After 2 Years of Silent COVID Compliance, Rage Against the Machine Returns
After two years of pandemic protocols, precautions, and prohibitions, Rage Against the Machine finally took the stage in Washington, D.C., for a long-anticipated, much-delayed reunion tour to shout fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.
At back-to-back concerts in a packed Capital One Arena, rock’s most radical band reinforced just how enduring its musical appeal is while adding a layer of awkward irony to the ideological project that runs through its lyrics.
Filling up a 20,000-person arena in a city where COVID fears still have people wearing masks outside is no mean feat—particularly when the cheapest tickets cost just under $200. It’s doubly impressive for a band that hasn’t released a full-length album of original material this century.
Rage’s Tuesday night show provided ample evidence for why people turned out. It was a tight, energetic performance one might have expected of a band half its age. The lack of new material didn’t matter much to an audience eager to rap along to well-worn classics like “Take the Power Back,” “Know Your Enemy,” and “Testify.”
But if its music and performance have managed to stay fresh, Rage’s message can’t help but feel rather stale and ordinary, given how politics has shaken out since its heyday—and particularly over the past couple years that its reunion tour has been delayed.
The lyrical themes of Rage Against the Machine are a whirlwind of historical references and contemporary 1990s polemics—a merger of old-school hippie paranoia about the security state (“Hoover, he was a body remover”) with fresher attacks on an American-led post–Cold War order (“NAFTA comin’ with tha new disaster”).
Tying it all together is a rejection of “the system” itself as racist, exploitative, and inherently oppressive (“some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses”). Its broadsides against the FBI and U.S. foreign policy will ea
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