Of all the high points in Rage Against the Machine's anti-SB 1070 concert at the Hollywood Palladium Friday night, the one that made it worth the six hour trek from Phoenix to Los Angeles for me was when Rage front man Zack de la Rocha dedicated the incendiary anthem "Killing in the Name" to "Sheriff Joe Arpaio and all of his fucking violent antics."
De la Rocha couldn't have picked a better song for Arpaio, especially with lyrics like, "Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses," and, "You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they're the chosen whites."
The mention of Arpaio came at the end of the encore for the set, and de la Rocha seemed to take particular relish in the lyrics after the invocation of Arpaio's name. At times, here and throughout the concert, the singer jumped up and down with such ferocity that it looked like he was trying to stomp Arpaio and/or SB 1070 into oblivion.
It was hardly the only mention of Sand Land politics. Though the weather outside was cool, almost chilly, it was the heat and oppression of Arizona that dominated the Palladium's interior.
De la Rocha dedicated the Rage song "People of the Sun" in part to Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza of the organization Puente, one of the groups that will benefit from the $300,000 organizers expected to raise from the event.
He also paused at moments through the concert to explain conditions in Arizona and the dangers of SB 1070, which he referred to as a "racist law." He compared the situation in the Grand Canyon State to that of apartheid-era South Africa. And he urged the capacity crowd to stand up and help defend their "brothers and sisters" fighting in Arizona.
"We can't allow this tide of hatred and scapegoating to infect the rest of the country," he told the audience. "One way of doing this is stopping it in Arizona."
Toward the end of the concert, he brought out a group of activists from Puente who had traveled from Phoenix to be at the event. Firebrand Sandra Castro spoke to the crowd about the dark tide of fear and xenophobia creeping across our state.
"Imagine coming home and your parents aren't there because they were arrested in a raid," she said of the situation in Maricopa County. "Imagine a prison system that shackles pregnant women."
She described the horrors of Arpaio's jails, and told of women who had their jaws or arms broken or their children torn from them as a result of Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweeps. And she explained that this situation would now be common across the entire state if SB 1070 takes effect on July 29, as it is scheduled to do.
She asked everyone to boycott Arizona, and by the end of her speech, she had the entire crowd raising their fists with her in solidarity.
Though I'm sure many came to see Rage perform in L.A. proper for the first time in ten years, concert-goers were clearly sympathetic to the cause. There were frequent cries of "Fuck Arizona." Some unfurled Mexican flags. Others held handmade signs that read, "Deport Jan Brewer," and "Fuck SB 1070."
The concert itself was a maelstrom of sweat and energy. Rage played before a huge black banner emblazoned with a colossal red star. De la Rocha leapt about the stage like a dervish in flames as the open pit before him, filled with thousands, took on the appearance of a massive rugby scrum.
Rage played all their best songs, such as "Sleep Now in the Fire," "Bullet in the Head," "Guerrilla Radio," and "Bulls on Parade," among others. I also appreciated their frenzied cover of The Clash's "White Riot."
I'm no music critic, nor would I claim to be, but if the mark of a great concert is that the songs sound better than they do in their recordings, then Rage passed it. No one in the audience left disappointed.
I missed the Conor Oberst set, so I can't report on that, alas. I did meet up with the Puente crew backstage after the show. They were hanging with Pablo Alvarado, head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and Chris Newman, NDLON's lawyer.
Castro and Ernesto Yerena, the artist who along with activist Diane Ovalle designed the show's poster, informed me that they'd driven out that day from Phoenix, and were heading back that same night to be at a protest scheduled for Saturday. I was impressed with their dedication, as I was beat from the long drive and the concert.
De la Rocha's Sound Strike, which boasts the support of numerous acts from all over the musical spectrum, has garnered criticism from some in the Arizona music scene for its boycott of Sand Land.
I would say in rebuttal that no artist I know of has shown the kind of commitment to fighting injustice in Arizona that Zack de la Rocha has. Long before SB 1070 became a national news story, he was donating money and time to Puente and coming out to Arizona to lead massive marches in protest of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Hispanic-hunting dragnets.
Where were these de la Rocha-hatin' naysayers in 2009 or 2008, I wonder? Whine all you want, but de la Rocha has done far more for the civil rights movement in Arizona than most. We should welcome and laud his efforts, not attempt to tear them down with cavils born of envy and outright selfishness.