PROPHETS OF RAGE at Molson Amphitheatre, Wednesday, August 24. Rating: NNNN
By the time you read this, you will mostly likely have heard that Dave Grohl was a surprise guest at the Prophets of Rage show last night. Dave Grohl, on stage with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford, Public Enemy's Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. That’s a lot of 90s power. That’s not the headline. It’s a footnote to a story about the power of protest music.
“What does Zack de la Rocha do all day?” That was in my head in advance of this concert. I mean, what did the former RATM singer do while his former RATM bandmates were flying from Montreal to Toronto on their mission to “make America rage again”? Zack, voice of my generation, activist, writer of Killing In The Name, hold-out to a proper Rage Against the Machine reunion, whose last Facebook post was in 2012 – a poem for the Occupy movement. Apart from the odd guest vocal appearance, what does Zack do all day? Nobody really knows.
Prophets of Rage will tell us they, a so-called supergroup, are what we need right now. But I couldn't shake the feeling it’s Zack who we need. Especially after hearing Prophets of Rage’s first “original” track from their EP The Party’s Over. It’s essentially a cover of a 25-year-old Public Enemy party jam from which they ripped their name. There is nothing vital about it. It’s not a song of and for our times. It’s not going to light the fuse. As much as I want to feel that RATM minus Zack and plus Chuck D will be explosive, videos of their first live performances seemed like nothing more than a nostalgia trip. Last night's show was not sold out.
I thought about all this as a Molson Amphiteatre employee threatened to eject me from the venue for daring to take the cap on the bottle of water he had just sold me. That was apparently against the rules – even though it wasn’t the night before when I bought water at the Korn/Rob Zombie concert. He chased me through the crowd. He was bigger than me by a lot and really angry. Said to give him the bottle cap or he'd have security throw me out. I handed him the cap. It made me angry. But also made me laugh. As did the signs posted around the venue, asking the audience to refrain from moshing or body surfing, “due to the injuries that could occur.” #goodluckwiththat
Decades after Zack de la Rocha screamed “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me,” a RATM gig still makes authorities uncomfortable.
A banner on stage showed a raised fist. The band walked out and launched into Rage’s Guerrilla Radio. On the floor the crowd exploded immediately into a mosh pit (woops!); thousands stood and saluted with their right arms raised, hands gripped into fists.
They played Bombtrack and I thought of the many tiny acts of resistance needed to make a movement. Very quickly it was clear that Prophets of Rage, even without new music, have an important job to do in 2016. They got more than 10,000 people together and showed them a raised fist. The legions of Lollapalooza bros, the woman in the home-made “Free Peltier” shirt, the eight-year-old boy with his dad in the front row. Raised fists and red stars and Take The Power Back.
Prophets of Rage are not a very good Cypress Hill cover band. Rock Superstar was a misplaced mess, and they made all the Public Enemy songs sound like the Judgment Night soundtrack. But when Chuck and B-Real came down into the crowd for an extended mash-up of their respective hits (and some crowdsurfing) it was a good time and also a signal – we’re not staying in our designed box, and neither should you.
The banner dropped, revealing another raised fist, bigger than the first. Young men started jumping the barricades from the stands onto the floor. I wondered how many of them were rabble-rousers in their daily lives, or was this concert ritual the first of many small acts of liberation yet to come.
“Stay awake Canada,” said Chuck D. “Nobody for President,” said Tom Morello’s guitar. “No home, no job, no peace, no rest,” sang Aaron Bruno of opening act AWOLNATION, who joined the Prophets on a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost Of Tom Joad.
Dissent comes in many forms. Sometimes merely in assembly. This was just a rock concert. But there were raised fists and rule breakers and inflammatory lyrics and a plea from Morello to donate to tonight’s local charity, Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre.
And when Dave Grohl came out to Kick Out The Jams it didn't matter if the MC5 originally wrote that as a protest song or not, because it felt like one now. And then, of course, there will was Killing In The Name and those two songs back-to-back were as incendiary as any rock n’ roll moment could ever be. And I realized that we don’t need Zack. The songs are still here. His message is still here.
Incite. Ignite. Refuse. Resist.