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THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Free Rock Concert Set at Protest Site

August 12, 2000|GEOFF BOUCHER and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Rage Against the Machine, one of the nation's most acclaimed rock bands, plans to bring the "Battle of Los Angeles"--the title of the group's platinum album--to the Democratic National Convention for a free concert Monday night in the designated protest zone across the street from Staples Center.

The Los Angeles quartet, famed for its political bent and the sonic assault of its rap-rock, plans the free concert at Figueroa and 11th streets. President Clinton is scheduled to address the convention inside Staples about the same time.

The Los Angeles Police Department is "gravely concerned" about Monday's concert because the popular band could attract a volatile crowd prone to dangerous behavior, said LAPD Cmdr. Dave Kalish.

Police watched nervously late Friday afternoon as three truckloads of stage and sound gear were unloaded at the protest site. The show also will feature Ozomatli, an East Los Angeles-based group that fuses traditional Afro-Latin styles with funk, a knotty hip-hop sound and rock.

The band does not need a special city permit to hold its concert in the designated protest zone because a federal judge recently approved that area as an open demonstration site.

"It appears the [concert] organizers are taking advantage of the situation," Kalish said. "We're gravely concerned because of security reasons--just the large numbers of individuals that this will bring out."

The department will not deploy additional officers to the area but will issue earplugs to police, Kalish said. LAPD Cmdr. Tom Lorenzen, who oversees the Police Department's convention planning unit, said the department will "wait and watch and then react."

Peter Hidalgo, a spokesman for Mayor Richard Riordan, said he believes protest organizers D2KLA reserved the time for the concert at the protest site. He said city leaders would not--and could not--censor any protected speech in that area.

"We are confident that our demonstrators throughout the week will be 99.9% peaceful," Hidalgo said. "We are confident that this group will maintain that same civil order and at the same time offer entertainment to an audience that is listening to what this group has to say."

The band's Web site encourages civil disobedience to draw attention to societal ills, and guitarist Tom Morello said the band weaves political awareness through its music.

"We've always been about making our audience more conscious of the world around them and not blindly accepting what is forced on them," he said. "Our country was born of revolution over an oppressive and violent dictatorship that was robbing freedom, and when we see those elements in our society and government today we feel its our obligation to use our 1st Amendment right to point them out."

Although the band's shows are noted for their intensity--mosh pits and aggressive dancing are staples of the performances--Morello said the LAPD's concerns are misplaced.

"We're a rock band; we make CDs," he said. "We're certainly not the danger to society that the rogue elements of the LAPD are. . . . We don't beat homeless people, we don't steal, we don't kill people."

He said the 13-foot-high fences that have been installed around Staples Center for the convention are a metaphor for the political party's distance from workaday voters. "There's precious little democracy going on inside the pointy metal, so we're going to play for the people kept outside," he said.

Rage's third and most recent album, last year's "The Battle of Los Angeles," has sold nearly 2 million copies and earned critical plaudits for its political and social commentary, delivered with a blistering guitar sound.

The group has championed numerous causes, from the push for a retrial of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal to decrying U.S. military policies, worker exploitation and capitalistic culture.

Indeed, much of the band's music plays out as a call to action, and the group has cited Malcolm X and his famed tenet of "by any means necessary" to achieve political advancement.

One example is the song "Guerrilla Radio" from the "Battle of Los Angeles" disc. Front man Zack de la Rocha sings:

It has to start somewhere.

It has to start sometime.

What better place than here?

What better time than now?

Then he screams the chorus: "All hell can't stop us now."

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