The Rage Against The Machine reunion tour is finally here, bringing with it the band’s first concerts in Canada in well over twenty years. Dubbed The Public Service Announcement Tour, the reunion was first announced in 2020, when the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, sparked mass protests worldwide and brought back that sentiment of anger and distrust in the system captured in RATM’s music. After being rescheduled twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were finally able to kick off the tour just a couple weeks ago, and will be hitting cities in both North America and Europe over the next several months.
For the Toronto fan base, Rage Against The Machine hasn’t performed here since their 1999 tour for their third album, The Battle of Los Angeles. Having since gone on multiple hiatuses, the legacy of their discography has been able to grow over the decades, and the band is now able to fill up Scotiabank Arena for two nights, both with fans who have been waiting to see them again since the ’90s and fans who are only just now getting to see them perform live for the first time. For me personally, this would be my first time seeing Rage Against The Machine perform live, not counting the Prophets of Rage tour in 2016, which had Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real performing some RATM covers with the original band members backing them. It’s just not the same without the original lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha bringing that energy only he could embody, and you could tell this crowd was hyped to see the full band back together again.
Joining Rage Against The Machine on this tour would be my favourite rap group of the past ten years, Run The Jewels. The duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P have been making aggressive protest music which calls out systemic injustices for about a decade now, bringing to Hip-Hop in the 2010s and ’20s what Rage Against The Machine brought to Rock music back in the ’90s. Having them open for RATM seems like a no-brainer, given how Zack de la Rocha has made guest appearances on each of their last three albums, the most collaborations he’s done outside of RATM. I’ve been to every single Run The Jewels concert in Toronto since they formed the group, and was super hyped to see them rock this arena-sized crowd after seeing them start off at the tiny Hoxton nightclub back in 2013.
Fans who showed up early could admire the Run The Jewels hand logo hanging above the stage, this time being the updated version from their 2020 RTJ4 album, which they’ve been waiting two years to take on tour. Killer Mike and El-P got on stage promptly around 8pm, and they opened up with their first Zack de la Rocha collab from their 2014 RTJ2 album, “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck).” Hopeful fans who wanted to see the collaboration live on stage were let down early, as Zack never came out to perform his guest verses with Run The Jewels. Still, it was an epic way to open up the stage for the evening, with the sample of De La Rocha’s vocals in the beat ringing through the arena.
Starting off hype from the beginning, Run The Jewels continued with the first track off their latest album, “Yankee and the Brave,” followed by the classic “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1.” While these were some of the most energetic songs they could perform to start off the night, the seats in the arena were slow to be filled, and the general admission floor crowd didn’t seem familiar enough to open up the mosh pit like we’d normally see at a smaller-venue RTJ show. Killer Mike and El-P brought the energy to the stage regardless, rocking the RTJ4 single “Ooh La La” followed by classic crowd pleasers “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Legend Has It,” getting the crowd to chant along to their hooks. After rocking some familiar routines, RTJ pulled out another new joint off of RTJ4, “Ju$t,” still without Zack de la Rocha there to rock his vocals but with DJ Trackstar chopping up a sample from their throwback “Get It” to replace part of the Pharrell Williams hook, making for a nice added touch.
Run The Jewels would rock some throwbacks for the day-one fans, performing the self-titled track “Run The Jewels” off the first album for a major crowd reaction, followed by the DJ Shadow classic “Nobody Speak.” They’d then close out their set with a couple last RTJ4 tracks, getting the crowd to bounce to the politically-driven “Walking In The Snow” and building up one last burst of energy with “A Few Words For The Firing Squad (Radiation).” While the heavy RTJ fans were vibing throughout the whole set, you could tell that this crowd was mostly waiting for the headliners to show up, as the mosh pit never got as hyped as past shows Run The Jewels have done in Toronto, and the set ended abruptly right at the end of their time slot, with no encore. There was time for a break to use the washroom and refill drinks as Rage Against The Machine’s gear got set up on stage.
Once Rage Against The Machine’s gear was set up, the crowd applauded as Zack de la Rocha was carried on stage and placed to sit on a monitor in front of the drums – he had suffered a leg injury on just the second show of the tour in Chicago and hadn’t been able to walk on his own since. Still determined to rock on, the band opened up their set with track one off their 1992 debut album, Rage Against The Machine, and Zack was able to rip through his vocals on “Bombtrack.” The mosh pit was open, crowd surfers could be seen getting carried across the general admission floor, and the fans were shouting the lyrics in unison as the band continued with the first couple tracks off 1996’s Evil Empire, “People Of The Sun” and “Bulls On Parade.” For many in the crowd, this moment was over twenty years in the making, and they brought the energy to show it.
Rage Against The Machine continued on with the celebration of their classic songs, giving “Bullet In The Head” an extended drum and bass solo, cranking the energy with the familiar guitar riffs on “Testify,” and Tom Morello showing off his wicked guitar skills on “Take The Power Back,” playing his instrument above his head. They’d get the building shaking with “Wake Up” before taking a short break with images of police officers on the jumbo screen. Tom Morello would use the break to swap to a different guitar, and the band came back with the energy cranked for “Guerrilla Radio” and “Down Rodeo.” The crowd stayed hyped the entire time, as the mosh pit never stopped and the crowd surfers continued to glide.
The band continued to rock out to fan favourites, with the crowd shouting along to the lyrics from “Know Your Enemy” and “Calm Like A Bomb.” We grooved out to the up-tempo “Sleep Now In The Fire,” Brad Wilk killing a drum solo in the middle of the song, and raged to “War Within a Breath.” RATM had good representation from each of their albums throughout the set list, and threw in just one track from their cover album Renegades, performing a cover a Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” The tail end of the show would be focused on their classic debut, as they performed throwbacks like “Freedom” and “Township Rebellion.”
Of course to close out the show, Rage tore the house down with an epic performance of “Killing In The Name.” Zack switched up some of the lyrics in the second verse to say “some of those who burn crosses, are the same to go to office,” and by the time we reached the bridge, the house lights came on to show all the fans in the building shouting out the famous lyrics “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!!”. After absolutely killing it, Zack slammed his mic to the ground, Tom tossed his guitar high in the air for a crewman to catch, and the band members embraced at the front of the stage to thunderous applause. Some fans chanted for an encore, but there would be none, as the crew members carried Zack off the stage and began packing up the band’s gear.
While Rage Against The Machine is a very political band, they didn’t do any talking during their set and never paused for any special Public Service Announcements, instead just letting the music speak for itself. The fans knew all the songs and the band didn’t even need to give any guidance for participation, Zack just needed to hold his mic out and the fans knew to join in with the lyrics. Zack’s leg injury also did not hinder his performance at all, as he was still able to rock out from his seat and deliver all the right energy to the microphone. Whether you waited over twenty years for RATM to return to Toronto, or you were just seeing them for the first time, the building was filled with fans who had been waiting to rage out to these songs, and the band gave them exactly that.
Rage Against The Machine will be returning to Scotiabank Arena for a second show on July 23rd, 2022.
Check out this playlist of Run The Jewels concert videos from all the times I’ve seen them over the years.
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.