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Supergroup Prophets of Rage Unleash RATM, Public Enemy & Cypress Hill Anthems at Debut Gig in L.A.

Prophets of Rage perform at Whisky a Go Go
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Prophets of Rage perform at Whisky a Go Go on May 31, 2016 in West Hollywood, Calif.

"It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime," the breakdown of the Rage Against The Machine song "Guerilla Radio" begins. "What better place than here? What better time than now?"

Those questions came towards the beginning of the debut performance by Prophets of Rage, the new supergroup featuring Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk (all of Rage Against The Machine), alongside Cypress Hill rapper B Real and Public Enemy's Chuck D and DJ Lord at the legendary Whisky A Go Go on Wednesday night, and the questions were apt: in a contentious and sometimes violent election year, a semi-reunion of one of the past few decades' most popular activist-rock-bands -- with vocals from two of hip-hop's most deft rappers -- has had the music world excited since the band was teased a few weeks ago.

Rap-Rock Supergroup Prophets of Rage to Make Live Debut Tonight in L.A.

Prophets of Rage, which has enlisted the rallying cry #MakeAmericaRageAgain, formally announced its existence just this week. Their first performance was hardly a disappointment: material leaned heavily on Rage Against The Machine's prophetic rock, with Morello, Commerford, and Wilk passionately playing songs like "Sleep Now in the Fire" and "Bulls on Parade" with clear, ongoing love for the material, Morello's trademark wah-and-octave-pedal punctuation wailing over the tops of Wilk and Commerford's always-solid playing. That duo's long been one of the most underrated rhythm sections in rock, and that hasn't changed since the original band's mid-'90s heyday; their grooves are powerful, their time precise.

But Prophets of Rage is missing one of the most essential parts of Rage Against The Machine -- and everyone involved knows it. "[The band is] paying homage to the great lyrics of the great Zack De La Rocha," said Chuck D, ironically just before the band played one of the few non-Rage songs of the show, Public Enemy's "Miuzi Weighs A Ton." While the band was active, De La Rocha was incessantly intense and thoroughly believable onstage, summoning up yell-rhymes that, when he was on (which was often) came with a relentless, unmistakable energy. Thankfully, neither Chuck D nor B Real attempted to imitate De La Rocha, but that also meant that as they recited his lyrics, it sometimes came off as cover-band safe rather than agit-rock powerful.

Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy & Cypress Hill Members Form Supergroup Prophets of Rage: Sources

That said, the two new songs the collective played both were embedded with Rage Against The Machine's power while giving the rap duo room for their own unique style to shine through (especially "The Party is Over," dedicated to Donald Trump), and the band's mash up of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" and Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" empowered both with new relevance (the same can't be said for a somewhat rote medley of PE and Cypress Hill hits, backed only by DJ tracks mid-set; though it may have given the band a break, it also seemed a bit by-the-numbers).

Towards the end of the set, before Rage Against the Machine's trademark song "Killing In The Name," Chuck D introduced the band, and then said, "there's always a seat warm for Zack De La Rocha." It makes you wonder, almost, whether this whole project is a dare: perhaps the reclusive frontman will eventually see video of the band and find himself moved enough to rejoin his old bandmates. Until then, Prophets of Rage is a reasonable enough replacement -- but one clearly missing a core component to make it whole. 

Setlist:
Prophets of Rage (Public Enemy)
Guerilla Radio (Rage Against The Machine)
Bombtrack (RATM)
Miuzi Weighs A Ton (PE)
People of the Sun (RATM)
Rock Superstar (Cypress Hill)
Testify (RATM)
CH/PE Medley ("Shoot Em Up" > "Can't Trust It" > "Insane In the Membrane" > "Bring The Noise" > "I Ain't Going Out Like That" > "Welcome To The Terrordome")
Sleep Now In The Fire (RATM)
New Song (probably called "Shut Them Down")
Know Your Enemy (RATM)
The Party's Over (Prophets of Rage)
No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn/Fight The Power (Beastie Boys/Public Enemy)
Bulls On Parade (RATM)
Killing in The Name (RATM)

Proceeds from the Whisky A Go Go show will go towards PATH, a California-based family of anti-homelessness agencies.