Rage Against the Machine, Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI- 8/24
The tour shirts did not lie. This truly was the Battle of Alpine Valley. A giant flag with a five-pointed red star was the only thing one could see from behind. Ahead, people were falling down into elbow-deep mud, only to get up and then fall again. I had one friend tear knee ligaments and another break his damn tibia. It was like the scene of a horrible mudslidemud-covered victims struggling to reach the top of America’s largest lawn, cars spinning their slowly sinking tires in pools of muck and dirt, and not a dry cigarette in the whole place. After over a week of torrential downpours, thunderstorms, and of course the Friday night, sold-out Rage Against the Machine show, Alpine Valley Music Theater looked like a natural disaster zone.
Rumor had it they were still pulling cars from the mess at 5 a.m., and having been one of the lucky ones with four-wheel drive, I would believe it. I’ve never seen Alpine more ripped to shit, and I’m sure it was an interesting couple of evenings for the 80,000 Dave Matthews fans who were in attendance the next two nights.
As the evening progressed through an extremely loud and indiscernible Queens of the Stone Age set, gigantic circles of mud formed where no human being could stand on two legs, much less jump around to the fierce sound about to be put out by one of this era’s most talented and influential rock acts. Even after a nearly 7-year hiatus (not counting a couple of shows at Coachella and Rock the Bells earlier this summer), a collective fire still burns intensely within Rage Against the Machine. The group’s unique blend of rock, rap, and funk simmered on stage at the bottom of Alpine’s ski-hill, and the seething mass that was collecting there via chutes of mud and grass didn’t even seem to take notice of the dire conditions.
In fact, this same seething mass didn’t seem to notice frontman Zach de la Rocha addressing the East Troy, Wisconsin crowd as Chicago.’ Twice. Truth is, he probably could have called them Cleveland and they wouldn’t have cared. I really didn’t care either. I’ve been called worse. Everyone just wanted to rock out in the mud, whether or not their legs still had functioning bones or ligaments.
There were no real surprises with the setlist, nor were there any new songs played. Fans knew what they were getting when they signed up for this thing. They knew they were going to get ferocious renditions of “Bulls on Parade” and “People of the Sun,” a politically charged “Sleep Now in the Fire,” and a show-closing “Killing in the Name.” One fan, after crashing through a row of bushes that he wasn’t supposed to, simply exclaimed, “This is just like their albums, only louder. It’s fucking awesome.” I’ve never heard a more honest assessment of live music. Rage’s songs play like a stereo out of control, and whether you like Tom Morello shredding guitar or de la Rocha spitting verbal assaults, their music pumps your heart and stretches your nerves with every ounce of energy they have.
During “Wake Up,” an angry de la Rocha addressed the crowd with a short soliloquy that bashed a certain administration’s war, accused Fox News of twisting his words, and called on all in attendance to break down the system we live in generation by generation. “They aren’t afraid of four musicians from Los Angeles,” screamed de la Rocha. “They’re afraid of YOU!” It was a rally cry, a further indication that Rage’s current string of comeback shows is not merely a plot to stir up excitement for a new album, but a strong and intense effort to provoke a change. A change in this world nowadays does come slowly, often with great hardship and difficulty. But even if it does take generations to accomplish something betterwhatever that may beit does indeed have to start somewhere.
In the end, perhaps the conditions were appropriate. Rage’s message is to react to the world that is falling apart around you, and that is certainly what nearly 40,000 people were doing while rain and mud tried to suck them and their cars into the earth. After the show, as I was sitting in my Jeep wondering how a rock concert in the midst of such desolate conditions could change the way people think and act, I asked a girl passing by if she had a dry cigarette to spare.
“You can have my last two,” she said.
There is hope.