With Rage Against the Machine (RATM) on another indefinite hiatus, the three musicians in the band, Tom Morello, Tom Commerford, and Brad Wilk, created a new group named Prophets of Rage. Along for the ride were Chuck D and DJ Lord from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Public Enemy and B-Real from the multi-platinum group Cypress Hill. The tour, entitled the “Make America Rage Again Tour”, began in Cleveland, Ohio in July and stopped at Ak-Chin Pavillion on September 17th and the group lived up to expectations.
Answering the biggest question of the night, Chuck D and B-Real found themselves more than capable to match the energy and vocal venom necessary to perform the songs of Rage Against the Machine. B-Real in particular was adept at channeling Zack De La Rocha’s higher register and unique stage presence. The pair formed a natural team fronting the group, sharing vocal duties, call-and-responses, and interjections into each other’s verses. This helped add a new layer to the groups music, and it was evident from the beginning that the partnership between these two was electric.
Tom Morello has become a more rounded musician since his early RATM days, including a stint performing in the E Street Band. His signature guitar tricks were more confined to his solos and he formed a solid team with DJ Lord to create a unique and visceral sound, including a “scratch-off” between the two. Morello also was able to get a chance to show off his vocals in a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad about halfway through the set, featuring a guest appearance by AWOLNATION lead singer Aaron Bruno.
Tom Commerford, who was pulling double duty having performed in the first opening act WAKRAT, formed a tight rhythm section with drummer Brad Wilk. Commerford’s bass was much higher in the mix than most bands would allow, and his use of effects allowed him to perform bass lines that could double as a both the rhythm and melody parts during Morello’s solos. Wilk, who has always been RATM’s secret weapon, was stellar on the kit. He was able to keep the energy up throughout the night an lay down a consistent beat despite the band’s more complex sections.
The group was most successful when performing RATM’s classic songs, where the music felt organic and the duo up front were clearly comfortable with the lyrics and vocals. The crowd was clearly primed and ready for these songs, as the crowd were brought to their feet and bouncing to songs like Guerrilla Radio and Killing in the Name Of, the latter of which closed the two hour set. These songs felt just as alive and vital as they did in the early nineties, and the band was loose and firing on all cylinders during these sections of the set.
Less successful, however, were the bands attempts to branch outside of this comfort zone. The highlight of this was a medley of various works by B-Real and Chuck D’s groups in the middle of the set, backed just by DJ Lord while the rest of the band took a break offstage. The two MCs stepped down from the stage and into the crowd, taking pictures and crowd surfing, with B-Real even taking a drag off a joint supplied by an audience member. However, it did feel strange that the band chose to have mere backing tracks for this section of the show instead of working on an arrangement that featured the full sonic arsenal at their disposal. That said, the primary time they tried this formula it backfired, with the weakest moment of the night coming with a mashup of Fight the Power and the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.
In the end, however, nothing could stop the musical firestorm of hip hop and metal that fueled the crowd until nearly midnight. There was an intensity with just the right amount of playfulness that allowed the show to both feel like a party and a political rally. The band never ceased an opportunity to showcase their political opinions through their lyrics, stage design, and their interactions with the crowd between songs. During the solo of the set’s closer, Killing in the Name Of, Morello even began playing his guitar with his teeth to unveil a “NOBODY FOR PRESIDENT” sign on the back of his guitar. While it’s difficult to say Prophets of Rage is more than the sum of its parts, they definitely put on a phenomenal live show that lived up to each of the musicians’ pedigree.
Opening for the group was AWOLNATION, an alt-rock group from Los Angeles, and WAKRAT, the Tom Commerford fronted punk band from France.
WAKRAT, who was the first performer, was a poorly conceived mix of musical technicality and punk-rock sensibilities. While it is admirable to play in odd and complex time signatures, it’s completely negated when the group finds songs like Generation F**k and a never-ending loop of the same rote chord progressions to be enjoyable and entertaining. AWOLNATION was a far superior group, but it became clear from the beginning that they struggled to bring enough to the table to get a rise out of the crowd. Singer Aaron Bruno was constantly attempting to bring the crowd to their feet and get any sort of movement out of them, but their music felt too at odds with the headliner to have any sort of impact on the crowd.
Review by Kevin Kuhlman
Photos by Fred Kuhlman
Promoter: Live Nation
Venue: AK Chin Pavilion
Prophets Of Rage
Photos © Fred Kuhlman 2016