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On the road again

Rage Against the Machine - Reading festival - review

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IN 1992 a politically-charged foursome hit the rock music scene with a track that would mark them as one of the most recognisable bands of all time.
Killing in the Name would cause controversy among the musical tut-tutters and would ingrain itself into the sub-conscious of young fans the world over. With no fewer than 17 repetitions of the f-word it would fast become an anthem for the disaffected and would be the title track to the lives of those who wanted to rebel against the expected norms of governmental rule but had no clout with which to do it.
The song would symbolise the power, aggression and sheer, unadulterated passion that can be captured by just 5mins 14secs of controversial lyrics and ear-shattering guitar.
It would become the signature track of Rage Against The Machine.
Now, 16 years and four albums later - and after a hiatus of seven years, Rage are back and they're as determined as ever to fight the 'system', albeit with a few more American dollars in their back pockets.
But despite the no-doubt attractive incentive to reform in April 2007, political activists Zac de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk are as convincing as ever as “just four musicians from Los Angeles” who want to change the world.
Striding onto the Reading main stage in orange jumpsuits and with black sacks over their heads – giving more than a passing nod to what they see as the humanitarian crisis in Guantanamo Bay – they launch, after a brief heads-bowed pause, into Bombtrack and send thousands of supercharged fans into a surging frenzy.
As the sweat rises in thick clouds from the mass of heaving bodies before the stage, de la Rocha and co plough on through what was the first track on their debut self-titled album, piling more and more urgency into their performance with every barre.
Dozens of people in the front-and-center mosh pits collapse to the floor as the unstoppable surges become ever-more powerful yet the band steams on regardless, delivering their message to the world in the only way they know how.
It's chaos. It's all-encompassing. It's the only thing happening of any importance on the planet at that moment in time.
For many who never thought they'd see the day when Rage Against The Machine perform, it's the chance to realise their dream as the band, now sans jumpsuits, drop into Testify from their third studio album, The Battle of Los Angeles.
The 90-minute set continues through a total of 14 tracks – every one a winner – and if highlights had to be chosen then Bullet in the Head, Ashes in the Fall and Calm Like a Bomb are certainly among them.
Mid-way through Wake Up comes the expected political monologue, with de la Rocha calling for the Bush Administration and Tony Blair to be brought before a war crimes tribunal. Although the heart-felt message is no doubt lost among the vast majority it's an impassioned call that raises the hypothetical roof. Where many musicians have half-heartedly tried and failed before, this man knows how to make his point about a cause, and his arrest record in the US proves it beyond doubt. This man means every word he says.
There's no let-up at all during the headlining set and the crowd continues its relentless and injurious surging, building itself up to the finale that everyone knows is coming.
And Killing in the Name gets the reaction it deserves. The mosh pits go mental at the opening Morello riff. The crush intensifies beyond anything imaginable or even tolerable. The thousands of Rage fans have finally reached the point for which they have been baying.
To say the reaction is crazy just doesn't do it justice. This is like nothing you will have ever seen at a gig before and are unlikely to ever see again.
Then all-too-suddenly Rage Against The Machine are gone. They're off to play the Leeds leg of the festival tomorrow where security would stop the set for three minutes while the frenzied crowd sorts itself out.
Many are speechless at the event they have just witnessed because in a musical world populated by one hit wonders and flash-in-the-pan 'sensations' they never realised that music could be so fundamentally powerful.
For many, myself included despite having seen this phenomenal outfit twice before, if they never see another gig again they'll die happy.

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