and hear those words “Burn, burn, yes you’re gonna burn,” without missing Rocha’s defiant snarl, branding your brain with his words until they became a deadly mantra.
Rocha was such an integral part to Rage Against The Machine, that hearing someone else perform his parts — even if it’s two rappers with such an acclaimed history such as Chuck D and B Real — felt disingenuous. He has such a distinguishable vocal delivery that can’t be replicated: a biting assertiveness that complimented the punchy rhythm section of bassist Tom Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, and the virtuosic shredding of guitarist Tom Morello.
However, Chuck and Real seemed winded performing Rage tracks such as “Guerrilla Radio,” “Take The Power Back,” “Sleep Now In The Fire,” “Bulls On Parade” and “Killing In The Name.” There just lacked that tension: that fierceness that Rocha lit a fire to and couldn’t care less of the damage caused.
But hearing Public Enemy and Cypress Hill songs reinterpreted as rock heavy hitters was enjoyable. “(Rock) Superstar,” “Shut Em Down,” “Miuzi Weighs A Ton” — Chuck D and B-Real being backed by Morello, Commerford and Wilk gave these tracks an even harder edge than they already had.
Prophets Of Rage ended their set with “Killing In The Name,” with all five members walking to the front of the stage and thanking the audience with raised fists, before exiting and not returning for an encore. Everyone looked like they had a good time, a bunch of sweaty bodies smiling at the fact that they witnessed two of music’s most politically charged groups perform together.
Shortly after their performance the band announced that they’re embarking on a “Make America Rage Again” tour, the name parodying Republican Party nominee Donald Trump‘s slogan, “Make America Great Again!”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Morello was adamant about not calling Prophets Of Rage a “Rage Against The Machine” reunion, which is fair. Prophets is just as much a celebration of music made by Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, than it is a necessary and timely political statement. It’ll be interesting to see what the band does throughout their tour, especially their concert in Cleveland, Ohio, which people are speculating will serve as a protest performance outside of the Republic National Convention. Hopefully they’ll also unveil some more new songs, too (so far there’s only “Prophets Of Rage,” which the band took its name from).
Is it disappointing that Rocha isn’t a part of this? Yes. But the fight has to carry on, which is what the Prophets Of Rage have tasked themselves with. And who better than a group of revolutionaries in their own right?