Rage Against the Machine have always been a band of intense purpose, and the quartet erupted with a furious new mission on Friday at a show protesting Arizona's new anti-immigration law at L.A.'s Hollywood Palladium. The night raised money for immigrants' rights groups and the Sound Strike artist boycott against the state, all in anticipation of this week's implementation of the controversial SB 1070.
"Tonight and every night, we need to stand up for our brothers and sisters," shouted singer Zack de la Rocha, who spent the night rushing and hopping across the stage, nearly colliding with the band. "Si se puede! Si se puede!"
It was Rage's first true hometown show in a decade — they last played within Los Angeles city limits at a free concert outside the 2000 Democratic National Convention that ended with fans scuffling with cops; and two weeks later, Rage performed (and recorded) a pair of shows at the Olympic Auditorium before breaking up soon after.
Since reuniting in 2007, Rage have delivered at full, furious power, and the Palladium show was more merciless, contemporary hard rock: brutal beats and arch basslines, panicked vocals wailing and rapping like a police siren, the strum and screech of Morello's guitar. Standing at stage right was producer Rick Rubin, watching again as Rage sent the night's crowd into spasms of moshing and fist-pumping singalongs.
The 14-song set began with the agitated riff and beats of "Testify," guitarist Tom Morello raising his left fist in the air while plucking the strings with his right as de la Rocha shook his curls and launched into the air. The 4,000-capacity dance hall was ideally suited to the moment, with band and fans bouncing and shouting together in close proximity. As a surprising intro to the explosive "Bulls On Parade," Morello built waves of subtle lines that sounded like a whale cry, closing with bursts of staccato scratching. Later came a blast of '70s agit-pop with the Clash's "White Riot," reinterpreting the punk anthem as a belligerent rock stomp fueled by bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk.
There were no new songs yet from Rage, but material dating to the band's 1992 debut album maintained their intensity and purpose. There was the blistering funk of "Guerrilla Radio" and the ominous, pounding fury of "Killing in the Name Of," dedicated to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a cable news regular and prominent supporter of the new law, whose department has been sued for racial profiling and criticized by Amnesty International.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band provided an unlikely folk-rock warm-up for the explosion of Rage to come. Oberst brought his own fire, leading a muscular, rolling thunder revue, slashing at an electric guitar and shouting on "Roosevelt Room" of dirty politics and hard times at home: "There's no blankets for the winter, there's no oil in the lamp / And I'd like to write my congressman, but I can't afford the stamp . . ."
Oberst and his five-man band blazed through the crowd noise most easily during wild rave-ups, but also switched to acoustic guitar for a wounded "Eagle on a Pole," set to bursts of folky soul, doing their best to ignore the expected knuckleheads chanting "Rage! Rage! Rage!"
When the night was over, the old wooden dance-floor was soaked with beer, and the crowd emptied out into Hollywood. Just around the corner were squad cars and dozens of cops with riot helmets ready for another battle for Los Angeles. Nothing like that happened, though it was a somehow fitting welcome home for Rage and their ecstatic, fully engaged fans.
Rage Against the Machine Set List:
"People Of The Sun"
"Know Your Enemy"
"Bulls On Parade"
"Bullet In The Head"
"Calm Like A Bomb"
"Sleep Now In The Fire
"Killing In The Name"