For years, Rage Against the Machine fans asked the question: Where is Zack De La Rocha? The frenetic RATM frontman, who once wielded words like lyrical knives, virtually disappeared from music in 2000 when he parted ways with the seminal Los Angeles band. RATM moved on without him, enlisting Chris Cornell as lead of their new project Audioslave and De La Rocha seemed to retire from music. The band briefly reunited for one-off shows, including Coachella 2007, but De La Rocha had little to show on his own.
With just a few collaborations, including a failed album with DJ Shadow, behind him, De La Rocha teamed up with explosive Mars Volta/Trans Am drummer Jon Theodore in 1998 to form the stripped down duo, One Day As A Lion. The hype was serious. Could De La Rocha go it alone? Tonight, like a manic preacher poised before a discerning Coachella audience, De La Rocha set out to convert the masses.
“Are you there?” he yelled to the audience, who volleyed back a roar. It was a welcome-back cry to the vocalist who once headlined Coachella's stage. But here, on this smaller stage, One Day As A Lion thrived. Drummer Theodore tore into his set, arms flailing, a Tazmanian Devil of the snare, kick, and cymbals, laying down the muscular beats that drove their 2008 EP.
De La Rocha has grown up. No longer tossing his dreadocks and wirey frame across the stage (he's filled out, abandoning the starving artist look), he stood at a synth and belted his acerbic flow at the mic. At first, it felt strange to watch one of the 90's finest rock and rap vocalists, known for his bombastic stage antics, held back by those keys, but this new set-up was a reminder: This is not Rage Against the Machine.
One Day As A Lion has grown since that 2008 album, including new material relying on their simple set-up of just distorted Rhodes keyboard (sometimes manned by an additional keyboardist), drums, and vocals. The audience echoed back De La Rocha's rhymes and pumped their fists, as if over the three years since that EP, they had been studying every breakdown, cadence, and rock out on that five-song sonic appetizer. After all that scrutiny, the audience was finally able to dish it back.
De La Rocha spoke a bit nervously between songs. He seemed to be cognizant of the expectations on him, but with each passing song, he gained momentum. His inertia had returned. Then when Theodore broke into the single “Wild International,” De La Rocha delivered his trademark flow, throwing himself into center stage, back into the spotlight.
After years of silence, it's good to have him back.