By Brian Ives
“You’re hungry for this,” B-Real said to the roaring crowd at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center on Friday night (August 26). “Everything out there now is talking about nothing!”
Which was quite a blanket statement, given that Kendrick Lamar is one of the biggest MCs in hip-hop today, but his point was well-taken by the audience. Neither hip-hop nor rock seems to have the fury (or, the rage) that it did in the ’80s and ’90s, during the heyday of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and B-Real’s own Cypress Hill.
Rage’s guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk clearly wanted to reactivate their former band for a tour this summer; the timing seems perfect, as we count down the days to the Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump Election Day showdown. The problem: RATM’s explosive frontman Zack de la Rocha wasn’t interested.
Enter Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real. Chuck D always seemed to be de la Rocha’s main influence as an MC, and he was clearly influenced by B-Real’s style as well (and was probably paying close attention when Rage opened for Cypress Hill in their early days). So, short of having Zack back, this seemed to be a great way for the Rage guys to bring their music across America at a timely moment.
So how did it work? Incredibly well, actually.
Morello, Commerford and Wilk sounded like they’d been itching to play the Rage songs again, and Chuck D and B-Real seemed charged up by stepping out of their own groups.
The setlist leaned heavily towards Rage Against the Machine material, but also saw the group putting new arrangements on on Public Enemy’s “My Uzi Weighs a Ton,” “Shut ‘Em Down” and, of, course, “Prophets of Rage,” along with Cypress Hill’s “(Rock) Superstar.”
Morello, Commerford and Wilk left the stage, briefly, and Chuck D and B-Real, accompanied by Public Enemy’s DJ Lord did a mini set of some of their own classics, including P.E.’s “Can’t Truss It,” “Bring the Noise” and “Welcome to the Terrordome” along with Cypress Hill’s “Hand on the Pump,” “Insane in the Brain” and “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.”
The intensity only lagged when the MCs left the stage, and Tom Morello took the mic, along with Aaron Bruno of opening band AWOLNATION, for a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” It seems likely that Morello had hoped for an appearance by Springsteen himself, given that he lives near the venue, had the night off from his E Street Band tour, and Morello joined Springsteen at MetLife Stadium for that song the night before. And while “Ghost” provided one of the many highlights of Springsteen’s epic 4 hour concert Thursday night, it wasn’t nearly as intense on Friday.
Much more exciting were the band’s mashups: Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero” lyrics were rapped over “Cochise,” by Audiosoave, the rock band that featured Morello, Wilk and Commerford from 2001 – 2007. “No Sleep ‘Til Jersey” combined the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” with P.E.’s classic “Fight the Power” and featured Morello’s guitar solo from Audiosoave’s “Like a Stone.”
The show ended with an explosive “Killing in the Name,” (yes, the “F— you, I won’t do what you tell me” song), and after about two hours, the exhausted audience filed out of the venue.
So, the question is: was it as good as Rage Against the Machine? Well, noting can replace a band’s classic lineup, but the Prophets couldn’t have asked for better fill-ins than Chuck D and B-Real. It wasn’t quite the same band: it was more like a rock/hip-hop version of a Fantasy Baseball team.It would be great to see these five tour together again, and hopefully if they do, Zack will be along for the ride: it’d be great to see him take a swing at some P.E. and Cypress Hill classics.