(Above: Supergroup Prophets of Rage “Shut ’em Down” on Labor Day 2016 in Kansas City, Mo. Guitarist Tom Morello dedicated the song to the late Thomas Young, a Kansas City native and Iraq war veteran who was the subject of the documentary “Body of War.”)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
For nearly two relentless hours at Providence Amphitheater in Bonner Springs on Monday night, supergroup Prophets of Rage made good on their promise to make America rage again.
Frustrated by all presidential candidates and the current political landscape, three quarters of Rage Against the Machine, rapper B-Real from Cypress Hill and MC Chuck D and DJ Lord from Public Enemy came together to protest through very loud, antagonistic music.
The set list drew from everyone’s catalog, but it leaned heavily on Rage Against the Machine material. B-Real and Chuck D alternated lead vocals from song to song, for the most part; each man took the lead on his own group’s material.
It took both to make up for the absence of Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha. Although accomplished vocalists in their own right, the pair lacked de la Rocha’s aggression.
The three instrumentalists (and DJ) had more than enough firepower to overcome any minor vocal shortcomings. Throughout its heyday in the 1990s, Rage Against the Machine functioned with unblinking intensity, both musically and in its left-wing, populist politics.
Those elements were front and center all night. The only time the show backed off the throttle was for a medley of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill songs, halfway through. Backed only by DJ Lord onstage, Chuck D and B-Real waded into the crowd to deliver a handful of hits. B-Real even delivered “Insane in the Brain” while crowd surfing.
Several of the night’s biggest numbers came from Rage Against the Machine’s first, self-titled album, now more than 20 years old. “Bullet in the Head” inspired a several sizable pockets of moshing. The material only showed its age when B-Real rapped about “moving into ’92” on “Know Your Enemy,” and one realized a lyric’s venom was directed at the first Gulf War.
Early in the night, the band pulled off a neat trick, pairing the music for “Cochise” with the lyrics from “She Watches Channel Zero.” Another later attempt proved less successful when the music from the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ’Till Brooklyn” was set against “Fight the Power.”
Amid all the familiar material flying around, the group sneaked a new song into the set. “The Party’s Over” received no official announcement, but blended well and kept the crowd moving.
Rage’s Tom Morello is one of the most innovative guitarists of his generation. His style combines avant-noise techniques with turntable cutting and scratching and rock melodies.
The crowd was treated to several extended guitar solos. During a cover of Public Enemy’s “Shut ’Em Down,” Chuck D directed Morello and DJ Lord through call-and-response solos.
On “Testify,” Morello’s solo was generated by mashing the plug from his guitar cord around in his palm. When Morello flipped up his guitar to play with his teeth on “Brooklyn,” he revealed a large “Nobody for President” sign taped to the back of his instrument.
The amphitheater was far from full. The lawn was closed off and there were plenty of empty seats. The opening notes of “Run” sent many fans scrambling to their seats to catch Awolnation’s set. Their 45-minute performance included hits “Burn It Down,” “Sail” and “Kill Your Heroes.” Rage bass player Tim Commerford opened the night with a set from his prog/punk trio Wakrat.
Setlist: Prophets of Rage; Guerrilla Radio; Bombtrack; Cochise/She Watches Channel Zero; People of the Sun; Miuzi Weighs a Ton; Take the Power Back; Rock Superstar; Testify; Medley: Hand on the Pump/Can’t Truss It/Insane in the Brain/Bring the Noise/I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That/Welcome to the Terrordome/Jump Around > Sleep Now in the Fire; Calm Like a Bomb; Bullet in the Head; Shut ‘Em Down; Know Your Enemy; Party’s Over; No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn/Fight the Power; Bulls on Parade; Killing in the Name.