L.A. Rising feat. Rage Against The Machine, Muse, Rise Against, Lauryn Hill
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Better than...spending a Saturday at the beach.
"Apathetic music with apathetic fans."
"Do the fans even get it?"
"Rage Against The Machine scares small town in Utah."
"This music will not last."
On the night when Rage Against The Machine celebrated their 20th anniversary, it was important to point out how their music has endured, despite the venom that critics spewed at the band when they first started. The quotes above along with other video footage were shown on the video screens just before the band took the stage at their self-produced L.A. Rising festival.
The emotional buildup, however, was followed by a brief letdown. What started as a thunderous rendition of "Testify" -- off of 1999's The Battle of Los Angeles -- quickly deteriorated when lead singer Zack De La Rocha's mic cut out, twice. This could have easily ruined the band's only show of 2011. But although there were jeers, Rage managed to soldier on, playing a solid -- perhaps not spectacular -- set of 14 of their most familiar songs.
Once the sound problems were fixed, their set went off without a hitch. The capacity crowd got 75-minutes of Rage's trademark rap-rock, which has spawned many imposters, but none with their intensity.
Fan favorites like the bass-driven "Bullet In The Head," "Down Rodeo" and "Sleep Now In The Fire" were all well received, which was demonstrated by the multiple mosh pits that broke out on the Coliseum's vast floor area-- which made me wonder why almost every pit moves in a counter clock-wise direction.
Fans built bonfires and moshed/danced around them, particularly during "Bulls On Parade." Fortunately, there seemed to be a sense of community, folks seeking to protect one another from harm.
Of all the shows Rage has played over the years, this was surely one of their most theatrical performance. Usually they just have a simple backdrop, but this time there was expansive lighting and red stars on the side of the stage. Perhaps most out of character, the band entered with the lighting of the Olympic Torch above the Coliseum, which is generally used to mark the beginning of the 4th quarter at USC football games.
It wouldn't have been a Rage show, of course, without a leftist rant about how the corporations and government are ruining society. At the end of the initial set, De La Rocha went on a diatribe about how downtown Los Angeles was being developed by billionaires while the homeless population suffered. It was "time to rise up and show people who this city really belongs to," he said, to which the crowd responded with thunderous approval.
The encore songs "Freedom" and "Killing In The Name" -- from their 1992's self-titled debut -- were just as powerful as the original recordings. These were their best songs of the night, and just when they seemed ready to settle into their groove, it was time to go.
The other main act, Muse, delivered a stirring 90-minute set. Featuring the band's mesmerizing lighting -- which looked very much out of the Pink Floyd guide to how to put on a great rock show -- the Brits managed not only keep the crowd's focus, but likely won many new admirers.
Singer Matthew Bellamy, clad in a Captain America t-shirt, proved why he is ascending to the top of the list of modern rock front men. The band played some of their most popular songs at the top of the set, including "Uprising" and "Map of the Problematique."
Bellamy had a self-assured stage presence, and the band had a terrific stage setup. Whether it was snippets of covers (Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker," "House of the Rising Sun") or the unleashing of large eyeball balloons into the crowd during "Plug In Baby," there was nary a dull moment.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Lauryn Hill's lackluster set.
Hill's performance tended to drive folks out of the concert area and towards the bevy of other activities that were set up outside the stadium. Her 10-piece band performed like they hadn't soundchecked or even prepared for a gig in such a large venue. Her singing elicited groans, yawns and -- mainly -- indifference from the audience.
Fortunately, Chicago punks Rise Against picked up the slack and gave the enthusiastic crowd their energy back. The band's catchy lyrics and up-tempo music pumped life back into the previously lifeless Coliseum and set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Personal bias: Rage should have been a bit more creative with their set, and that new soundsystem needs some work. Muse are ready to take the next step.
The crowd: Diverse, volatile, yet for the most part respectful of one another.
Random notebook dump: There shouldn't be sound problems for the headliner during their own festival.
Rage and Muse setlists below.
Rage Against The Machine setlist:
People of the Sun
Know Your Enemy
Bulls on Parade
Bullet in the Head
Calm Like a Bomb
Sleep Now in the Fire
Killing in the Name
Map of the Problematique
Supermassive Black Hole
Butterflies and Hurricanes
United States of Eurasia
Helsinki Jam + Undisclosed Desires
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Time Is Running Out
Plug In Baby
Knights of Cydonia