There were no blues for Rage Against the Machine at Bluesfest

I’m not an overly emotional person when it comes to music. I’m also not a spiritual person but seeing Rage Against the Machine play at Bluesfest, last week was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I think I’ll have in my lifetime.

Rage at Bluesfest

Rage took the stage at 9:25 pm prompt. The sky was dark and the sun disappeared in the distance some 30 minutes before. Zack de la Rocha was carried in by a two-stage crew and sat on a platform in front of a roaring crowd that I have heard was 30,000 strong. Unsure how de la Rocha would handle the pain in his leg, the crowd cheered and several people were reminded of the injury he suffered mere days before in Chicago during the band’s second show in 11 years.

And like baptism, the crowd was bathed in de la Rocha’s powerful lyrics and Tom Morello’s perfect guitar riffs.

Therapy through music

They opened with Bombtrack, one of my all-time favourite Rage songs, followed by People of the Sun and Bulls on Parade. By the end of that third song, I could feel years of frustration with family, politics and injustice festering to the surface. Instead of pure anger, it was like Rage took my hand and said, “it’s okay, we feel your frustration too”. As I said, I’m not a spiritual person but I was experiencing something special.

Ottawa Bluesfest Setlist

Just because sh-t went south in the States, Canada isn’t off the hook

This was Rage’s first Canadian concert since 1999 and they didn’t let Canada off the hook plastering their backdrop with statistics about missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as a haunting “Land Back” message to the crowd. 

For some bands, their songs don’t age well. They are written for a specific time and place and they remain there. Rage songs are as relevant today as they were in 1992, 1996, and 1999 as much as it pains me to say that. Consider Killing in the Name which was inspired by the Rodney King beatings and subsequent 1992 Los Angeles riots. In that song Zack emotionally calls out, “some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses”.

On Friday, Rage adjusted their lyrics perfectly and subtly to “some of those that hold office, are the same that burn crosses”. This isn’t the first time the band has done so, and examples of this change can be seen back in 2003 at the Grand Olympic Auditorium. But looking to our neighbours to the South, and their recent appalling overturning of Roe v. Wade in the supreme court, it finds its way nicely flowing off the tongue in 2022. 

The song crescendos to “F-ck you, I won’t do what you tell me”. Let me tell you, there is something damn therapeutic about shouting that in solidarity with 30,000 other people alongside a musical presence such as Rage Against the Machine.

Isn’t Rage part of the machine?

For those of you, that point your fingers at Rage Against the Machine and laugh in your “bro” or “chad” voices and stupidly say, “dude, they are raging against the machine but they are part of the machine”. Congratulations Chad, but Morello (who has an honours degree from Harvard in Political Science) and de la Rocha have words for you:

When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels. Would Noam Chomsky object to his works being sold at Barnes & Noble? No, because that’s where people buy their books. We’re not interested in preaching to just the converted. It’s great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it’s also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart.

Tom Morello (2007)

Yeah, to get as many people as possible to join the political debate, to get the dialogue going. I was wondering today, why would anyone climb to the roof of the American Embassy with a banner that says “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal”, why do you do that? That’s to get the international press’ attention. The international network that Sony has available, is to me the perfect tool you know, it can get even more people to join a revolutionary awareness and fight.

Zack de la Rocha (2012)

At the end of the day

At the end of the day, I have one photo from the show, a Stranger Things-Esque stage bathed in red, the perfect colour for the storm that was brewing in front of us. I watched and listened intensely as the band painted a canvas of the injustice in the world uniting 30,000 people for an hour and a half but I would argue, for a lifetime. You could feel, even a wounded de la Rocha’s pent-up frustration with more than four years of Republican Trumpism. A feeling that I think resonated with the crowd after our own mini attempt at insurrection with the Freedom Convoy 2022 this past winter.

Red stage at the Rage Against the Machine show at Bluesfest
Stranger Things-Esque stage.

He directed the crowd with his hands, commanding the stage even perched upon his monitor with a clipped wing (leg). With other shows, you take out your phone and capture a few photos to prove you were there. For the 30,000 at Bluesfest that got to witness pure musical beauty, we witnessed near perfection on that stage. For those of you who disagree with me, “F-ck you, I won’t do what you tell me”. 

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