Prophets of Rage Mostly Live Up to Their Campaign Promises

Tom Morello gives his opinion of our two-party system.
Tom Morello gives his opinion of our two-party system.
Violeta Alvarez

Prophets of Rage, AWOLNATION, Wakrat
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
October 8, 2016

If we’re lucky, one day the songs of Rage Against the Machine will stand as snapshots of an America in turmoil before it finally, mercifully, got it together and became the more perfect union we dream it to be. That day, if it ever comes, is still far in the future, and for now those songs seem as vital and relevant as they did upon their first release.

You don’t realize the void left behind by the disappearance of Rage Against the Machine from rock music until you see Prophets of Rage live. When you hear “Guerilla Radio” and “Bullet In the Head” live, it seems almost blasphemous that we don’t get to hear them live every two years along with whatever new truths to power they’re preaching. That they sat out the Bush presidency seemed like folly; that there is no new Rage Against the Machine music in the age of #BlackLivesMatter is almost infuriating.

Chuck D
Chuck D
Violeta Alvarez

From that point of view then, the Prophets of Rage could be seen as something of a miracle, members of Rage Against the Machine finding a way to get back out on the road to bring their songs to the masses (instead of sporadic festival dates like the first RATM reunion tour) where they belong, along with some of the most important rhymes of all time courtesy of Chuck D of Public Enemy. Oh, and the guy from Cypress Hill is there, too. Awesome, right?

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At times it is. There are definitely moments at the start and the end of the show where Prophets of Rage get damn close to the magic of Rage Against the Machine, which just happen to be the moments when they’re playing RATM’s best and most powerful songs. Those moments feel vibrant and electric and important, but alas, they’re only part of the show.

The rest of the show finds the band part of the equation — i.e., Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford — playing the role of world’s most talented rap-rock karaoke band. Yes, they do a damn fine job of it, with “Miuzi Weighs a Ton” and “How Could I Just Kill a Man” in particular being standouts, but there’s no version of reality where three-fourths of one of the most talented bands on Earth needed to cover “(Rock) Superstar.” And while the idea of mashing up “Fight the Power” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is cute, it undercuts the power of one of the greatest rap songs of all time, a song that begs for the full-power Rage treatment.

B-Real
B-Real
Violeta Alvarez

The band spent most of the show letting the music do the talking. What banter there was sounded a bit too campaign-slogany for their own good — “make America rage again” and “dangerous times call for dangerous songs” are things that look real good on a hat or shirt, at least until Tom Morello addressed the crowd for a pretty inspiring message about creating the world that you want.

As Zach de la Rocha replacements go, the combination of Chuck D and B-Real is about as good as you can get. B-Real fits in those grooves particularly well, with Chuck D bringing his full authority as political rap icon to the various choruses. It’s enough that the idea of a proper Prophets of Rage album is at least intriguing, but only as long as you don’t ask yourself when the last time was that any of the members onstage released a song you truly cared about. (It’s been seven years since Street Sweeper Social Club came out.)

Prophets of Rage Mostly Live Up to Their Campaign Promises
Violeta Alvarez

The show ended with something of a campaign promise from the band, about how they’d be seeing us all again soon and that this was only the beginning. Very little can make me as happy and sad at the same time as that news. Yes, the idea that I might hear “Sleep Now In the Fire” or “Know Your Enemy” again live is exciting, even if it’s in a non-optimal state. But the band is right: Dangerous times do demand dangerous music, and I think the only way we get that is through the creative alchemy of all four members of Rage Against the Machine working together. And while I like “Digging for Windows” (even if I’m not entirely sure what that phrase means) and will listen to whatever Prophets of Rage put out, I can’t help but think that while we will — as we have for so long now — survive without new Rage Against the Machine music, we will remain poorer for it.

Perhaps we were better off not knowing that there was a void to be filled. I know I was.

So, How Were the Openers? Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION radiates confidence. It’s almost staggering how comfortable he seems onstage with a mike in his hand. While they seemed like a potentially weird choice to open for Prophets, the crowd was completely into them, and with good reason; they are supremely good at what they do. Sometimes you see a band and even if you aren’t familiar with them, you know they have that It Factor that makes them a great live act; Awolnation are definitely one of those bands. “Sail,” naturally, had one of the biggest singalongs I’ve heard this year, and I’m definitely intrigued to see what they could do as headliners.

Wakrat is a band that features Tim of RATM, which explains how they got such a sweet opening gig, including 30 minutes of stage time and a pretty decent lighting setup. They’re not particularly good, but the longer their set went on, the less terrible they seemed to be. Tim is actually quite an engaging front person and I liked his stage banter, but sometimes bands need to learn that it’s really okay not to have a singer. Tim might be excellent as a backing vocalist in Prophets, but in Wakrat he alternately sounds like a poor man’s Milo Aukerman and a bootleg Layne Staley.

Prophets of Rage Mostly Live Up to Their Campaign Promises
Violeta Alvarez

Personal Bias: In a vacuum, Rage Against the Machine is the best band I’ve ever seen live. I wrote the lyrics to “Know Your Enemy” on a box of school supplies I had for a class in high school. I wrote a persuasive essay on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Crowd: The type that will passionately scream out, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” then wait for a cop on a horse to tell them it’s okay for them to cross the street because that’s how society works.

Overheard In the Crowd: “Oh yeah, there are some really nice deals at Walmart right now.”

Random Notebook Dump: My new favorite music "what if?" goes like this: Rage manages to work through their issues and begins work on a new album in 2001. They take a hit in radio play post-9/11, but remain a vital voice in the world of political music and successfully tour into 2003. The question becomes this: With Rage still in the picture, does Green Day go political and release American Idiot? With Rage around, there's no void for AI to fill. And if Green Day doesn't really AI, and thus doesn't have the second half of their career, do they ever end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

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Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

2005 Lake Robbins Dr.
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