Prophets of Rage Sound Great Live, But What's The Point?

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Going into Saturday night's Prophets of Rage show at Ak-Chin Pavilion, there were two questions that immediately came to mind.

The most obvious was why on earth are the members of Rage Against The Machine doing a tour revisiting their past with Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill filling on for Zack de la Rocha on vocal duties? After all, these guys were billed as a "rap metal supergroup," which is a terrible description on its own, but in reality, they're basically a cover band rehashing some of the most important socially aware anthems of the last 25 years. The group's music, save for one (maybe one-and-a-half) original song, consists of Rage Against The Machine songs and Rage-ified covers of Cypress Hill and Public Enemy tunes.  

Though the night's set list was full of RATM material, they opened with Public Enemy's "Prophets of Rage," and of course this was right in Chuck D's wheelhouse as the hip-hop legend commanded the stage. When they launched into the next song, Rage's "Guerrilla Radio," it became clear how much was missing from the performance. The two well-respected rappers not only couldn't do justice to Zack de la Rocha's verses, but also couldn't come close to matching his intensity onstage. Maybe some songs just shouldn't be covered. 

This would be the theme throughout the night. It was hard to get past watching a cover band performing fiery political anthems of 20 years ago while proclaiming itself to be politically relevant today. But that didn't take away from how great the band itself sounded. Tom Morello was absolutely on fire all night and looked like he was having the time of his life playing the songs he wrote years ago. Unfortunately for him, the crowd was sparse and there were plenty of empty seats in the venue.
Despite what Prophets of Rage lacked in new material, they took advantage of their platform to talk about current politics. Chuck D wasted little time letting fans know his feelings on Sheriff Joe as he said "Fuck Arpaio" before later adding "Fuck SB 1070" before a cover of Audioslave's "Cochise." B-Real sported a towel around his head with a headband during the show, and like Chuck D he was great when performing his own Cypress Hill tracks. The two did a medley of some of their best-known tracks like "Insane in the Brain / Bring the Noise / I Ain't Goin' Out Like That / Welcome to the Terrordome." During the medley, the two rappers were down in the pit taking photos and videos with fans, and despite the fact that they weren't able to properly execute much of the RATM catalog, they reminded you how great they are performing their own.

The band invited AWOLNATION lead singer Aaron Bruno to join them on the Bruce Springsteen cover "The Ghost of Tom Joad," and Saturday night's was a much folkier version of the song than when Rage Against The Machine originally covered it.

By the end of the night, it didn't matter why they decided to tour the country playing cover versions of their own songs. What we did learn is that the members of Rage Against The Machine tried to fill the shoes of Zack De la Rocha with not one but two people and failed to recapture that original glory. That said, if De La Rocha doesn't want to participate, he doesn't want to participate. You can't really blame Morello and company for wanting to continue without him. 

Critic's Notebook:

Saturday Night: Prophets of Rage at Ak-Chin Pavilion.

The Crowd: Mainly people in their late 30s or early 40s who hate Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio.

Personal Bias: I thought the first two Rage Against The Machine records were some of the best releases of the '90s. I saw them for the first time at Lollapalooza in 1993 at Compton Terrace, their reunion appearance at Coachella in 2007, and Lollapalooza in Chicago in 2008. I've seen Cypress Hill multiple times, and Public Enemy one. 

Overheard: "The band sounds great."

Random Notebook Dump: The band's mission statement, "Make America Rage Again," is genius.

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