"This is the smallest room I've played in a very long time," Zack de la Rocha said Saturday afternoon at Aladdin Jr., a tiny Middle Eastern restaurant in Pomona, California. "And everyone's looking at us through a TV screen. I just wanna remind you: You are here. This is live!"
Indeed it was, and for the very first time, too: Saturday's iPhone-infested show marked the premiere performance by One Day as a Lion, de la Rocha's funked-up synth-punk duo with former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore. The band released a well-received EP in 2008 but never took the stage until this past weekend; aided by keyboardist Joey Karam (of the Locust), the outfit also played Sunday at L.A.'s Eagle Rock Center for the Arts.
It was the beginning of a busy week for de la Rocha, whose other band, Rage Against the Machine, is scheduled to headline the Hollywood Palladium Friday night in support of the Sound Strike's boycott of Arizona. Not surprisingly, immigration politics were already on de la Rocha's mind in Pomona, where he urged the several hundred people crammed into Aladdin to take action against a strict new law set to take effect in Arizona July 29. "We need to stop this codification of racial profiling from spreading throughout these states," he said, before adding that "poor workers" have taken the blame for a mess created by "those motherfuckers at Goldman Sachs and AIG."
One Day As a Lion's 50-minute set contained everything from the band's EP — including the heavy-swinging "Wild International" and Led Zep-like "If You Fear Dying," both of which received enthusiastic singalongs — as well as unreleased material presumably drawn from an upcoming full-length. One new track rode a menacing two-note synth riff that recalled the Suicide sample in M.I.A.'s "Born Free"; another featured an unlikely jazz-punk interlude with loads of cymbal-tapping action from Theodore. Throughout the show, Karam made his bank of vintage keyboards sound uncannily like a guitar, a neat inversion of Rage axman Tom Morello's trademark guitar-as-synth trick.
De la Rocha manned the keys for several tracks, too, but the singer seemed most comfortable prowling the stage, mike in hand. "Everyone needs to speak out," he said in reference to the Arizona issue, and as usual dude rocked it like he talked it.