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CAMPAIGN 2000

Against the Odds, Band Got to Play

Concert: Anti-authority Rage Against the Machine is an unlikely counterpoint to convention. Performance goes without trouble.

August 16, 2000|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After weeks of harried negotiations, a federal judge's ruling and some luck, the rock band Rage Against the Machine managed to do what seemed unthinkable--stage one of their blistering, politically charged concerts at the very doorstep of the Democratic National Convention at Staples Center.

No one was more surprised than the band members.

"Two days before the show I was out there and I looked around and asked my guitar tech, 'Is this really going to happen?' " guitarist Tom Morello said Tuesday.

Police were asking themselves the same questions when plans for the show started to solidify just a week ago. After months of preparing security plans, the last thing police wanted to contemplate was adding a wild card, such as a free concert by a band that rails against authority.

"We're gravely concerned," a police spokesman said on the eve of the show.

Before a gathering of several thousand people Monday, the Rage concert went off without a hitch, becoming one of the most electric moments in political music in recent years. In a 45-minute show, the rap-rock band delivered its message in guitar riffs and words of protest.

"Apparently there's some other show going on over here," lead singer Zack de le Rocha said early, pointing to the adjacent arena, "but it's all sold out."

While the mosh pits and the crush of the crowd created some tension, there were only scattered incidents during the Rage performance. Serious trouble did not erupt until a good 30 minutes after the band had finished its set. By the time police clashed with protesters and fans, Morello was eating at a restaurant with his girlfriend.

Morello on Tuesday called the concert "a tremendous success." He said that since he was not present when the melee erupted, he did not want to comment on those events.

However, the guitarist, a onetime staff member for former Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), said tensions had flared because of the "police state" environment created by the LAPD presence.

"I don't believe it tainted our show in any way, the concert was a tremendous success," he said.

The Los Angeles band, which supports leftist issues in both its music and activism, decided in June that it would have to play during the convention because it was in "our own backyard," Morello said.

Originally, MTV was tapped to include the concert in its convention programming, but that fell through as city permits for shows became scarce.

The band mulled playing a free, unauthorized show somewhere downtown, but then U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess approved a plan to create an open demonstration site--a "protest zone"--next to the convention site at Staples Center.

When protest groups opened their arms to Rage, that zone eliminated the need for a permit. But the band had to work with city officials to iron out issues such as crowd access and security. The court ruling left city officials with little choice but to cooperate.

"It put parameters in place that we needed to work together," said Frank Martinez, convention coordinator for the city. "And this ended up being a collaborative effort. It was amazing, really, to pull off a concert of this size on such short notice."

But on Tuesday, LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks again questioned the staging of the concert, saying, "We shouldn't have a concert that inflames the crowd."

For the concert, the city ended up providing the stage and handling about $10,000 in total costs, while the band's contribution probably will reach more than $25,000, said Michele Fleischli, of Rage's management team.

The city's main concern was keeping the sound levels from interfering with the convention proceedings, while the band's handlers were intent that the show occur during daylight.

"The earlier we go on, the safer it is for everybody," Fleischli said, citing lighting issues and crowd problems with delegates leaving the convention after 9 p.m.

"Sometimes it was a real battle," Fleischli said. "Some days I definitely didn't think the whole thing would happen at all. But it was great."

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