Live Report: Rage Against the Machine and the Wu-Tang Clan in New Jersey - Rolling Stone
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Live Report: Rage Against the Machine and the Wu-Tang Clan in New Jersey

Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J., August 20, 1997

Though the Wu-Tang Clan/Rage Against the Machine tour has played in
the media as an All-Star Game of agitprop, it’s more like the World
Series of boisterous, boot-stompin’ beats. On one side is rock’s
most didactic band, the card-carrying Marxists of Rage Against the
Machine; on the other is hip-hop’s most surreal crew, who promote a
barely comprehensible ideology centered around numerology, Hong Kong action movies and their Wu-Wear line
of clothing. Whether or not the two groups have anything in common
politically depends on whether the Wu-Tang song “C.R.E.A.M.” —
which stands for ‘Cash Rules Everything Around Me’ — is an ode to
class conflict as the ruling force of history or a paean to the
invisible hand of capitalism.

But who cares if Rage calls for revolution Marx-style now and
Wu-Tang just wants to sell more copies than Kinkos? Judging from
the Wednesday night show at the Continental Airlines Arena, which
German techno-punks Atari Teenage Riot opened, the tour is simply
the testosterone-heavy yang to Lilith Fair’s yin. Call it the Cain
Fair: A festival so absent of the empathy supposedly returning to
rock that some attendees continued to crowd-surf during
intermission. Though the audience adored both Wu-Tang’s sophomoric
shenanigans and Rage’s furious punk, the most cheers were reserved
for Rage frontman Zack De la Rocha when it was announced that the
show would go on despite a mid-set ankle injury from landing on a
monitor. And why not? To a crowd that seemed to view rock as an extreme
sport
, playing with pain was the ultimate evidence of
dedication.

Though the Wu-Tang Clan’s music is dense and textured, its
set also had the manic pace of a sporting event (as well as enough
MCs to field a baseball team). In front of a set that looked like a
Disneyland rendition of urban America, the Wu-Tang Clan spent less
time performing songs than it did requesting applause, having
audience members hold lighters aloft and, at one point, asking “all
the muthafuckas who want to change the world” to take their shirts
off. (The group later took arena rock antics to a new low by asking
the women in the audience to do the same.) Though a few songs came
off effectively — especially “Reunited” and GZA’s “Liquid Swords”
— nearly everything innovative about the group’s music was lost
amid the sheer spectacle.

Rage Against
the Machine
wisely concentrated on their music, pausing their
pummeling assault only briefly for De la Rocha to rant about police
brutality. (They also stopped the show for about 15 minutes so the
frontman’s ankle could be iced and taped up.) Beginning with a
supercharged “People of the Sun,” Rage fused elements of rap and
rock with such seamless precision it seemed they were less a band
than a terrorist cell. Although a bit of the Wu-Tang’s personality
and interaction between members might have helped their set go down
smoother, their only significant musical misstep was an ill-advised
cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
that substituted misplaced anger and a metallic grind for the
song’s empathy and intimacy.

Part of what generated anticipation for the Wu/Rage tour was
the possibility of a collaboration between the two acts, but a Rage
Against the Machine encore featuring Wu-Tang leader/producer RZA
featured neither the righteous indignation of the former nor the
musical innovations of the latter. Backed by the slowed-down riff
to Rage’s “Freedom,” RZA asked the audience to put their fists in
the air and “hit ’em high;” taking his turn at the microphone De la
Rocha told the crowd to “give it all up for the peoples of the
Wu-Tang Clan.”

In This Article: Rage Against the Machine

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