WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA—This year’s messy, divisive presidential election has a silver lining: Rage Against the Machine has reunited—sort of.
At 7:05 AM on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, RATM’s Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford were joined by Chuck D, DJ Lord, and B-Real on KROQ. Together, the supergroup announced that they would be performing a surprise inaugural show in the evening at the Whisky A Go Go under the band name Prophets of Rage.
It was simple: one admission wristband per person, and the cost would be what Morello called “the people’s price: $20.” All of the proceeds would benefit the charity P.A.T.H.—People Assisting the Homeless. One more rule: no cell phones.
Morello said the main reason they are getting together is because “both the country and the world are on the brink of the abyss, and we thought it was wholly irresponsible for us to be sitting on the sidelines.”
By 9:05 PM, original members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill were on stage together starting what they called “a musical revolution.”
The details of the revolution are still to be determined. But tonight, it involved twenty-one loud emotional songs spanning the careers of RATM, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill.
Yes, original RATM frontman Zack de la Rocha was absent. But Chuck D and B-Real are deserving stand-ins. And they fit right in with three returning RATM guys.
In short, Prophets of Rage sounded amazing. They have been quietly rehearsing together nearly a month. Every move, every lyric and all the energy sounded explosive, in sync, and literally full of rage.
The night started with DJ Lord, who warmed up the crowd for fifteen to twenty minutes of singalong/dancealong/ragealong. Only those with a wristwatch really knew how long. But it didn’t matter.
DJ Lord threw his hands up in the air, getting the crowd to bounce with him—everyone with open palms devoid of any Apple products polluting the site-lines (the only one in the room was DJ Lord’s MacBook.)
The fiery crowd soaked it all up as the Atlanta-born DJ poured what felt like audial gasoline on them with every remixed hit including “There Goes the Neighborhood,” “Nique La Police,” “Enter Sandman,” “Gin & Juice,” and culminating with a soul-splitting remix of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” As the Nirvana tune faded to an air-raid siren, Prophets of Rage took the stage and the crowd’s minds exploded.
Again, not a cellphone in sight, everyone was immersed and ready to screamalong.
Wilk sat at the drums, Morello grabbed a guitar that read “arm the homeless,” and Commerford, with his heavily tattooed biceps, picked up a bass.
The crowd of no more than 500 people were astonished at what they were looking at: a 75% RATM reunion. They were then hit with Chuck D and B-Real, both ready to blow the roof off the Whisky.
They opened with the group’s eponymous song, “Prophets of Rage,” a Public Enemy track from 1988.
Prophets ripped through two more RATM hits, “Guerilla Radio” and “Bombtrack” before playing the next Public Enemy tune, “My Uzi Weighs a Ton.”
The first part of the set would alternate a few more times, with RATM’s “People of the Sun” and “Take the Power Back.” Just before “Testify,” B-Real led the band through the 2000 Cypress Hill hit, “Rock Superstar.”
During that song, Commerford squinted at Morello who then gave a nod from across the stage. It seemed like a “just making sure we’re together” look. It was the kind of non-verbal gesture that band mates who have been playing together for over 25 years would give to each other while just playing a cover for fun.
At one point, B-Real revealed that this concert was Chuck D’s first performance ever at the Whiskey on Sunset.
The next part of the set began as the RATM guys left the stage. Chuck D and B-Real then alternated singing each other’s hits, including “Bring the Noise” and “Insane in the Brain.” The entire time, Morello was taking a breather by the guitar tech, drinking a bottle of water, but bouncing and ferociously, one arm in the air, singing along.
Morello, Commerford, and Wilk jumped back in, ready to slay a few more RATM songs together on stage for the first time in nearly five years.
The last third of the setlist was marked by mostly RATM hits, beginning with “Sleep Now in the Fire.” After playing “Know Your Enemy,” B-Real mentoined Donald Trump, and the crowd booed in agreement.
It was evident that a big reason that Prophets of Rage got together is because of the rise of Trump. Morello even wore a red hat throughout the evening that read “Make America Rage Again,” a swift jab at Trump’s campaign slogan and goofy red hat.
Eventually, they played a mashup of the Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” with the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” The lyrics were changed, however to “No Sleep Till Cleveland,” a reference to the location of the Republican National Convention this summer.
That mashup ended with a brief jam that had some echos of Audioslave’s “Like a Stone”. Morello showcased how he can play a solo with his teeth.
Chuck D took a moment to acknowledge the elephant in the room: de la Rocha’s absence.
“We’re Prophets of Rage, but there’s always a seat warm for Zach de la Rocha,” he shouted.
B-Real continued, explaining the group’s mission: “We want y’all to know, we definitely, man, salute our brother [de la Rocha] right here, his words are needed right now. Well we decided to be the fuckin’ megaphone to shout in your fucking ear! Right now! You ready for that? You still standing strong?”
Wilk tapped the snare once and they started playing “Bulls on Parade.” B-Real reiterated one last time, “let’s make America rage again!” And the night ended the way RATM usually ended a show, with “Killing in the Name.” B-Real changed the lyrics, as de la Rocha usually did, to “some of those that burn crosses, are the same up in Congress.”
Prophets of Rage, along with DJ Lord took a bow. When the house lights turned on, fans ripped Shepard Fairey-designed posters from the walls. Fairey watched pleased from the balcony.
As the presidential election dialogue and demonstration literally rages on, the Prophets of Rage sound determined to spread their message of unrest and make a dent in it all. But until then, they will be playing another show at the Hollywood Palladium on June 3.
Prophets of Rage (Public Enemy)
Guerilla Radio (RATM)
My Uzi Weighs a Ton (Public Enemy)
People of the Sun (RATM)
Take the Power Back (RATM)
Rock Superstar (Cypress Hill)
(Morello, Wilk, Commerford exit)
Hands on the Pump (Cypress Hill)
Can’t Truss It (Public Enemy)
Insane in the Brain (Cypress Hill)
Bring the Noise (Public Enemy)
Ain’t Goin Out (Cypress Hill)
Terrordome (Cypress Hill)
(Morello, Wilk, Commerford return)
Sleep Now in the Fire (RATM)
Shut Em Down (Public Enemy)
Know Your Enemy (RATM)
Party’s Over (RATM)
No Sleep Till Cleveland / Fight the Power (Public Enemy)
Bulls on Parade (RATM)
Killing in the Name (RATM)
Brian Fishbach is a Music Journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianFishbach