Rock The Bells @ Randall’s Island, NYC

Live Reviews | By on Jul 31st, 2007

Opening Bands: The Roots, Mos Def, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan
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This summer, as bands like The Police and Smashing Pumpkins are reuniting for various reasons, Rage Against The Machine are doing so for political reasons, naturally. What better time than now to get back together and speak out against a system that has spun so far out of control? Ok, maybe three years ago was the ideal time to spring into action; but nevertheless Rage came back onto the scene at Coachella a few months ago with a long awaited reunion performance.

Over last weekend, Rage graced the east coast with its presence playing the hip hop heavy Rock The Bells festival at Randall’s Island. RATM might not be the first headliner that comes to mind on a bill with The Roots, Mos Def, Cypress Hill and Wu-Tang Clan but these acts played the main stage throughout the day leading up to Rage’s 9:45 performance. The crowd was massive, unbelievably massive for Saturday’s sold out show. Picture a sold out Giant’s Stadium times three, it was completely unreal. Halfway through the sea of people there were two enormous screens to see the stage from afar and an insane setup of stacked speakers. The stage was bigger than any regulation stadium stage and made the Wu-Tang Clan look like ants, itty bitty incoherent ants. The crowd was predominantly comprised of poseur “pretty fly for a white guy” types who got all too excited for Cypress Hill’s on stage bong hits, and the mere mention of pot, smoking pot or growing pot. You might expect a nicely mixed crowd for such a hip hop line up, but it was mostly all white kids. The kind who were probably never bold enough to put up their Ws and sing along to Wu-Tang outside the privacy of their own bedrooms, until Saturday anyway.

Cypress Hill seemed to be a big deal. The crowd was probably just way too stoned to know what was going on to realize that the music was pretty awful. Still, they cheered and smoked and watched people on stage smoke and cheered some more all while wearing their now threadbare and vintage “cannabis” (made to look like adidas) t-shirts that really were never cool to being with. There are really no redeeming qualities about Cypress Hill, which then brings us to something even worse, cue the Wu-Tang Clan.

Rap probably shouldn’t be considered a performance art. It’s fine to listen to on your stereo at home, maybe at a club or a bar; but there is just something extremely embarrassing about grown tough guy-looking dudes standing on stage and loudly mumbling into mics. It’s one thing if it is just one guy, that wouldn’t be too bad. But take a group, a clan if you will where you have eight guys on stage. This means that at any given time at least six of them are just standing around like idiots while the other two should unintelligibly at the crowd. It has been debated back and forth for years, so let it be clear, this is not music. At least it doesn’t come across as music when it’s live. The other issue here, possibly even worse is why, why can’t rappers just finish a song live? It’s insane! Wu-Tang, for example, play a hook just long enough to hear some “ohhhhs” and “that’s my jam”s and then they jump to something else. You would never catch a band playing only the chorus to their popular songs and then promptly moving on to something else. All of Wu-Tang Clan’s set was like a 45 minute series of mumbles. Good thing this can easily be looked past for the earth-shattering greatness that was about to follow…

Rage took the stage like an explosion. As soon as they started; no matter if you were in front of the stage or nearly half a mile away, the crowd went nuts and a wave of energy surged through Randall’s Island. RATM’s set was nearly flawless, with absolutely no evidence of a seven year hiatus. The band was tight and on point as they played hits like, “People of the Sun”, “Bulls on Parade”, “Down Rodeo”, “Guerilla Radio”, “Vietnow” and “Killing in the Name”. Rage had so much power and enough energy for the entire sold out crowd to feed off of and go completely bananas.

Rage’s songs don’t need any introduction, so Zach de la Rocha wasted no time with pointless banter. Instead, he chose his time to speak wisely. Toward the end of “Wake Up”, the singer paused for a moment to clarify something. He had been accused of calling for the assassination of George Bush because of a statement made at Rage’s reunion set at Coachella. “No.” Zack explained, “He should be brought to trial as a war criminal and hung and shot. That’s what we said”. He also added that Bush and Cheney should be tried as war criminals, and then without hesitation they launched back into the song with Zack screaming “wake up”.

This statement was met with roaring cheers of agreement. Though it was only a brief part of the entire day’s events, this moment alone was worth the 83 bucks, and was definitely worth the seven year wait. It was the most direct and powerful statement spoken against the Bush regime with none of the typical liberal sarcasm land humor that often mute otherwise intelligent points. De la Rocha’s courage is admirable. He should be thanked for making an historical statement and speaking up when so many others remain fearfully silent.

Rage’s popularity surged after the release of “Evil Empire” in 1996. Maybe it was de la Rocha’s passionate voice or Tim C.’s thriving bass lines that won Rage so many fans. Or, it could have been how perfectly they were able to fit the line “Get the f**k off the commode” into an amazing song. Whatever the reason, RATM’s politics and intelligence are what should keep us interested in them. Their message is just as relevant now as it was ten years ago, and it may be even more important today.

Saturday was the second performance of the Rock The Bells tour. It spent the next day at Randall’s Island and then will make its way south and then west until the final show on September 1st in Honolulu. Rage is rumored to be planing a set of tour dates of their own which will likely be announced as the tour progresses. If their own tour will prove to be anything close to Saturday’s performance it is certainly not to be missed.

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