After 2 years of silent COVID compliance, Rage Against the Machine returns
After two years of pandemic protocols, precautions and bans, Rage Against the Machine finally took the stage in Washington, D.C. for a long-awaited and much-delayed reunion tour to scream fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.
In back-to-back gigs in a packed Capital One Arena, rock’s most radical band has reinforced just how enduring their musical appeal is while adding a layer of awkward irony to the ideological project that runs through their lyrics.
Packing a 20,000-person arena in a city where COVID fears still have people wearing masks outside is no small feat, especially when the cheapest tickets are just under $200. That’s doubly impressive for a band that hasn’t released a full album of original material in this century.
Tuesday night’s Rage show provided plenty of evidence as to why people showed up. It was a tight, energetic performance one would expect from a band that is half their age. The lack of new material didn’t matter much to an audience eager to rap over well-worn classics like “Take the Power Back,” “Know Your Enemy,” and “Testify.”
But while his music and performances have managed to stay fresh, Rage’s message can’t help but feel rather outdated and ordinary, given the way politics has rocked since its heyday, and especially over the past few years. last two years where his reunion tour was delayed.
Rage Against the Machine’s lyrical themes are a whirlwind of historical references and contemporary 1990s polemics – an amalgamation of old-school hippie paranoia about the state of security (“Hoover, he was a body stripper “) with more recent attacks on an American-led group. the post-Cold War order (“NAFTA comin’ with tha new catastrophe”).
Tying it all together is a rejection of the “system” itself as racist, exploitative and inherently oppressive (“some of those who work are the same ones who burn crosses”). His attacks on the FBI and American foreign policy will easily resonate with libertarians. Attacks on consumerism and free trade will not.
Seen in the context of the decade in which the group was created, there was something refreshing and unbiased about these attacks on a “machine” whose oppressive nature has not changed much from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.
But keeping it all fresh and distinctive has been a challenge. That’s partly because many of Rage’s once-radical ideas have become fundamentally mainstream.
Tackling globalization was a little bolder in the 1990s when Democrats and Republicans were broadly supportive. The headliner of Rage guitarist Tom Morello’s “Rock against the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)” tour in 2016 was less courageous when you consider that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump also spoke out against this lowly free trade Agreement.
Similarly, the group drew cheers when they played “Supreme Court Drop” text on a giant screen during Tuesday’s DC broadcast. We could probably have received the same message by turning on MSNBC.
The disappearance of the distinctiveness of Rage’s political brand is less disappointing than the band’s failure to apply its message of radical nonconformity to the problem of the last two years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long series of machines telling people what to do, whether it’s to stay indoors and social distancing, to wear masks or get vaccinated. . Rage Against the Machine has been remarkably quiet about all of this.
I am not aware of any member of the group going so far as to endorse lockdowns or other pandemic measures. Morello appeared to criticize Mandates in 2020 when responding on Twitter to the hilarious rumor that the group was helping President Joe Biden promote mask wearing and social distancing. But he was also incredibly dismissive of the idea that anyone would do anything but listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and self-isolate.
Radical leftists may think the COVID-19 restrictions were a prudent and effective way to control a deadly virus. Maybe the system got that one right. But if he can be trusted to properly call pandemic politics, what remains of the radical critique that the very existence of the machine is an intolerable exploitation? If we can trust man to enforce a lockdown order, do we really need revolution?
It’s a question many on America’s radical left have struggled to answer throughout the pandemic. Their basic approach to COVID-19 was not that different from the elite consensus of paying people to stay home and wait out the virus. The early anti-lockdown protests were an almost exclusively right-wing affair. And when leftists backed away from pandemic protocols during the George Floyd protests of summer 2020, mainstream liberals largely nodded in agreement.
It’s a similar story with rock music in general. With the exception of some old fogies with a history of right-wing politics (like Eric Clapton), once-rebellious musicians seem to have largely accepted the pandemic restrictions that have made much of their industry illegal. Even when fans were ready to ditch their masks, some performers demanded that the crowd keep them on.
If radical left politics and rock music have both largely accepted the safe state of COVID-19, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that the band that best fuses the two has it. also done. That doesn’t make his music any less stunning, even if it deflates the seriousness of his message.