Monday, July 30, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 5: Rock The Bells (New York, Day 1)

(As seen on MTV and Okayplayer)

Under a full moon on a hazy, starless New York Saturday night, one giant red Zapatista star shined for tens of thousands of people as Rage Against The Machine played their second show since disbanding almost seven years ago.

With a simple “we’re Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles, California,” frontman Zach De La Rocha launched into the final, fiery set of Rock The Bells’ first night in Randall’s Island, and second night of the tour.

De La Rocha and company barreled through songs like “Testify,” “Bulls On Parade,” and “Vietnow” without missing a note. The band played tight and cohesively, with Tom Morello pulling out all the stops and reminding us why he is one of music’s best guitarists, as his Che Guevara-clad amplifier stared back ominously.

On a day filled with strong political statements, it was De La Rocha’s choice words at the end of “Wake Up” that truly hit the hardest.

“[President Bush] should be brought to trial as a war criminal and should be hung and shot,” De La Rocha said in response to a Rage Against The Machine criticism in April by “those fascist motherfuckers at the Fox News Network.”

De La Rocha further criticized what he believes is the United States’ dependency on starting wars with helpless countries in order to remain a world superpower, and encouraged the audience to resist the American occupation of Iraq like the Iraqi youth have. The band ended its set with “Killing In The Name,” changing the second verse’s lyrics to “some of those that burn crosses are the same that hold office,” as the massive crowd morphed into a chaotic mosh pit.

Earlier in the evening, the eight living members of the Wu-Tang Clan united under a giant black and white Shaolin Temple banner to breeze through a concise hour-long set, consisting mostly of pre-1999 classics. The group paid tribute to the deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard with energetic renditions of “Shame On A Nigga” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” The sea of thousands in attendance held their hands up in a “W” that blocked the stage for most, while everyone gladly sang along.

Method Man gave the wildest performance, often encouraging the audience to bring more energy, as he dove from the stage several times. Redman made a surprise appearance to assist Meth on “Da Rockwilder.”

After plowing through “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Protect Ya Neck,” and “Reunited,” the Clan left the stage with a full performance of the epic “Triumph,” reminding the fans that its new album, 8 Diagrams, will be out soon.

Cypress Hill entertained the crowd with hits like “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” “Latin Thugs” and “Insane In The Brain,” before closing out with “Rock Superstar.” At one point, during “I Wanna Get High,” a giant inflatable Buddha appeared onstage, as rapper B-Real lit up a joint and percussionist Bobo took a hit from a yard-long bong.

The Roots, joined onstage by Philadelphia-quartet Brass Heaven, delivered a tight set high on songs, and low on their typical covers and extended solos. Unfortunately, the crowd reception was lukewarm even to hits like “Next Movement” and “The Seed 2.0.” On the hottest day in New York since Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, most were impatiently anxious to see Rage Against The Machine and Wu-Tang.

Public Enemy, flanked by its band and S1W security team, began their highly political set with crowd-pleasers like “Bring the Noise” (with Scott Ian of Anthrax on guitar), “Welcome To The Terrordome” and “He Got Game,” with Chuck D often inserting his opinions about the Bush administration. Sadly, the set was derailed when Flavor Flav decided to steal the spotlight. With Chuck D and Professor Griff visibly upset, Flav hogged the microphone for the last 20 minutes, insisting on thanking the audience for his VH1 success, introducing his three children, and showing off a new drum beat.

Talib Kweli showed his reinvigorated stage prowess with “I Try,” “Too Late,” and “Move Something.” When Mos Def appeared for Black Star staples “Definition” and “Respiration,” their set peaked. From there, Mos Def spiraled downward with a disjointed and unorganized collection of freestyles and subpar recent material like “Ghetto Rock.” The crowd, already drained from heat exhaustion and dehydration, stopped caring. Only last-minute renditions of “Brown Skin Lady, “Ms. Fat Booty” and “Get By” were able to save Black Star’s set from the audience’s apathy.

The on-again, off-again duo EPMD, 19 years into their career, delivered a brief and uninspired performance of their early singles. But with 1992’s “Headbanger” being the newest song performed, the young audience responded with tepidity.

Pharoahe Monch, along with his new band, performed mostly newer material, including “Push,” and “Let’s Go.” Once again, the crowd was indifferent until he played his biggest singles, “My Life” and “Simon Says,” which seemingly awoke the dead as many jumped up and down.

Peruvian MC Immortal Technique, joined onstage by Poisen Pen, Pumpkinhead, Diabolic and PackFM, rushed through “Peruvian Cocaine” and “Industrial Revolution,” often voicing his leftist political beliefs regarding President Bush, and the effect the American government has on Central and South American countries. He concluded the set with his controversial song “Bin Laden.”

Jedi Mind Tricks, the first act to perform, received an atypically excited reaction from the eager, early-arriving crowd. Scheduled opener David Banner was a no-show.

Rapper Supernatural and beatboxer Rahzel were the between-set entertainment, and appropriately kicked the entire show off with an improvised performance of LLCoolJ’s “Rock The Bells.”