“Ask me about the basics of Communism and Revolution,” read the signs held by young volunteers pacing the grounds at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this past Saturday. Their headquarters, dubbed the “Re-education Camp,” was among the first sights many saw upon passing through the gates into LA Rising, a music event featuring Rage Against The Machine, Muse, Rise Against, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Immortal Technique, and El Gran Silencio.
After a $100 ticket and $25 to park, a teenager or two would appear to tell you how lucky you are to have clean water to drink. Did you know that 12 million people die each year because they don’t have, like, fuckin’ clean water and shit? Well, that’s what I learned, minutes after being forced by another teenager, in a uniform, to throw 2 sealed bottles of water into a garbage can. I had brought them hoping to avoid having to buy identical ones for $5 each inside. Standard capitalist venture. Dude, man, social justice, bro.
Well, the revolution may have been bullshit. Fortunately the music, for the most part, was not. On stage, Rage Against The Machine is invariably a force to be reckoned with, and while we may make fun of Muse as much as the next jaded snob, they put on a hell of a show.
Kicking things off was El Gran Silencio, an eclectic spanish rock band from Mexico, with a positive energy and impressive instrumental proficiency. After the first song, the singer picked up a guitar while the guitarist picked up a microphone, and the transition was seamless; music was attacked from a variety of angles throughout the set, but the band maintained its identity.
The cartoon character known as Immortal Technique, on the other hand, somehow turned out an even less impressive performance than the last of his we caught, at Coachella years ago. After opening with his retarded song about how George W. Bush knocked down the World Trade Center towers, Mr. Technique went on a tirade about how there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad (deep!), and he had a bunch of shit to say about how, you know, fuck genres; you know when someone can actually play an instrument. He then proceeded to play no instruments.
Yet apparently it takes about 9 guys to pull this kind of performance off: One to hit a button that plays music; one to do about 80% of the rapping and 2,000% of the inane between-song banter; 3 guys to do the other 20% of the rapping and tell the main guy how awesome he is; and then like 3 or 4 guys to just stand around looking tough, in case any of the LAPD officers the festival organizers hired to protect the bands decide they’re not being paid enough to ignore the guy leading 60,000 kids to shout “FUCK COPS” over and over (and over and over) again, because he saw some video on YouTube.
Lauryn Hill was basically on time, which means she was only 20 minutes late. When she took the stage, it quickly became rather obvious that her microphone wasn’t on, and it took about a minute for the house to figure out how to fix that. That was just one of many glitches that the bands and fans experienced as symptoms of the event’s disorganization, at a venue that “hasn’t done a concert in awhile” according to a staff supervisor we talked to. But Ms. Hill took the technical difficulties in stride, pushing through a stiff, awkward remix of Killing Me Softly with a big smile and her head high. It wasn’t a great first impression, but as the set progressed, she and her band did more than just keep it together; by the halfway mark they were in the pocket, bringing the people in the bleachers up onto their feet.
Here’s the dude from Rise Against, rising against some shit. WHOOOAAA OOHHH AAAAHH AHHH WHOOOAA OOOOAHHH AAHH OHHH. No, but seriously, no complaints. Rise Against got the job done, and the kids love ’em.
Ah, Muse. We have talked some shit. We have picked on Fernando for liking them. And I’ll still swear that the folks calling Matthew Bellamy a guitar god are delusional. But for a guy with music that sounds like he’d act like Jared Leto, with a stage that probably cost more than some countries have spent on roads, Bellamy had everyone in the palm of his hand.
Not only can Muse make a bad song sound awesome live, but Bellamy was vocally (even humbly) appreciative of the crowd’s energy, which he converted like an engine, dropping in Sabbath and Zeppelin riffs in between songs just to keep the adrenaline maxed. The whole set culminated with the release of dozens of confetti-filled vinyl eyeballs, each about as big as a Smart car. Of course we’ll still make fun of Muse, because it’s so easy. But we’ll be damned if we didn’t have fun at their show.
The grand finale began with a subtle, yet intense slow raising of a giant red star behind an empty stage, as an air raid siren blared. There are very few- if any– rock bands that people go apeshit over more enthusiastically than they do for Rage Against The Machine. No other band makes being so angry feel so smart, and Rage milks it for all it’s worth and then some. The anticipation was ridiculous.
Very appropriately starting with Testify, the lead track from 1999’s Battle Of Los Angeles, Rage barreled through a set that at least sounded like the revolution that the event had promised, yet failed to deliver on any other front. The band has only gotten tighter since their 1992 debut. Reunions can bring mixed bags of emotions, and I’ve worried that a new album from Rage Against The Machine could drift into self-parody with the distance between their youth and their reputation ever widening. But their live performances continue to deliver.
With… All… That… Said…
While we’ve had fun skewering the cognitive dissonance expected by LA Rising organizers overcharging in the name of social justice, that’s not to say that there weren’t righteous factions doing the best they could to bring positive change to the world by reaching out to an audience that ostensibly cares about such things.
We couldn’t get too mad at wise old Henry Rollins’ face on the big screen in between sets, informing us (more eloquently than our bro from earlier) of the struggles for clean water on the other side of the globe. Likewise, there’s no scoffing at a young, straight-A honor student discovering at 18 that she’s an illegal resident, with no clear path to citizenship through no fault of her own. Regardless of how you may feel about the underlying politics or decisions her parents made. Just because the festival organizers didn’t give a shit, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
And we’re not saying you should, but here are some organizations that struck us:
The complete list of nonprofits at LA Rising can be found here.
Feel free to read up if you’re so inclined. (After you get off my lawn.)