Red stars, political diatribes, raised fists. It can only be Rage Against the Machine, a band who’ve always worn their ideological hearts on their musical sleeves. Which makes it quite disconcerting that rock’s champions of socialism should charge the very capitalist sum of €65.70 for their fans to witness the band’s first Dublin gig in over a decade. Especially when there’s no new material on offer.
But enough political wrangling. Tonight is all about the music and with scarcely a single weak link in their back catalogue, the prospect of seeing RATM in concert is one State has long been looking forward too. The sense of anticipation in the air is almost tangible tonight and it reaches fever pitch as the the lights go out and the wailing of air raid sirens echoes around the auditorium. Taking the microphone, Zack de la Rocha makes the announcement: “We’re Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California!” And thousands of voices in the crowd shout the words along with him. Then, as the group kickstart their set with ‘Testify’, all the pent-up energy is unleashed and the venue becomes one heaving mass of bodies.
The song selection offers up few surprises but as they tear through signature tracks like ‘People of the Sun’, ‘Bulls on Parade’ and ‘Know Your Enemy’, it’s clear that RATM have lost none of their fire, performing those numbers with the same sense of anger and discontent as when they were first penned. The musicianship is tight as hell, too and, unlike many other recently-revived ‘heritage’ acts, the band actually appear to be enjoying their time on stage together.
De la Rocha, as always, uses his podium to make political statements and tonight his chief message is to express the group’s support for the Irish activists aboard the MV Rachel Corrie – the blockade-running ship that recently attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. He also makes reference to the Greek financial crisis, though his take on the situation leads to a few puzzled faces in the crowd. He goes on to pay tribute to another musician activist – Joe Strummer – before the band strike-up a full-throttle version of The Clash’s ‘White Riot’.
By now the entire audience is drenched in sweat and carrying bruises sustained in the countless circle pits that have sprung up but still there’s a flurry of flailing arms, hair and the occasional crowdsurfer. The charged atmosphere in The O2 at this moment could surely power the national grid. Momentary respite comes when Tom Morello plays one of his trademark guitar solos – everyone stops to watch those. Finally, the familiar intro to ‘Killing In the Name’ is the signal for the masses to give everything they’ve got left. Which they do. And then some.
It may have been played to death by DJs but now the song is re-energised and providing a pulsating crescendo to the performance, with the frantic crowd yelling the anti-authoritarian lyrics and the four figures on stage now expending as much energy as their fans. Guitars are thrown away with abandon as the last chord is struck and as Rage Against the Machine depart the stage they leave thousands of exhausted individuals in their wake – some hobbling, some bleeding – but each one of them even more devoted to the cause than ever. To paraphrase another politician: they came, they saw, they conquered.
Photos: Kieran Frost