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Pop Music Review

The Machine Rages Against Apathy, the Establishment

September 20, 1997|SARA SCRIBNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rage Against the Machine is a band with an agenda.

Its goal? To stun the placid, suburban upper middle class, ignite the underclass and infuse a razor-sharp political message into its volatile cocktail of metal, funk, punk and hip-hop.

On Thursday, playing a sold-out show at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, the group demonstrated why it has been able to touch a nerve with many rock fans who crave a combination of head-banging music and radical politics. As this show made clear, Rage Against the Machine's conscience-prodding messages and fast, furious music has infused danger and daring into the increasingly predictable world of rock.

Trudging casually onto the stage without a trace of ceremony, the group quickly dived into "People of the Sun," an anthem from the group's 1996 album, "Evil Empire," and it was clear that the quartet was going to deliver its usual bombshell-like aggression.

Playing against a backdrop of tongue-in-cheek placards that looked like school medical emergency manuals--with Barbara Kruger-like illustrations painted with the lines "Who prays loudest?" and "Who follows orders?"--lead singer-rapper Zack De La Rocha quickly came alive with hyperkinetic energy. Jumping about and spitting out lyrics, the 27-year-old De La Rocha showed that he is one of rock's most electrifying frontmen.

The success of Rage's set was not a sure thing. This tour, which began as a headline-grabbing, potentially potent bill with the rap act Wu-Tang Clan, has had its share of troubles. De La Rocha sprained his ankle during a New York performance. And the Wu-Tang Clan dropped out halfway through. The Clan was replaced by the calmer, jazzier the Roots, who delivered a smooth set of hip-hop fusion that was low-key despite a painfully loud sound system.

Rage, pummeling through material from the widely successful "Evil Empire" and the group's eponymous debut, peaked with the immediate urgency of older songs such as "Bullet in the Head" and "Fistful of Steel," and one newer track, "Bulls on Parade." Throughout, De La Rocha's raps focused on urging action and attacking apathy--and also threatening the moneyed establishment.

This show underscored how Rage has succeeded in capturing the kind of powerful, strongly ideological force that Public Enemy brought to rap. With its radical leftist views and rabble-rousing music, the group seems closer aligned with Chuck D than, say, the Offspring, but its recipe is one that any fan of boundary-breaking rock can love.

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