Staff Writer Christopher O'Connor reports: NEW YORK — The new songs Rage Against the Machine played here Saturday night were more melodic than the old ones. But that doesn't mean the Los Angeles band is giving up the rage that's built into its name. Showcasing songs from their upcoming third album, The Battle of Los Angeles, at the Roseland Ballroom, Rage Against the Machine still brought a sonic assault of guitar riffs and noise while offering lyrics about controversial death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and the injustices of war.
They also brought along an equally political opening act — hip-hop veterans Public Enemy, who mixed snippets of their classic battle-cries "Bring the Noise" and "Welcome to the Terrordome" with full versions of "41:19", "Crayola" and other songs from their most recent album, There's a Poison Goin' On. Direct as usual, Rage singer/rapper Zack de la Rocha shouted, "Good evening — we are Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California," as his band launched into an incendiary 11-song aggression-fest, which included five songs from The Battle of Los Angeles (Nov. 2).
Fans jammed into the old midtown Manhattan club jumped and screamed throughout both bands' sets. Afterward, hundreds of them were left soaked in sweat, leaning on pillars to catch their breath. Even Rage guitarist Tom Morello's blue T-shirt came off after around 20 furious minutes of music. "I have no voice because of [the groups]," 20-year-old Jose Rodriguez, from the Bronx, N.Y., said. "But it's all f---ing awesome. I love what they're doing politically."
Rage's set was an exercise in "heard that, ain't heard that." When they played the anthemic showstoppers "Killing in the Name" and "Freedom" — each a call to rebellion — the crowd erupted in the face of the songs' raw energy. When they got to one of their new songs, which tended to be tighter and shorter, the crowd stilled and the event became more of a listening party. "We've got to get used to the new songs," said Matt Cozen, 24, who traveled about 200 miles from suburban Boston with three friends for the show.
"I like [the new songs]," Cozen said. "They sound more old-school rock." Classic-rock leanings and a newfound melodicism notwithstanding, Rage's attack remained familiar. On the new songs, bassist Tim Bob and drummer Brad Wilk played loud and heavy but remained largely anonymous onstage, while Morello built guitar solos out of mangled collages of noise and de la Rocha jogged across the stage, letting his long dreads flap as he recited politically aggressive lyrics. The new songs they played included the single "Guerrilla Radio," "Testify" and "Calm Like a Bomb."
Public Enemy rapper Chuck D challenged the crowd's politics, too. Twisting a famous lyric from the 1989 single "Fight the Power" to aim it directly at the young and mostly white audience, he rapped, "Elvis was a hero to you, but he never meant shit to me." Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) was dressed in black shorts, black shirt and black hat. His partner Flavor Flav (born William Drayton) wore the usual oversized clock around his neck and provided chaotic movement and machine-gun verbiage. Flavor Flav served as both comic relief and conscience for the audience. He shared a 1988-style stage jump — join hands, jump and push off — with Chuck D.
When he wasn't punctuating Chuck D's rhymes or screaming the word "f---," Flavor Flav engaged the crowd in 30 seconds of persistent screaming for no apparent reason. He won cheers for renouncing police brutality before his rendition of "41:19," which protests the February shooting of unarmed 22-year-old immigrant Amadou Diallo by four New York police officers in the Bronx.
"Police be doing some f---ed up sh-- out there," Flav screamed.
Saturday's show was one of several spot shows Rage Against the
Machine have scheduled in advance of the release of The Battle of Los Angeles, their first album since Evil Empire (1996). They're scheduled to be back in New York on Nov. 2, the day the album comes out, to perform on an outdoor stage on 53rd Street for "Late Show With David Letterman."