By Charlie Amter on July 24, 2010
About halfway through Rage Against the Machine’s sold-out benefit show to support organizations fighting to overturn Arizona’s controversial SB-1070 immigration law, singer Zack De La Rocha’s lyrics took on new meaning. “What better time than here,” he purred as the band ripped through “Guerilla Radio,” one of their best-known songs, “What better time than now.”
And so it was Friday at the Palladium in the heart of Hollywood for the L.A. band, who hadn’t played their hometown in ten years. What better time than now, indeed.
“Guerilla Radio” may have been the anti-corporate media anthem earlier this decade, but the song, and nearly every track they performed from their formidable back catalog Friday night, took on new meaning in light of the political realities that charged the room and lit a fire underneath the band.
Friday’s show was a fundraiser for The Sound Strike fund, which helps Arizona-based groups such as PUENTE Arizona and The Florence Project fight SB-1070. (Rage raised in excess of $300,000 from ticket sales.). De la Rocha called the law “racist” and “divisive.”
While the concert was heavy on message, most ticketholders were there for the music. Anticipation for the show was running high for the whole week, and De la Rocha, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford didn’t disappoint those who paid good money to hear the band’s funk-and-rap-infused rock.
From the second RATM stormed the stage to the sound of air raid sirens wailing in the background, ten years of pent-up aggression exploded inside the 3800-person capacity venue on Sunset Boulevard.
The band opened with “Testify,” and fans did just that, singing along and giving back as much energy as the foursome put out.
Following “Testify” with “Bombtrack” and “People of the Sun,” Rage reminded those lucky enough to have scored tickets why they are still regarded as one of the best live acts in music.
Nuanced and propulsive, RATM were in complete control Friday of their cherished collection of anthems. By the strong finish of “Bulls on Parade,” Morello was standing confidently upon a monitor overlooking the crowd, which teemed with teens — in stark contrast to other recent “reunion” shows by Pavement and Pixies in California, which were rife with thirty and fourtysomethings.
One of the gig’s highlights took place during the performance of 1992’s “Wake Up,” near the end of the show. “[SB-1070] is not only a racist law but its a divisive law,” an urgent-sounding De La Rocha yelled as the band played. “It’s an insult. We need to wake up and defend our brothers and sisters!” The crowd roared back in approval.
De La Rocha’s and the band’s conviction was so authentic, so impassioned, and the audience’s response so vocal, it gave hope to those who believe music can make a difference in politics.
By the time the show closed with “Killing In The Name,” directed at Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who the New York Times called “America’s worst sheriff”), it was evident to all in attendance that at that moment RATM was the best, and most important, band in the country, if not the world.