The key moment of Rage Against the Machine's concert at the Great Western Forum on Sunday may have come before the band even took the stage. Impatient for the set to begin, the crowd resorted to the most bourgeois pastime imaginable: the wave.
It was a strange contrast to the red stars and pictures of Che Guevara--standard Rage iconography--that festooned the stage, as well as the primary theme played out in the show. Setting the tone with the hard-hitting opening salvo of "Testify" and "Guerrilla Radio," frontman Zach de la Rocha spouted hectoring rhymes calling on the underclasses to take control of the means of communication.
But the wave also fit. For all its radical chic, Rage--which does its communicating via the multinational corporation Sony--invites mindless following just as much as any pop act headlining an arena show. It reduces highly complex issues (racism, classism, imperialism) to simple slogans; it paints in strokes so broad you can't see the faces in the picture (just us and them); and it does not foster or encourage debate. The songs don't tell you to think, they tell you what to think. Sure, in this first of two sold-out Forum shows there was no denying the L.A. quartet's power and conviction. But Pat Buchanan has power and conviction too.
Of course, Pat Buchanan can't play guitar like Tom Morello. Few people can. No matter how inelegant the politics seemed, Morello's apparently endless array of mostly Hendrix-derived effects was consistently dazzling, though in the band's monochromatic, thudding rap-rock, he has a very limited--if often stirring--context in which to display his talents.
And Buchanan certainly doesn't draw as diverse a crowd as Rage. But what does the crowd take away from the event? At show's end, the wave mentality was stronger than ever as the moshing fans chanted along on the line "[Expletive] you, I won't do what you tell me"--just like De la Rocha told them.