Lolla Main Event: Rage Against the Machine (8/2)

The walk from Buckingham Fountain to the AT&T Main Stage featured a variety of sites as 8:30 p.m. approached on Saturday night. A line of ambulances were parked horizontal to the path full of bruisers in an all out sprint to ensure a piece of the action, while those too young, too small, and perhaps too smart, positioned themselves on hills, stairs, and any other sort of barrier that would provide safety from the scene about to take place.

The Toadies were engaged in an appealing 45 minute set across the south field of Grant Park, but like Stephen Malkmus the night before, it was viewed, if anything, as background noise. Festival-goers grew impatient for the first signs of Zach de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk on the field of dead grass.

Darkness and for the first time, anticipation, began to fill the Chicago air.

Coming into this year’s edition of Lollapalooza, the buzz relating to Rage Against the Machine’s Saturday headlining performance seemed to be minimal. While somewhat understandable considering the other major headlining acts and the fact that Los Angeles based band is well into year two of their return, the lack of Rage chatter around Grant Park during Friday and most Saturday was still surprising.

But by the time the first rifts and rhymes of “Testify” introduced Rage Against the Machine to Lollapalooza, all was soon remembered, and the scene went from one of withheld excitement to sheer utter chaos. Any audience member remotely close to the stage was either immediately pushed into the person next to them or engulfed in one of the eight resulting circle pits, while several Chicagoans outside the park’s gates took means to get in on the fun.

In fact, as one person put it, the opening minutes of the Rage’s could best be described as the “War of Chicago.” Several people against the railing were immediately injured, while many others, unaware of the insanity that would ensue, did all they could do to survive. By the time the final chords of “Bulls on Parade” were played, even the band who brought about the chaos had seen too much.

“Listen, you all got to take care of each other. We have enough fucked up stuff in this world, between cops and fucked up politicians. We should be saving this shit for the streets instead,” de la Rocha said in urgency, between pleas for the entire audience to step back “five to ten feet.” When many failed to comply, the band offered the night’s best example of a protest, refusing to move on for nearly five minutes.

A similiar interaction took place numerous more times throughout the band’s 90 minute set. Relentless in their pursuit for crowd-wide chaos, many disregarded Rage’s words of warning even before the set’s third song, “People of the Sun” reached its half-way point. Each time, an awkward situation would result, with de la Rocha and company refusing to perform until the audience complied with their demands.

While the entire episode did indeed demonstrate the negative side of their performance, it also displayed every reason why the four-piece outfit still remains the true definition of a festival headliner. The fist-pumping sounds, the resulting enthused reaction, regardless of how terrifying it may have been, and perhaps most importantly, the awareness of their environment and the realization of the scene unfolding in front of them, were all represented in full force tonight.

While we often get so caught up in Rage Against the Machine’s political diatribes and vulgar-filled rhetoric, so few realize that ultimately, their performance is about the fan. Whether to entertain, inform, or in tonight’s case, help, the band’s main purpose is and has always been, to provide a once in a lifetime musical experience. Regardless if you had enjoyed the set or were inspired by the message, Rage Against the Machine offered what it means to be “it” and provided a text book example of just how a headliner should act. The fan always comes first.

Amidst the chaos, Saturday’s AT&T headliner did get through a 14 song set, heavy in mostly familiar hits and energetic sounds. While all the selections played have filled our iPods and CD players for years, the set was surprisingly vibrant and fresh, presented in such a way that songs like “Know Your Enemy” and “Ashes in the Fall” sounded like they were being debuted for the first time, rather than the 1,000th rendition. Choruses of “Born of a Broken Man” and “What You Say” flowed brilliantly from de la Rocha’s lips. Morello’s mind-blowing guitar work mesmerized even the most casual music fan. Commerford’s bass and Wilk’s drumming provided all the necessary head-bopping beats for a rock spectacle.

In the end, Rage Against the Machine’s Saturday performance was nothing new or nothing unique. It was a standard, by-the book set, filled with furious solos and immature banter. But as ordinary as it may have been by Rage standards, if anything, it represented just what a headlining performance should consist of – music, passion, and sensibility.

Bulls on Parade
People of the Sun
Bomb Track
Know Your Enemy
Bullet in Your Head
Born of a Broken Man
Guerilla Radio
Ashes in the Fall
Calm Like a Bomb
Sleep Now in the Fire
Wake Up
Killing in the Name of


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