“This stage is a no-Trump zone!” declared guitarist Tom Morello midway through Friday’s Anti-Inaugural Ball in Los Angeles, headlined by two of his bands, the politically charged Prophets of Rage and a reunited Audioslave. “Immigrants and Muslims are welcome here. Racism, homophobia and bullying will not be tolerated.”
Held in the 600-capacity Teragram Ballroom in downtown L.A., Prophets of Rage could have easily packed the room by themselves, but the night was intended as a gathering of forces in response to the day’s inauguration of Donald Trump. Hosted by Jack Black, the concert delivered a full roster of established and emerging voices, including sets by Jackson Browne and outspoken rapper Vic Mensa.
“If somebody tries to grab your pussy in the pit,” warned Morello, riffing on the a notorious Trump comment, “it’s your patriotic duty to break their fucking arm!”
The Ball was a continuation of the declared mission of Prophets of Rage, who emerged during the 2016 election season. Gathering iconic rappers B-Real and Chuck D with Public Enemy’s DJ Lord and former Rage Against the Machine players Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, their battle cry was “Make America Rage Again,” directly in defiance of this election’s winning slogan. While the slogan was on red caps throughout the room last night, the band’s position is less non-partisan than radically anti-establishment: Remember that Rage Against the Machine’s most active years came during the Clinton administration.
The sold-out event was streamed live online and began with Chuck D reciting a bit of Public Enemy’s 1989 classic “Fight the Power,” still one of the most defiant and timeless protest songs in popular music history.
The full band’s set was typically explosive, erupting from the heavy funk of “Bombtrack” and “Guerrilla Radio.” Chuck D took lead vocal on the latter, but B-Real had the timely closing message: “It has to start somewhere/It has to start sometime/What better place than here, what better time than now?”
As always, Chuck D noted “the revolutionary lyrics of Zack de la Rocha,” the former Rage singer and lyricist who wasn’t exactly silent this inaugural week either, appearing the night before with Run the Jewels at an anti-Trump concert in Washington, D.C.
During a hip-hop medley, B-Real, Chuck D and Lord were joined by Everlast for his House of Pain hit “Jump Around.” Soon, B-Real announced, “Oh, you got a special treat now, motherfuckers,” then grabbed a spot to watch from behind the amps as Morello began the intense opening riff from Audioslave’s 2002 debut single “Cochise.” Singer Chris Cornell bounced onto the stage, bearded in jeans and T-shirt for a soaring vocal performance
Audioslave was the first project to emerge from the 2000 breakup of Rage Against the Machine, teaming the three Rage instrumentalists with the Soundgarden shouter. They recorded three albums and scored radio hits along the way, before officially splitting up in 2007.
“Twelve years is a long time coming,” Cornell said of the unexpected reunion since their last live performance. The three-song set included “Like a Stone” and “Show Me How to Live,” powered by big, straight-ahead rock guitar riffs. As Morello soloed on the final song, Cornell fell forward into the crowd, arms out.
When the Prophets of Rage rappers returned to the stage, Chuck D said of the Audioslave set, “This shit is unbelievable.”
The night began with more peaceful protests. Jackson Browne began with a warm, understated “Till I Go Down,” dialing back the heavy reggae vibe of the 1986 original recording. He followed with Steven Van Zandt’s 1983 anthem “I Am a Patriot,” a permanent part of Browne’s shows for several years, and added new lyrics aimed at our new commander in chief: “I ain’t no bully … I ain’t no climate denier.”
Browne was joined by Morello for “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” recreating the Bruce Springsteen original with the wild, eccentric soloing from the Rage guitarist. Morello lifted the instrument to pluck the strings with his teeth, revealing a new message on the back of his guitar: “Not my president.” Morello then shouted the lyric: “Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free/Look in their eyes, Mom, you’ll see me!”
Another surprise was the appearance of Black’s musical duo Tenacious D. With a white-bearded Kyle Gass on guitar, they sang the surreal and comic “The Government Totally Sucks.” The night also included the Los Angeles Freedom Choir, assembled for the show from teachers, union members, undocumented workers, Black Lives Matters activists, Muslim high school students and others, as “a way to demonstrate a united front,” Morello told Rolling Stone before the show. While other artists gathered on the East Coast, Morello and the Prophets made their stand in Los Angeles. “Standing up where you are and where you live is important. The reverberations of this weekend of protests will be felt around the country.”
With the Prophet of Rages back onstage after the Audioslave set, the crowd bounced hard to the militant beat of “Testify,” as B-Real, Chuck D and Morello each raised an open hand in the air. The show ended with Prophets of Rage ripping into “Killing in the Name,” as all the night’s performers crowded onto the stage, shouting along to classic slogan, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” Before the musicians and fans began to leave, Black implored the cheering crowd: “Now is not the time for silence. Let your voice be heard!”