RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, with the BEASTIE BOYS, JURASSIC 5, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE and guests, Molson Park (100 Molson Park Drive, Barrie), Wednesday (August 2). $38.50-$46.50. 870-8000. SHOW POSTPONED - NEW DATE TO BE ANNOUNCEDNNNNN
Since it's likely to come as a shock to their fans and there's no gentle way to break the news, we might as well be blunt. NRage Against the Machine are a bunch of hippies. Or more specifically, for all their sonic bluster, feral live throwdowns and ruthless assimilation of hardcore metal and conscious rap, Rage have more in common with 60s-era folk artists than with their aggro contemporaries.
And Tom Morello, Rage's Harvard-educated guitarist, would agree.
It's really not that big a stretch. Rage embody the peacenik ethic of actively supporting the global community while harbouring a deep distrust of major corporations and government, particularly when the two are cuddly with each other.
They may not burn sandalwood incense at gigs, but theirs are protest songs.
A quick flip through the sleeve of their latest and third disc, the brilliantly bombastic The Battle Of Los Angeles, finds them endorsing no fewer than 12 humanitarian and civil rights organizations, ranging from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting to Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Rock for Choice, the National Committee for Democracy in Mexico, Women Alive and Amnesty International. In other words, lefties.
An exact figure is unavailable, but simple math suggests they've raised and donated millions of dollars for myriad causes since they lurched out of southern California in 92 with a chip on their collective shoulder and enough brains to expound on it whenever someone asked.
But it's not all talk. A portion of every ticket to every concert funds the Rage Against the Machine Foundation, which in turn funds homeless shelters and food banks in the cities where they play.
"That way we're not just steamrolling through," Morello explains. "We're leaving something behind."
So far this year, the foundation has disbursed $350,000, not counting the funds raised during last Sunday's benefit for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
"And," Morello says, "we're matching those funds and donating them to groups protesting the Democratic National Convention, because it's important to address the symptom and the cause. The economic policies of the new world order are to blame for the hunger problem."
Whoa, dude, new world order? It's all about the music, right? Well, yes and no, which is why Rage Against the Machine are as complex as they are confrontational.
Even setting aside singer Zack de la Rocha's claim that he's only in the band to advance his political agenda -- which he does quite effectively with seething lyrics -- there's no doubt that Morello, drummer Brad Wilk and insanely inked bassist Tim Commerford see themselves as philanthropists on a mission to light cerebral sparks.
Morello argues that Rage "casts a much wider net" by coating the message -- make that messages -- in user-friendly rap-rock. Still, radical beliefs writ large attract equally radical opponents, especially when the issue at hand is a controversial and maddeningly reticent former Black Panther on death row convicted of murdering a cop.
Pesky police "Everywhere we go around this great land of ours, there's always some problem," Morello confirms from L.A. "At every single show, the local police encourage people not to go, they picket outside, issuing these incredibly libellous claims about the band in an effort to scare parents."
Judging by the band's multi-platinum sales, such protests aren't having the intended effect. Besides, such vehement anti-Rage action must be seen as a small victory, since people don't organize and picket unless they sense a serious threat.
But if Rage's battle cry is being heard by the establishment, it's debatable whether it's reaching the mosh pit.
Anyone who's actually seen one of their gigs can confirm that the kids spazzing out to the quartet's thunderous blitz of words and riffs aren't pausing between stage dives to sing hymns to brutally oppressed Mexican peasants.
Subversive threat "But that's why we're dangerous," a disarmingly affable Morello counters. "I know that the kind of music we love to play, which is aggressive and intense, is not political in and of itself, so it's going to draw an audience no matter what. That we are political and are able to cast the net that wide is why we're seen as a threat. We can connect with people across the board.
"If you had to pass some kind of ideological litmus test before buying a CD or attending a concert, it would narrow the window enormously. The number of fan letters and e-mails we get are legion.
"It's always, 'I learned about this through your music' or 'I was turned onto this through your Web site or your liner notes.' All those people were originally drawn by the music, not the political content of the music. We accomplish much more this way."
In fact, Rage Against the Machine accomplish so much in the political arena that one might suggest their musical productivity suffers as a result.
Even taking into consideration worldwide touring, countless benefit concerts, extracurricular activities like Morello getting arrested during a protest against sweatshops in 97, de la Rocha speaking last year before the International Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations in Geneva on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and their own personal lives, Rage have only produced three albums in eight years.
Morello ain't buying. "Our sporadic studio output is not a direct result of our intense political activity. It has much more to do with internal band relations. Frankly, I think the more music the band makes, the more we're able to advance our political agenda."
If only it were that easy. It's acknowledged that each new album has pushed the band to the brink of near-meltdown, none more so than 96's Evil Empire, which came about after their label -- frustrated at having no follow-up to their 92 hit debut -- forced them to cocoon in Atlanta over the winter of 94-95.
Studio fun The band readily admit that Atlanta was a career nadir, and they volunteer that they don't hang out much off the road. Yet amazingly, that friction makes their already heavy music pulse with even more fire.
"With Rage Against the Machine," Morello chuckles, "the wheel is always spinning and you just never know where the ball's going to drop. Lately, we've been in the studio working on new material, and it's been great. The four of us have been having fun.
"So despite the fact that in the past there have been some... contentious times in the recording process, it ultimately makes for good music.
"And when we're getting along, it makes for even better music. That's how I try to see it."