Performing to at least 35,000 attendees, Rage Against the Machine played its only scheduled Midwest date of the year last Friday at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. The day was hardly a gem on its own accord, offering anywhere between a slight drizzle to a heavy downpour, all to the disdain of the crowd who gathered under and around the outdoor amphitheater. But not only did the show go on, but it went off without a hitch.
The Coup found themselves playing to a relatively empty audience to open the show. MC Boots Riley entered the stage behind a full band, and a sound alien to fans of the group’s studio releases: hard rock. While last year’s release, Pick a Bigger Weapon, played as one of the year’s best hip hop albums, the large capacity outdoor environment dwarfed the group’s new sound — one that fell on many deaf ears. Somehow the group’s presence at the concert went un-promoted and the audience, full of Ozzfest-seasoned concert goers, obliged as such – only acknowledging the band to boo them.
The unfortunate circumstances failed to put a damper on the group’s enthusiasm as Riley and crew continued to trudge through key tracks such as “We Are the Ones” and “My Favorite Mutiny.” While the Coup was musical “on” its sound seemed a tad false on the occasion as it lacked the tremendous rhythms and beats which its albums focused on with such skill. Instead, the Coup almost pandered to a rap-rock crowd while forgetting that its crowd was far more rock than rap on this particular evening.
Queens of the Stone Age followed after an extended intermission, playing an hour long set heavy with songs from its recent Era Vulgaris album and the ever-popular Songs for the Deaf. On the way to the event, discussion between my friend and I focused on the question of how bassist Michael Shuman would fill the spot within the group that many still associate with Nick Oliveri. Answer: the young musician offered ear-shattering vocals and gave his bass an increasingly furious thrashing. Without a doubt he filled the role better than we could have imagined.
Crushing through many of the band’s standards including “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and a jam-fused “Burn the Witch,” singer Josh Homme used his platform to raise the bar on the evening’s stage banter a few notches. First getting the entire crowd to clap in (semi) unison, Homme then hyped their stage-mates, “Y’know, there’s a band we’ve been waiting to hear for a few years.” As the crowd screamed and cheered he continued, “And I just go with the flow.” The band then slammed into its hugely popular 2003 single. As Queens of the Stone Age’s heavy smoke and light show faded out with its hard hitting “Songs for the Dead,” tension began building and fans began to clamor in anticipation of the headliners.
The long wait was finally halted as Tom Morello’s mother, Mary, came out to the stage – a sight familiar to those who had seen the band before in person or on video. “I’d like to introduce the best fucking band in the universe: Rage Against the Machine.” Morello then escorted his mother to the side of the stage as the crowd went crazy to the opening sounds of “Testify.” What happened from there cannot be defined as orgasmic, nor can it be defined as amazing, breathtaking, or mind blowing… it was simply legendary. “Bulls on Parade” upped the energy of “Testify,” and the entire crowd thrashed about in unison as Morello swirled about on stage, again – the things legends are made of.
As the encore reached its peak with the chorus of “Killing in the Name” the entire grounds were lit up revealing the hillside covered in music fans. For a moment (despite previous mud-sliding and drunken debauchery) the crowd was unified by the strength radiated from the stage. It was simply beautiful. With only a few minutes of soapboxing during “Wake Up” (which received a mixed reaction from the crowd) Zach de la Rocha showed no signs of rust after a nearly half-decade absence. Throughout this show, as I can only he has done with recent festival spots, he reinforced not only his presence in the history of music, but made damn sure that the lively Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk would not be remembered last for their roles in Audioslave. And if for only that fact, that is reason enough to praise the band’s reintroduction into both our lives and our culture.