Prophets of Rage bulldozed through Mansfield, Mass with the power of a triumphant guerilla army, serving up songs from multiple iconic discographies and showcasing members of three different acts of historic stature.
It’s not a secret that while the guitarist, drummer and bassist from Rage Against The Machine wanted to keep up a productive pace, reclusive frontman Zach De La Rocha had other ideas, hence the disbanding of the group. With this in mind, it’s no coincidence that the instrumental trio went on to put out the same amount of studio albums alongside Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell under the Audioslave banner as they did with Rage and at nearly twice the speed. De La Rocha has yet to release a single full-length studio release in the 21st century and his long delayed solo debut, featuring production from both Dr. Dre and Trent Reznor, has supposedly been scrapped.
While Rage had a successful reunion in 2007, De La Rocha has been keeping a low profile ever since, but clearly his former band mates got the itch to tour the material. Rage guitarist Tom Morello has said, “Dangerous times demand dangerous songs” and has taken the most politically potent music of the past three decades on the road with Rage bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. Subbing in on vocals is Cypress Hill’s B Real and Chuck D, Public Enemy frontman and founding father of Protest Hip Hop.
Right out of the gate the group introduced themselves with a performance of “Prophets of Rage,” the Public Enemy tune the group has adopted as a name and rearranged to include instrumentals. The band kept moving as they took care of “Guerilla Radio” and “Bombtrack” by Rage before seguing right into Public Enemy’s “Miuzi Weighs a Ton.” Commerford’s powerful sense of groove locks into Wilk’s beats as good as they ever have and while Morello’s ability to replicate his convention defying solos with near-perfection is as hard to comprehend as ever, what stood out was the way he performed. While neither the guitarist or frontman ever spoke publically, there has always been a great deal of speculation that Morello and De La Rocha don’t see things eye to eye. Morello has always been a thrilling guitarist with an elite sense of showmanship but De La Rocha has the kind of riot-starting charisma usually reserved for revolutionary icons. As a result, Tom was always the Mick Jones to Zach’s Joe Strummer. But now that Morello runs the show, he’s free to showboat and endlessly work the crowd. He was working the stage, mugging for photographers, mounting the drum riser and overshadowing the two Hall of Fame caliber MC’s who supposedly front the group.
Both Chuck D and B Real are legit frontmen in their own right who really hit the ground running with this project. While they had to learn a few song lyrics, nobody had to help them turn those lyrics into an energy that gives venue security a run for its money. Although Chuck D is easily the more influential MC, B Real was the better fit for the material. Like De La Rocha, B Real, born Louis Freese, is a fellow Mexican American from Los Angeles and his register and flow were more fitting for the material than the elder of the bands two vocalists. On “Take The Power Back,” Chuck D took lead vocal duties while B Real backed him up and D’s booming low register just wasn’t a fit for the high octave spitfire lyrics that make the song so powerful. Although B Real proved to be a better fit for the material than Chuck D, there is no doubt they were both necessary. Having an MC to back the other up really helped to reinforce the power of the performance. With that said, seeing two MC’s of such esteemed stature sharing the load that one man held better on his own, it made you realize how otherworldly a frontman De La Rocha is, and that without him, no combination of Top Shelf MC’s will ever allow Rage’s instrumental trio to pack the punch they once did.
Bottom Line: there’s a great chance that Prophets of Rage will be the closest thing we’re ever going to get to seeing Rage Against The Machine perform live ever again. If his bandmates ever do convince De La Rocha to pick up the mic once again, they’ll all be well into middle age by then and most likely won’t be able to wield the same physically intensive stage presence that has radicalized a generation of fans. If you never got a chance to see Rage, this is as good as it’s likely going to get, but don’t let that sound defeatist. “As good as it’s going to get” is as good as live music gets this summer.