Rage Against The Machine
@ Makuhari Messe Kokusai Tenjijo (10th Feb. '08)
With a Pocket Full of Shells..
Zapatista flag at the ready? Check.
Che Guevara T-shirt taken off and tied around the bare the waist? Check.
One hundred dollar tickets? Check.
Smuggled pet bottles of milk tea and Pocari sweat? Check.
Then let's rage, dude!
It was a rare night in Japan when beer was harder to find than weed, but that didn't stop fans from enjoying the revolutionary rock manifesto of Rage Against The Machine at Makuhari Messe on the Sunday night before a holiday.
Most of the Tokyo RATM fans must have come to the sold out show the night before because the Messe, although full, was hardly sold out. There was no heavy metal parking lot to speak of with groups of kids blasting hard rock out of thundering car stereos, belching plumes of marijuana smoke, chugging cheap beer, and screaming "Fuck yeah!" at the tops of their lungs (which in North America is ubiquitous). No, it was a cold quiet walk through the car park to the main A-Block entrance where only a small subdued crowd of fans gathered around the yakisoba and drink vendor.
Here, piles of silver Asahi Super Dry cans littered the tables and floors as venue staff hurried to mop up the little puddles from empties and recycle after them. I didn't really understand why everyone chose to drink here, outside the main entrance rather than going in, but my friends and I joined them, lounging over a single brew after I had gathered my pass. Empty drink cans landed on the ground with audible clacks as people guzzled, downed, and otherwise imbibed various carbonated liquors, trying to reach the required level of concert buzz ASAP - like a silver bullet in the head.
We decided to refill the golden amber nectar once inside, so we headed off to hit the main B Block entrance (which involved what seemed like a half kilometer U-turn back out and around the building). Big mistake.
We descended the steps to the concourse and headed over to the first bevie
stall - only to find them beerless. D'oh! So we went to the next one -
same thing. Double d'oh! Apparently at Messe shows like this, you are
allowed to throw non-alcoholic oolong tea bottles, but not (formerly)
alcohol containing beer cans. Miffed, we stood and watched as person after
person walked up to the stands, and then walked away in disgust without
buying anything. One stand was smart enough to make a sign: No Alcohol. It was empty.
So we waited on the concourse with all the other people longing for beer, and watched the parade of black clothing and enthusiastic fans mull around with nothing to do but wait for the lights to dim and the rumble to begin.
About ten long minutes later, all and sundry surged into the "All Standing" venue, cheering and jumping as the house lights went down and the stage lights went up. The green flag with the centered red star, the symbol of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and RATM's signature backdrop, stood illuminated for all to reflect upon as Latin marching music trumpeted over the monitors.
"Good evening. We are Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California."
Opening with "Guerrilla Radio", the band had the crowd jumping up and down from the get go, but they were preaching to the choir here (musically speaking of course). By the time singer Zack de la Rocha got to his first expletive, invoking the crowd to "Turn that shit up!", they were already jumping up and down with fists in the air.
There were no speeches to made by de la Rocha this night. The Japanese crowd, while highly intent on the music, probably understand little of what is being said in the lyrics, except the Fuck-You-Mutherfucker-Bullet-in-the-head-I-won't-do-what-ya-tell-me refrains. To tell you the truth, while I know exactly what de la Rocha and band mates Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk are talking about, I couldn't on this night. Every time de la Rocha's voice slipped into anything resembling speech (and let's face it, he is rapping), the words became a muddy, blurry sound lost in the force of their blistering musical attack and the echo and bounce of the convention center's terrible acoustics.
Perhaps de la Rocha understood that anything he said would mostly likely be wasted on Japanese speaking audience. What he and the band did do instead was charge through the best songs from three albums worth of material. The only pauses were after songs for anti-establishment guitar hero Tom Morello to change axes before firing off more rounds of intense, politically motivated rap-metal-funk:
Pow! "Guerilla Radio".
They brought out the big guns for - POW! - "Bullet in the Head" and Morello treated the crowd to some of his signature guitar style solos: tapping the frets, using his pick-up selector switch, feedback, and occasionally the RCA lead plug form his guitar itself to create surreal sounds while bounding around stage left. Clad in his khaki RATM short sleeve shirt and U.N.I.T.E. baseball cap and wielding his "Arm the Homeless" guitar like an AK-47, Morello never slowed down.
More sonic barrage, with de la Rocha, fists in the air above his light afro, glaring at the crowd and defiantly urging them to do the same. Then it was:
Pow! "Bulls On Parade".
Pow! "Sleep Now In The Fire".
Enthusiastic but polite moshing was, of course, de rigueur. Tim Commerford's bass and Brad Wilk's relentless pounding behind the kit kept even the most involuntary muscle group bobbing and popping. If you weren't moving up and down, you must have been a dead man standing.
And then it was over. No see-you-next-time, keep-up-the-fight parting shots. No invocations to stand up and be counted. No calls to revolt. Just forty-five minutes of prime time angst. They still hadn't played "Killing In the Name", so it was obvious that they weren't going to leave Tokyo without playing their most famous battle cry.
They let the crowd cheer and chant for a few minutes before they took the stage once again, and whacked out - POW! - "Freedom", and then finally - POW! POW! - "Killing In the Name". The song everyone had come to hear and rage along with and...and...
And it was like listening to the album, except with 5,000 people moshing and sweating around you.
All in all it was good, hell it was great, but I couldn't help thinking to myself as Rage Against The Machine walked graciously off the stage; if you won't do what the man tells ya', why don't you play whatever you want, whenever you want? Go on, rock out two more numbers! It's only 8:10 p.m. on a holiday and I don't have to go to school in the morning!