Despite being one of the great rock bands of the ’90s, the original iteration of Rage Against the Machine did not survive beyond a decade, with vocalist Zack de la Rocha departing following a dispute. Guitarist Tom Morello has kept the band’s legacy alive with a series of inventive projects, incorporating original material with that written by the great De la Rocha.
In Prophets of Rage, Morello, along with Rage bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Will, replaced De la Rocha with legendary vocalists Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill, and added Public Enemy’s DJ Lord. The all-star group put on a powerful show, both in terms of the music and its social and political message, Tuesday night at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.
The changes to the lineup only improved the music. Rage vocalist Zack de la Rocha, compared to his Prophets counterparts, at times sounded at times a bit too much like that guy from your freshman dorm in college. You know the one. He stood beside the power of the music. B-Real and Chuck D, as anyone who’s heard their work can attest, do not have that problem.
Prophets of Rage’s set began with a solo DJ Lord performance that included everything from Metallica to Nirvana to the Wu-Tang Clan to Michael Jackson. It was an impressive display of his considerable DJ skills, which was especially appreciated since he seemed underused in show.
After Lord’s showcase came an introduction to “the best band in the fucking universe” by Morello’s 92-year-old mother, Mary, (a fascinating person in her own right) and a recorded rendition of the national anthem. During which the band took a knee. Wearing Colin Kaepernick jerseys. Just six miles from Levi’s Stadium.
In case you had any doubt whose side Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill would take in that particular controversy.
The majority of the set was Rage Against the Machine’s greatest hits, with Chuck D and B-Real alternating lead and backup vocals. Morello’s work on the guitar was as impressive as ever and he, Wilk and Commerford played as tightly as one would expect from their 25 years of practice. The songs on which each vocalist took the lead role perfectly suited his singing or rapping style styles. Chuck D especially filled his role so perfectly that by the end of each song, it was hard to think of anyone else singing it.
That’s not to say Cypress Hill and Public Enemy were forgotten. In addition to songs with the full band—they opened with Public Enemy’s song from which the band got its name, and performed an excellent version of the Rage cover of Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man” —B-Real, Chuck D and DJ Lord performed a hip-hop montage of their groups’ greatest hits, partially on stage and partially in the aisles.
The vocalists got their own mid-set break when Aaron Bruno of opener AWOLNATION took the mic for a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” that managed to be simultaneously chilling and extremely hard rock. It was one of the highlights of the entire show. The back-and-forth of the song—Springsteen recorded it, Rage covered it, Springsteen essentially covered the Rage version when Morello and he toured together, and now the Prophets of Rage cover of the Springsteen cover of the Rage cover—polished it into something more than any of the artists’ genres.
Politics are obviously the force behind the tour, not to mention the band and the three groups that merged to create it. The Prophets of Rage put that front and center throughout the show. From their take on Kaepernick’s protest, to an explanation of a local charity to which they donated part of the show’s proceeds, to the stage and the very name of the tour, there’s no separating the music from the message.
The show was opened by WAKRAT, Tim Commerford’s other band whose fascination with feedback probably doesn’t make them a favorite of sound engineers, and AWOLNATION, whose music you may recognize from most movies, TV shows and commercials from the last five years. The latter put on a good, high-energy show despite some strange audio mixing that almost completely wiped out frontman Bruno’s vocals. They played the hits, namedropped the headliner and closed with “Sail.”
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.