Live Review: Rage Against The Machine
Venue: Finsbury Park, London
The story of this show practically writes itself tonight. Rage Against The Machine take to the stage to make true on their promise of a free show if they defeated the X-Factor juggernaut for the Christmas No.1 spot. Meanwhile Simon Cowell, the antichrist to the 40,000 vociferous music fans present here on a muggy London night, is taking to the BAFTA awards stage, receiving plaudits for his contribution to television. Despite Rage telling us otherwise, perhaps we didn’t make history at all?
It’s not hard to be cynical – after all, you have to sense that Rage are no longer the band they once were. In their prime they shut down Wall Street and became the voice of a politicized generation that seems to be on life support these days. Now they’re reduced to celebrating being top of the pops; the band’s anti-consumerist message seems to have got muddied since their much publicised reunion three years ago at Coachella Festival.
But the songs, and the performance as a whole, remain just as emphatic as they were back in the day. The synergy between band and crowd is explosive – the opening riff of ‘Testify’ sends fans hurtling everywhere regardless of where they’re standing. It’s a relief – it was hard not to expect an audience only familiar with ‘Killing In The Name’.
Rage hurtle through the set, Zach de la Rocha having lost none of the venomous spite in his delivery and persona, despite a disappointing lack of volume. He rallies the troops sweating below him, before offering them a war cry in the form of ‘Know Your Enemy’. The volume doesn’t matter when 40,000 people are screaming “all of which are American dreams” at the top of their fiery lungs.
With news of ticketless fans breaking down the gates to get in halfway through a cover of The Clash’s ‘White Riot’, the atmosphere is certainly not disappointing. It makes up for the band’s rather short performance – coming on 15 minutes late and letting the dying throes of the Christmas No.1 fizzle out ten minutes early leaves the majority pleading for more.
But in that space of time the band do a coolly efficient job of burning through their repertoire. ‘Bombtrack’ sounds as destructive now as it did in 1993, and ‘Bulls On Parade’ sees the whole park erupt into fits of impassioned screams. And when Tom Morello begins the cutting riff of ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’, it’s a wonder the park is still standing.
In the end, the show was undeniably spectacular, regardless of its free credentials. But it wasn’t long before a feeling of dissatisfaction could be felt. Amongst the fairground rides, quiet activist tents and busy merchandise stands the messages and causes that Rage have fought tooth and nail with their music got lost. And isn’t that what the old Rage Against The Machine are most fondly remembered for? The gloss of the celebration is tainted by the fact that nothing has really changed. We didn’t make history; we were just a minor glitch in the system.