Rage Against the Machine: Osaka Jo Hall, Osaka, Japan 2/7/08

The recently reunited Rage Against The Machine performed their first live show in Asia in nearly eight years  on February 7th, 2008.  The event took place at Osaka-Jo Hall in Japan’s second largest city, Osaka.  Osaka-Jo Hall, also referred to as Osaka Castle Hall by Westerners, derives its nickname from its close proximity to the city’s symbol, Osaka Castle.  The 16,000 seat venue is just inside the castle grounds, which are surrounded by thirty meter high stone walls and moats. From the northeast side of the domed building, concert goers have a view of the Daini Neyagawa River, while the southwest side provides a perfect view of the eight story castle, which is illuminated at night, sitting atop the hill above.  For some, the opulent edifice represents the laborious achievements of their ancestors and the unification of their country.  For others, it is a symbol of brutal governments attempting to build empires akin to those that Rage Against The Machine speaks out so vehemently against.  Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a deified war lord who aspired to conquer all of Asia, and committed genocide in Korea, ordered its construction in 1583.  The impressive beauty of the area coupled with its historical significance made the Osaka-Jo Hall a poignant venue for Rage’s first show in Asia in close to a decade.

The crowd was far more tranquil than RATM shows in the United States.  With the show scheduled to begin at seven o’clock, and no opening act, most of the crowd stood around amiably chatting with friends as they waited for the show to begin.    As the lights went down in the auditorium, the black banner with the red star at its center, which also serves as the flag of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, rose behind where the band would perform, the socialist anthem, “The Internationale.”   The band members walked out onto the stage in what has been their uniforms in their recent string of shows, Zach de la Rocha (lead singer) in his dark red button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Tom Morello (guitarist) in his boy scout shirt with RATM patches on it, Tim Commerford (bassist) shirtless with his tattoos exposed for all to see, and Brad Wilk (drummer) in a t-shirt.  The crowd exploded as Zach introduced themselves as, “Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles, California!”  From there they quickly went into “Testify,” and small mosh pits broke out in between the barriers.

What came after “Testify”  was another marked difference between concerts in the United States and Japan.  The crowd gave a short cheer, and then fell deathly silent to await the next track.  In this case, it was “Bulls on Parade,” and the crowd got to witness one of Tom Morello’s most famous riffs, a perfect example of what he is most known for, blending the sounds of metal and hip hop together by way of guitar.  The crowd seemed impressed as Morello made it look like he was using his guitar as a turntable, scratching on it with both hands.   By the end of “Bulls on Parade,” some foreigners picked up on the fact that it fell quiet between tracks, and one could be heard hollering things like “Zapatismo!” or “Socialista Anarquía!” 
After the band’s third track, “People of the Sun,” de la Rocha threw out a thank you to the crowd in Japanese, quickly saying, “ Arigato gozaimasu.”  Zach didn’t give any speeches on how the band feels the United States’ current administration should be tried and hung for war crimes, as he did throughout their shows in the United States, nor did he tell the crowd that they, like many other nations in the world, should isolate the United States for their aggressive foreign policy, as he had in Australia.  When the spotlight was turned away from him, Zach may have been able to spot Japanese fans wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, but he didn’t have to read the incongruous words on them, such as “low-rider revolution,” to know that most of the crowd would be unable to really grasp what he was saying.

A few tracks later, “Calm Like a Bomb” was able to draw some of the most chanting that the crowd could offer. However,  lyrics didn’t seem to be the most important thing for the fans.  They appeared to crave songs with strong beats behind them to jump up and get wild to like “Guerrilla Radio,”  “Vietnow,” “Sleep Now in the Fire,” and “Freedom.” “Renegades of Funk,” which is more of a dance tune than a moshing track, seemed to bore the crowd.  In the third section from the stage, a few Japanese fans even looked confused as they stared at a white American c-walking and attempting to do some popping and locking during the track. 

The highlight of the show had to be Rage’s performance of “Sleep Now in the Fire,” which is a song written from the perspective of the United States as a greed filled monster.  The monstrous nation explains its bloody history, and then claims that it will continue on because it is the only system there is, claiming “there is no other pill to take.”  Within the song, de la Rocha mentions the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima when recounting the atrocious history of the United States.  Since the concert took place in the country in which the United States dropped the bombs, RATM must have decided to write another chapter to the song for these people.  The new lines were inserted between the second and third verses. as Morello and Commerford dropped out, and left Wilk with a drum solo.  Commerford then brought the bass back, joining Wilk, as de la Rocha began explaining what could only be his experience in visiting ground zero in Hiroshima or his imagined experience in being there after the blast.  He said:

I went out to the marker
And I went out to the bay
There wasn’t anything standing there
There wasn’t even her name
Just this eerie shadow
Burned into the ground
Just this eerie shadow
With no name and no sound

Zach then repeated versions of these words a couple times, while Morello came in dropping ghostly notes to add to the lyrics.  After some repetitions of the lines “Just this eerie shadow/With no name and no sound,” the third verse of “Sleep Now in The Fire”, which talks about swallowing the pill, was continued over the spooky melody.  After the last verse, they went back to the original tune for the chorus, and the crowd yelled and jumped as vigorously as they had at anytime during the show.  De la Rocha then ended the song by repeating the words, “Don’t sleep now in the fire!,” three times to the crowd 

As Rage walked off the stage after the following song, “War Without a Breath,”  there was a great deal of synchronized clapping.  Eventually, the band came back out to perform “Freedom,” a portion of “Township Rebellion,” and “Killing in the Name.”   The RATM concert in Osaka was an memorable event as the fans at Osaka-Jo Hall got wild, but never malicious.  What makes a Rage show so powerful is having every member of the audience understanding the band’s message, accepting it, and becoming one.  

Photos by David Atlas at RATM.com

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