The late Muhammad Ali didn’t need the confines of a boxing ring to fight his battles. He fought them everywhere. The same can be said of Chuck D. On Friday (June 3), after the Public Enemy MC finished the opening song “Prophets of Rage,” which began the second — and currently last — scheduled show the group of the same name is playing, he lifted his hand in salute.
“We raise a fist and pray for Muhammad Ali.”
Like the great Ali, Chuck D sees no boundaries between day job and personal identity. As long as he has a platform, he will use it against whatever force of darkness needs kept at bay. On Friday night in Los Angeles, at a 5,000 hardcore attended Rage Against the Machine (RATM) concert, the Palladium was already jumping around to House of Pain before the band even came on. There’s no doubt, however, that the man of the hour is Chuck D.
Quick recap on Prophets of Rage. In 2016, as the world crumbled beneath cries of inequality and fears of global terrorism, cult icons have left us too soon and America looks like it might make Donald Trump the most powerful man on earth for the next four years, Rage guitarist Tom Morello decided the time had come to call the big guns in and reanimate RATM songs.
The newly formed band may as well call themselves Age Against the Machine, such is their stoic refusal to stand down just because they’re older, wiser and long overdue a lie-down. Indeed, the foremost insurgents of rock ’n’ roll across the rap, metal and funk movements of the ‘80s and ‘90s would play together. Summoning rapper B-Real (Cypress Hill), plus Chuck D and DJ Lord (Public Enemy) alongside himself and RATM rhythmic terrorists (bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk), Morello’s motive has been to build a new bomb to nuke those who are sleepwalking their way into an abyss of corruption and evil.
It’s Chuck, however, who detonated that weapon Friday. “Ladies and gentlemen. We are the Prophets of Rage!” Chuck and B-Real shouted as they step out against a backdrop that looks lifted from an SDP convention in 1920s Europe.
The initial buzz of the alarm clock came on May 31 as the Prophets of Rage announced they’d make their first appearance at the Whisky A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. On stage, Chuck extended the invite to former RATM frontman Zack de la Rocha should he want to re-consider joining the outfit. He did exactly the same on Friday, crediting de la Rocha’s “lyrics of revolution” and repeating “there’s always a seat warm for him. Long live the music of Rage Against the Machine!” A respectable hum of hope came from the gallery from fans who simply enquire — “Zack?”
If the Whisky was Prophets of Rage’s cell phone-less underground bunker committee, the Palladium — at 10 times the capacity — is the public rally they’ve been preparing for. Looking down from the balcony, the entire floor is a physical collision course, as the crowd charge at each other like newly liberated cattle, inspired by Morello’s solos, which he performs while doing the splits, setting fire to his own loins before scorching everyone else’s. On Rage’s “Bombtrack” and “Testify,” his playing isn’t furious, it’s infuriated. His licks are a catalyst for three circle pits so forceful they could power a shuttle launch. Chuck D, with free reign of the stage, responds to them with samurai lunges, windmills and repeated pogo-ing on his axes.
While this year has seen the clashes of racially aggravated crowds at Trump rallies, the monstrous anarchy of Friday’s moshpit felt gainfully purposeful, erupting in body-blowing mania during “Sleep Now in the Fire” (the sonic definition of the millennial word “FLAMES!” it turned the whole crowd orange) and the provocative “Bulls on Parade.” Huge men lost their shirts and lead locomotions through the venue to the smash-the-system diatribe of “Take the Power Back” and “Know Your Enemy,” except rather than resembling a choo-choo tank engine, they launched forward like a runaway bullet train. It was a physical outcry, which the band felt too, none more so than Morello, who played part of “Testify” by pressing the jack of his guitar lead into the palm of his hand.
As with Tuesday’s affair, the set leaned on Rage material, but allowed Chuck and B-Real to go toe-to-toe on their own classic back catalogue. Friday’s additional tracks came in the form of “Bullet in the Head” and “Kill a Man.” The second outing of the new Prophets of Rage number “The Party Is Over” is welcomed like an old favorite, its hybrid of classic Rage-fueled riffs, terrorized by the high-pitched B-Real rhymes whets the appetite for hopefully more original Prophets material.
Unlike Tuesday’s affair, any initial nerves are gone. “It’s too good to be true right now. This is f—ing awesome,” offered B-Real, before launching into “Rock Superstar” with the “Kashmir”-esque enormo-riffs of Morello. The track’s sinister lullaby jingles are the stuff of Trump nightmares, as is B-Real’s call-to-action at the song’s close: “For the motherf—ers who didn’t get a chance to see this show, you’re gonna tell people how dope it was. You’re gonna testify!”
“Raise your voice now, motherf—ers!” he said before a final rally of “Killing in the Name Of,” complete with topical lyric edits (ie, “Some of those that run office are the same that burn crosses,” etc). It starts with that ominous bass line, and a clattering of drums reminiscent of pots and pans bashing about in the kitchen. This week Prophets of Rage switched the oven on, but the fire’s just getting started.
Here’s the set list:
“Prophecy of Rage” (Public Enemy)
“Guerilla Radio” (RATM)
“My Uzi Weighs a Ton (Public Enemy)
“People of the Sun” (RATM)
“Take the Power Back” (RATM)
“Rock Superstar” (RATM)
“Hand on the Pump” (Cypress Hill)
“Can’t Truss It” (Public Enemy)
“Insane in the Brain” (Cypress Hill)
“Bring the Noise” (Public Enemy)
“Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” (Cypress Hill)
“Welcome to the Terrordome” (Public Enemy)
“Sleep Now in the Fire” (RATM)
“Bullet in the Head” (RATM)
“Shut Em Down” (Public Enemy)
“Know Your Enemy” (RATM)
“The Party Is Over” (Prophets of Rage)
“Kill A Man” – (RATM version)
“No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (Beastie Boys mashup)
“Bulls on Parade” (RATM)
“Killing in the Name Of” (RATM)