“We started this band to speak as your voice,” Cypress Hill’s B-Real yelled to a packed pit area and a teeming grandstand. “The voice has been dormant for a long time.”
Now, supposedly, “the voice” is back, since Prophets of Rage stopped at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on October , 20161 as part of their Make America Rage Again Tour.
In an election year when 25% of Americans have a distaste for both presidential candidates, this “elite task force of revolutionary musicians” formed to protest against the absurd rhetoric and hopeless circumstances that have defined the 2016 election cycle.
The group consists of three members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord and B-Real. Together, they play mostly covers of the three bands’ prior discography aside from a raucous cover of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and one original song.
The show started a little before 7 p.m. with people still filtering in from the concessions area, and opening band Wakrat took the stage. Wakrat has Rage Against the Machine and Prophets bassist Tim Commerford at the mic sounding live a bit more like Mudhoney’s Mark Arm than usual. The rest of the band played jerky hardcore songs like “Knucklehead” and “Generation Fucked” with odd time signatures in the spirit of Bad Brains.
Commerford took some time out to muse on the definition of “feedback,” how it occurs when a system’s output is re-routed as the input, forming a cyclical loop of cause and effect. “Feedback is political. Feedback is war,” Commerford told the crowd.
AWOLNATION came on next. Lead singer Aaron Bruno danced, wiggled and jumped around like a marionette on strings. His voice came off as even more pleasantly rough than it does on songs like “Sail,” which fit well with the night’s atmosphere of anti-establishment. The band actually sounded like rock over real instruments.
DJ Lord, Public Enemy’s turntable jockey since 1999, started the Prophets’ set by spinning and mixing old crowd favorites like Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” even going as far back as Deep Purple’s entry-level guitar classic “Smoke on the Water.”
The band’s setlist was heavy on Rage Against the Machine songs with the band in top form. Unfortunately, most of these songs were missing an obvious ingredient without the signature voice of Zack de la Rocha. Even though B-Real can really wail and Chuck D still sounds like the rebellious rap authority he has been for years, the absence of de la Rocha’s voice spoke even louder on songs like “Guerrilla Radio” and “Bombtrack.”
Sonically, it was intriguing to hear Rage Against the Machine members adapt to Public Enemy tracks. “Prophets of Rage” sounded more robust with Rage’s metallic funk, and “Miuzi Weighs a Ton” came off as subdued until guitarist Tom Morello shredded the song to bits.
In the middle of the show, the band took time out to let Chuck D and B-Real rap some classics with assistance from DJ Lord. During “Don’t Believe the Hype,” B-Real took a puff of something rolled like a joint from an individual in the pit and kept receiving puffs from others throughout the next few songs as the smell of weed infused the humid air. He spat most of his opening verse on “Insane in the Brain” while surfing the crowd.
The energy never died, though it fell occasionally in spite of the performers, then rose again until the night’s explosive double-headed closer of Rage Against the Machine classics “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.”
While no one in Prophets of Rage would ever admit it, the concert felt like a reunion tour at times, and some of the classics have held up better than others. For instance, Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back” garnered more of a crowd response than “Miuzi” or Cypress Hill’s “(Rock) Superstar.”
The band has been criticized both for its vague political ambitions and its resale of yesteryear’s protest songs, with some even comparing its disillusioned rage to the vibe of a Trump rally.
While Prophets certainly could have gained credibility by creating more original songs, the packed audience shows a clear demand for rebellious, politically charged music. The band makes some hefty claims on its website, but no one is electing these guys into office yet.
As for making America “rage again,” you had to scout the pit area to see any moshing until “Killing in the Name” came on. Still, Chuck D threw his mic in the air and caught it without missing a beat. Morello played as if the future of the U.S. depended on it. Young men with Wu-Tang Clan and Suicidal Tendencies t-shirts thrashed and head-banged like they didn’t have to work on Monday.
It’s nice to know that these icons haven’t lost their edge, even if today’s music probably has.