With the first show set to kick off in El Paso, Texas on March 26, we only have a little over a month left to speculate, but here’s a rough sketch of what a dream Rage Against The Machine concert might look like.
Is there a more effective way to re-introduce yourself to your longtime fans than by kicking things off with track one, side one of your debut album? It worked for Led Zeppelin, anyway.
2. "Know Your Enemy"
“Comin’ back in with another bomb track!” You can already hear the roof ripping off the place the second Morello starts picking out the syncopated intro riff, can’t you? A small caveat: “Know Your Enemy” definitely gets moved up to the first encore position if they net a cameo somewhere along the way from Maynard James Kennan.
“Testify,” the opening song from the band’s 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles, was used to kick off most of the band’s live shows during their last reunion run back in 2010. It just feels like it belongs early in the set. A dynamic, headbang-inducer with a perfectly funky guitar solo. We just wonder if they tap Michael Moore to come up with a new visual message to go along with it?
By the fourth song in the set, the audience is most likely a little fatigued. Unfortunately, Rage Against the Machine don’t have too many songs that pull back on the intensity. But then again, who goes to see a band like Rage Against the Machine to pace themselves? This track from Evil Empire simmers better than most and should give everyone a few minutes to catch their breath after that intense opening salvo.
5. “Calm Like a Bomb”
Everyone got their breath? Good. Because, it’s time to feel the funk blast!
6. “Renegades of Funk”
Few people want to go to a Rage Against The Machine concert in 2020 and watch the band play a ton of other people’s songs. That effectively rules out a majority of their 2000 covers album Renegades. You could bust out the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” or Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” but let’s be real, you want to hear Zack de la Rocha spit fire and “destroy all nations” over that ubiquitous “Apache” drumbeat one more time.
7. “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F--k)” (feat. Run the Jewels)
If you’re going to bring Run the Jewels out on tour as your opener, it wouldn’t make any sense to not bring Killer Mike and El-P out at least once during the main set to help bring this flamethrower of a song to life -- alongside Zack de la Rocha, of course, who was featured on the original RTJ2 cut. As a wise man once said, “We all dead, f--k it!”
8. “Township Rebellion”
The middle of the setlist is where you can really treat your biggest fans to some of the deeper cuts from the catalog. Buried at the tail-end of Rage’s self-titled debut, “Township Rebellion” is the perfect cut to slot in here. I mean, a song about rising up against a government filled with those who sympathize with White Supremacist ideologies? No way that song resonates in 2020 right? Certainly can’t find any glaring parables there.
9. “Year of tha Boomerang”
What more effective way to follow-up a message about throwing off the yoke of white oppression than by decrying “tha doctrines of tha right,” as you’re “enslaved by dogma, talk about my birthrights.” Rage Against the Machine doesn’t do subtle very well, and the best way to make a point is to hammer it over and over again.
10. “Down Rodeo"
Few Rage Against the Machine songs get to the point faster or more vividly than this one. “Yeah, I'm rollin' down Rodeo with a shotgun/ These people ain't seen a brown skin man since their grandparents bought one.” Not the most traditional singalong lyric, and yet…
11. “Show Me How To Live” (Audioslave Cover)
A dynamic way to tip the cap to Morello, Wilk, and Commerford’s one-time band and pay homage to the memory of their otherworldly frontman and collaborator Chris Cornell.
12. “Fistful of Steel”
Tom Morello might’ve written heavier riffs along his long and prolific career, but few swaggers with as much Godzilla-like ferocity as “Fistful Of Steel.” The song hardly ever made into the setlist too often during the band’s last two tours, so it’s an ideal addition for the diehards.
“Freedom” is slotted here to serve as a platform for all of just us to stand back and watch Tom Morello solo on guitar. Give the man five minutes and a Digitech Whammy and let him loose. Hell, give him 10 minutes! Hearing Zack de la Rocha shred his vocal cords while repeatedly screaming the word “Freedom” as savagely as he can near the end is certainly an added bonus.
14. “Bullet in the Head”
Timmy C’s time to shine on bass! You can already envision the montage of Fox News hosts spewing mistruths on the big screen just behind the band while they tear into this song, can’t you?
15. “Sleep Now in the Fire”
Brad Wilk’s time to shine on drums! “Sleep Now in the Fire” is the first kick into the sprint toward the end of the show. It’s an uproarious rock track held together by a riff that shares a lot of sonic DNA with the Stooges classic “T.V. Eye.” that’s guaranteed to grab the crowd’s attention. If they wanted to interpolate a bit of the “Down on the Street” cover they recorded for Renegades, that’d be pretty cool too.
16. “Guerrilla Radio”
If the mosh pit wasn’t raging yet, it certainly is now. “Turn that s--t up!”
17. “Bulls on Parade”
As a good rule of thumb, the last song of the main set should always be a recognizable hit; the kind of song that people have been waiting an hour and more to finally hear that can sustain a long-enough round of applause leading into the otherwise silent encore period at the end. Evil Empire classic “Bulls on Parade” would fill that role perfectly.
18. “Wake Up”
“Wake Up” has long been one of the final songs that Rage Against the Machine plays live, and far be it from me to mess with their formula. It’s a brutal cross between Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Tool’s “Third Eye,” with some funky ‘70s wah-wah guitar tossed into the middle. I don’t think Robert Plant or Maynard James Keenan ever quoted J. Edgar Hoover and namechecked Martin Luther King Jr. in one of their own tracks, however.
19. “Killing in the Name”
Sending your fans home covered in confetti with the sounds of your most well-known hit reverberating in their aching ear drums is never a bad idea. The riotous “Killing in the Name” has been Rage’s evening-ender for years, and there’s certainly no reason to change that now.