Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An uncomfortable night to be a Howard supporter

Rage Against the Machine
Live at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, Jan 22nd

Moshpit tickets sold out in seconds so, just as with Tool at the same time last year, I was seated for Rage Against the Machine's Big Day Out sideshow. It was a pity because unlike Tool, who can be appreciated quite nicely from a seated location, Rage are a band that ideally you want to be in the moshpit for. Fortunately my seats were a little better than last year. I was still near the back of the theatre but at least we were dead centre stage.

The openers were Anti-Flag, whose tepid pop punk did little for me and they seemed to be chosen as a support act more for their consonant political leanings than any musical similarity. Mind you they weren't terrible and they passed the time, even if they weren't as much fun as the Mexican Wave.

During the wait for Rage to take the stage the tension and anticipation in the crowd, even way back where I was, was strong. When the house lights dropped off and the huge red star at the back of the stage lit up to the strains of what I'm pretty sure was the Soviet national anthem, everyone leapt to their feet with a roar and, after frontman Zach de la Rocha introduced the band (“We're Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California!” No kidding bro!), the opening riff of Testify had everyone from the front of the moshpit back to the nosebleed seats boogieing their arses off. Tom Morello's first solo of the night was greeted by a massive cheer.

All my photos were exceptionally shit that night, so this is the only one I'll post. Hopefully when I get my new phone tomorrow it will usher in a bold new era of concert photos.

"Oh shit!” says Zach, apparently referring to the insanity of the moshpit, and with barely a pause they launched into the galvanising intro to Bulls On Parade. Turns out everyone else loves that wah wah guitar riff as much as I do. Next up was People of the Sun. With such an impressive backlog of surefire hits the energy stayed at ridiculously high levels for the entire concert with barely a moment for either the band or the audience to catch their breath for the full eighty minutes.

They then introduced the first track off the self titled album, Bombtrack. Zach seemed bored with the old stuff, he mixed the vocals around more and didn't seem as enthused during those songs. On the other hand the rest of the band were fully into it, perhaps they were just relieved that it wasn't Chris Cornell singing. And of course the punters went totally nuts.

Vietnow was followed by Bullet in your Head, which featured the first holy fucking shit solo from Morello, which he began by flipping his hand super fast back and forth around his guitar's neck and only got more crazy from there. Know your Enemy is another fan favourite, and Morello's solo was nuts on this one too. Renegades of Funk was perhaps the concerts' low point. I guess they felt obligated to play something from Renegades, but lets be honest, this is the averagest song off their averagest album.

Guerilla Radio was surprisingly well received. The house lights came on when the full band came in after the intro, giving us high in the stands the spectacular sight of a couple of thousand people totally going off in unison. Next up was Calm like a Bomb, not my favourite song of theirs but it still seemed to be popular, and without a beat the end segued right into Sleep Now In The Fire! I didn't like the way Zach sung it so much (he actually sang, rather than rapped), but it was still one of the highlights of the night.

Wake Up made a fucking awesome finish to the main set. Zach made a long speech during the breakdown, starting with a rant about the Iraq War, thanking Australia for kicking out 'that bootlicker Mr. Howard', mentioning Martin Luther King Day and telling us that 'the real vote takes place in the streets'. I must admit that I wonder just how Zach feels about watching an arena full of people cheer and pump their fists in the air in response to his call for a violent communist revolution when the next day most of us are going to go back to our desks in a tall office building in the CBD and keep on greasing the wheels of international finance. Following the speech Morello's squalling guitar fill ushered in the high point of the concert, as the entire audience bellowed “Wake up” and Morello blew the roof off with his finest work of the night in an unbelievable outro solo.

They kept us waiting a while for the encore, and from the looks of things it was because they were totally knackered. During the last few songs Zach spent a lot of time crouched on the edge of the stage, and it sounded like he was struggling for breath between lines. Mind you it didn't stop him bouncing all over the place during the instrumental breaks. First track of the encore was Freedom (big cheers greeted the cow bells in the 'anger is a gift part') which segued straight into an excerpt from Township Rebellion, (“Shackle your minds as you're left on the cross”), which in turn slowed down into those unmistakable drop D power chords that announce Killing in the Name, the ultimate show closer. It went off like a motherfucker of course, but from where I was standing not the best part of the concert (that was 'Wake Up'), so you'll have to wait until my Big Day Out post for me to describe how fucking crazy the 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me' bit went off.

It was definitely a fun concert, even back where I was sitting, but I do have a few criticisms. Although as individuals the band were great it was apparent that they haven't played these songs together for a while. There were a few flubbed transitions and they played a few of the tracks noticeably slower than they're performed on the album. Zach especially seemed really tired, he looked like he was about to pass out at the end of 'Freedom'. Plus the mix sounded pretty awful from where I was and for the first few songs I could barely hear the guitar.

But of course these guys overcame these difficulties by virtue of the fact that their songs are among the most effortlessly catchy arena metal anthems ever written, and that their individual performances were all great. As well as Morello being a freaky fucking guitar theurgist, drummer Brad Wilk deserves special mention for cranking things up a few notches from the recorded versions with crazy fills all over the place and just damn playing with a metric dickload of energy.

It doesn't rival the fantastic concerts I saw at about this time last year, but it was most definitely a promising omen for the year ahead. Especially with Nightwish next Friday!

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