Music: Rage Against the Machine at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse – 27 July 2022

In the 90’s some people might have gotten away with only hearing the sounds of their music, but as those individuals matured, and hopefully developed a sense of depth, they had to come to terms that there is more to the music of Rage Against the Machine.

As I write this, Rage Against the Machine sits at #10 on Cleveland’s public request board for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees. It could be the sound of Tom Morello’s guitar, or the biting lyrics written by the band, but it is likely both. Audioslave with the rich voice of the late Chris Cornell, Prophets of Rage with the outspoken Chuck D, or any of Morello’s solo work with celebrity features like Bruce Springsteen have not had the impact on rock music as RAtM.

Last night’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse  performance was originally scheduled for July 29, 2020. To finally get to Cleveland last night, Rage Against the Machine had to first wait out a pandemic. On June 11th, lead singer, Zack de la Rocha injured his leg on tour in Chicago, but kept on touring. And on July 23, Tom Morello was tackled and pushed off the stage by a security guard attempting to remove a fan on stage (doing more harm than good).

I had tickets to see them in 2000, but Mike D of the Beastie Boys hit a pothole returning from tour practice on his bike in NYC. He dislocated his shoulder and required surgery, resulting in the tour being cancelled. Awaiting a rescheduling announcement, instead we heard they were no longer working together. This is one of the stories I would clinch my fist over while telling my son of a missed opportunity I may never have again – all because of the Department of Transportation!

It was a close one, but we finally made it! And although, seeing the Beastie Boys headlining would have been exciting, Run the Jewels seemed more fitting tour mates. They are not a political rap group, but they have a lot to say about society and freedom. Even the hand gesture on each of their 4 free-downloadable studio releases is an overtly simple image that has taken on new meaning to the fans.

That night, Killer Mike & El P mentioned that the Cleveland fans were the most energized RtJ had seen in a while. Even calling out a female photographer in the pit for having their merch on – “when the photographers are representing, you know you’re in the right place.”

They mentioned RAtM was the best rock band performing right now, and then touted how they were the best rap band out right now, and the crowd agreed with cheers and applause.

Run the Jewels had a lively and fun performance with one glaring omission before Rage Against the Machine finally took the stage. That’s fine. I’ve seen them before (and very likely again), and I can wait to see Close Your Eyes (And Say Fuck) performed live again.

Once Rage was on stage, everyone rose from their seat. There seemed to be four security guards for every crowd surfer to safely lift them out of the crowd. RAtM ‘s Public Service Announcement tour doesn’t come with a new album, but 11 years of anticipation since their last reunion.  

Zack de la Rocha sitting during the entire show seemed wrong at first but eventually seemed more poetic that he sit down and let us soak in his lyrics. He could have phoned it in or cancelled the show altogether, like Mike D all those years ago. Still, he cussed and kicked and screamed with the fury of a mother bear protecting her cubs.

Commeford, Morrelo, and Wilk performed as you would expect – legendary. When I first heard them on the radio in the 90’s, I remember someone telling me, all of that is done with a guitar. My eyebrows raised in tandem as I tried to fathom that there wasn’t a keyboardist or some new instrument making these sounds. I got to relive that feeling of awe again when I finally saw them perform live.

Zack brought RtJ back out to perform with RAtM, announcing the duo that puts out “Hard beats and reality rhymes”. They brought them out to sing the one song missing from before – Close Your Eyes (And count to Fuck).

Killer Mike hugged all the members of the band as he left the stage repeating, “love and respect”.

Rage Against the Machine plays 18 songs each night of their tour with one song change up each night. Cleveland’s performance included Born of a Broken Man from their first studio album, a less political and personal song for de la Rocha.

No one at the show however could claim ignorance of the political and social overtones in the music. Between songs, movie-quality scenes of surveillance, oppression, aggression, and the machine taking took our gaze. They performed against a backdrop of images, quotes, and statistics to make us think. A K-9 unit displayed on the backdrop. Some fans booed while the dog chased an assailant through a neighborhood.

Zach shouted “Viva Mexico” before one of the video transitions. In one a helicopter hovered over a boat full of people with no land in sight. Another showed a mounted police officer opposite a Mexican gaúcho.The most interesting video had a line of women walking through the forest in traditional Mexican dresses, but each with a ski mask concealing everything but their eyes.

The only thing I didn’t feel that I have enjoyed at other concerts was a supreme feeling of community among other concert-goers. People were polite enough, but primarily kept to themselves. Was the crowd there reliving the sound of heavier rock that once was played on the mainstream radio, or were they also able to take in the meaning behind the images and the lyrics? 

However you look at it, Rage Against the Machine, and Run the Jewels did their job of entertaining with sound and thought-provoking lyrics and imagery. It is our responsibility to receive the message.