“Make America rage again,” the ticket stub read Sunday night at Gexa Energy Pavilion.
A quick spin around the internet and its comment sections would indicate Americans are plenty piqued about nearly every facet of life, so the invitation from the supergroup Prophets of Rage to unleash anger seemed, on its face, to be somewhat unnecessary.
That is, until Public Enemy’s DJ Lord stepped out onto the stage just before 9 p.m., cued up a recording of Jimi Hendrix’s still-incendiary rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner and the fists — and middle fingers — began to rise up from the scrum of humanity gathered in the pit.
It was a striking image, and a vivid reminder that, for all of the politcal turmoil consuming the country, perhaps an outlet to work through complicated feelings about America was more essential than it seemed. There are worse ways to blow off steam than losing your mind at a concert for a couple hours.
Prophets of Rage is a marriage of convenience, if not also necessity.
The 2016 presidential race has elicited any number of striking reactions, and, particularly given the near-apocalyptic tenor of our modern moment, it seems utterly inconceivable that someone as passionately outspoken as Tom Morello would sit quietly at home and watch the world tear itself apart.
As the activist and guitarist said late Sunday, “The message of this tour is a simple one: The world is not going to change on its own; that’s up to you. I’m here to encourage you to fight for the world you really want ... a world where you don’t have to be afraid of being killed by a drone in the Middle East or by a cop in the United States of America.” (He switched between guitars Sunday alternately painted with phrases like “Arm the homeless” and “Soul power.”)
A sextet assembled from three-fourths of Rage Against the Machine (Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk), the influential rap-rock band from the early ‘90s, as well as members of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill’s B-Real, Prophets of Rage (which takes its name from the Public Enemy track) seethes and stomps, although it doesn’t always cohere.
Particularly when trying to bridge the gaps between Public Enemy’s progressive hip-hop, Cypress Hill’s menacing, weed-addled oeuvre and RATM’s scorching polemics — the evening was punctuated by a 10-minute interlude where Chuck D and B-Real unleashed a medley of hits, their own and others’, that felt airlifted in from a different, less angsty concert — the seams would show.
The Achilles heel of the band, which delivered an often magnetic, occasionally ragged 105-minute set Sunday before an abysmally small crowd (Gexa’s lawn was, for all practical purposes, empty, with swaths of open seats visible under the awning), is that it’s missing the spark of vocalist-rapper Zach de la Rocha, whose desperate, determined voice animated RATM’s most visceral songs.
B-Real and Public Enemy’s Chuck D do an admirable job approximating de la Rocha’s frenetic flow, but neither man possesses the urgent charisma needed to lift songs like Take the Power Back, Guerrilla Radio or Sleep Now in the Fire to the realm of transcendent.
Still, there were moments, as during Bullet in the Head, where everything clicked into place, and the raw potency of lyrics like “Just victims of the in-house drive-by/They say jump, you say how high” hit like a sledgehammer. The angry whine and bite of Morello’s guitar coupled with the crashing drums and B-Real’s staccato vocals inspired a frenzy that raced through the crowd like electricity.
It was frustration giving way to catharsis — however temporarily, America was letting itself rage again.