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A Black Flag and a Red Star Looms Over the Coliseum
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JENNIFER LEAF
70,000 diehard Rage Against The Machine fans piled into the LA Coliseum on a sun-drenched Saturday in July for what will hopefully be the inaugural LA Rising Festival, boldly curated by the headliners themselves. Sure, there were Muse and Rise Against fans out in force as well, but come on, everybody was waiting for the hometown heroes to take the stage. This show commemorated 20 years of RATM's warrior sound making us mosh maniacally, as well as question and think critically about human rights and political injustices our beloved country is inherently guilty of.
I trickled in at the end of the opening bands set, El Gran Silencio, who had to rustle up a 7-day work visa from Mexico just to play the gig. Their music sounded like a hybrid of punk and latin cumbia music, effectively welcoming in a heavily Latina crowd; a true representation of LA after all, isn't it? Might as well have been called Latina Rising.
Immortal Technique talked incessantly throughout his midday set, about seemingly everything at once which got pretty annoying, let alone hard to follow. Yet, when he got flowing, his spitfire brand of conscience hip hop possessed convincing ferocity. His a cappella version of "Toast To The Dead" was particularly menacing to say the least.
Okay, what's up with Ms. Lauryn Hill? She came on late, as usual, then she delivered frantic interpretations of the songs we grew to love her from. Instead of "Killing Me Softly" she killed every song her clamorous band could get their umpteen hands on. Hill looked eerily similar to cocaine-era Whitney Houston as she rasped out schizoid phrasings and twirled her sweat rag around, at one point pleading to the crowd in her purely antithetical diva rapport, "Come on, make it fun for me." You first, Lauryn.
I was surprised at how many Rise Against songs I actually knew, and if I wasn't a fan before, I am now. They really got bodies swirling on the floor, provoking a slew of riotous shenanigans that hinted at what was to come once Rage took the stage. Lead singer Tim McIlrath reminded the crowd about the Re-Education Camp just outside the stage area, where a dozen or so activist booths were setup to get the good word out, the likes of which you'll obviously never see on FOX News. "Out there, there are people talking about issues. Issues that have to do with my future, your future, all of us together, " Tim shouted. "And I'm proud to stand here with this many people who still give a shit about our future!"
Sun finally sets. The place is packed, and Muse comes on in grandiose fashion with an ethereal intro consisting of timpani's, smoke, synths and operatic falsetto's from frontman Matthew Bellamy, before busting into crowd-pleasers like "Uprising" and "Supermassive Black Hole." To see Muse perform today is to see an arena rock band at its height, musically proficient and theatrically bent on providing an onslaught of captivating visuals that even the guy in the back row can easily see. It never hurts when you drop in familiar rock riffs from Led Zeppelin to AC/DC, and even the star spangled banner from these Brits, for the crowd to sink their teeth into between songs.
With the Olympic torches now ablaze, and a spotlight on the huge black flag with a red star in the back of the Coliseum, the hair on the back of all our collective necks was standing at full attention. After a video played chronicling RATM's storied if not harrowed career, the lights dropped, sirens sounded, and you finally heard, "Good evening, we are Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles!" Zach De La Rocha's familiar mantra catapulted the capacity crowd into a frenzy, and despite the sound dropping out here and there during the 1st song "Testify," the train kept a rollin' and by the time Tom Morello dug into the intro for "Know Your Enemy," there was no denying the power of Rage live.
A dozen mosh pits covered the floor, at times converging into one and splintering off into new ones. A security guard told me he heard that a guy in a wheelchair was crowd surfing, still strapped to his wheelchair! If I hadn't have been in attendance to feel that crowds energy I would have dismissed the wheelchair story as a farce, but no, I believe it with all my heart. 20 years after I first heard these RATM songs, their messages still resonate loud and clear, clinging to our current political climate. In much the same fashion as Dylan's "Masters Of War" or The Clash's "Stand Up," RATM's "Killing In The Name Of" will never feel out of place as long as there are thugs running things.
Despite assorted shitty sound issues throughout the day, a problem they simply have to address if they ever do this fest again, LA Rising proved successful if only that nobody got killed...including me. Thanks Rage Against The Machine, see you at your next final show.