Lollapalooza 2008 Day 2: Rage calls out Barack and, not surprsingly, creates some chaos
“It’s not anyone’s fault.” Those were the words still ringing in my ears as I left the semi-chaos that was the night’s true headliner (I think it’s safe to say Wilco had fewer fans tonight). Despite—or probably because of—their inspired performance, Rage Against the Machine’s set had major crowd control problems, replete with injuries, near-injuries and an air of foreboding tension.
Performing in front of a giant red star, the band plays right now with scintillating chemistry. Opening with “Testify,” which ended with de la Rocha screaming “The war is right outside your door!” was insane. Then, the sick “Bulls On Parade.” At which point, the thought occurred to me, “This is genuinely dangerous, incendiary music—but in a good way!” And I hadn’t even started to take in the crowd of at least 50,000 before me.
By midway through “People Of The Sun,” (incidentally, performed with incredible energy), de la Rocha pulled the plug. So huge and densely packed was the crowd that the people—not just hapless teenage girls, mind you—were getting their ribs crushed up front. De La Rocha did the absolute right thing (the only thing he could do) by delivering some words of calm. “Look out for each other,” went one. “Please take a few steps back,” went another. “We got a lot of fucked up shit on the streets, dirty politicians running things and now this war,” went one more. “We don’t need people coming to a Rage Against The Machine show to get hurt.” Thank you, Zack.
Then it starts to dawn on me that this is just a really bad cocktail, so to speak. As they launch into “Bomb Track” and “Know Your Enemy” and the exact same result happens—huge seas of people moshing or jumping while the non-participating get crushed—you realize Rage is sending mixed messages. On the one hand, “Stay calm.” On the other, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” to use a phrase from “Killing In The Name”. So if I’m a fan—and I am, I might add—I’m going to have a heck of a time figuring out which Zack I should pay attention to. Rage does not, it should be noted, make “crowd control” music.
Still, let’s talk about a bit more about the performance. De La Rocha was in incredible form, as was the rest of the band. Charging the stage to Morello’s detuned hard rock nightmares (Morello left his new guitar strings flagrantly hanging off the head of his guitar), he was as close to a genuine riot-inciter as I’ve seen (again, in a good way). He delivered a scathing diatribe on conventional politicians, warning tomorrow’s guest (we hope?) and the Democratic nominee that if another war starts in Afghanistan, the oppressed in this country will start to burn shit down. It was lefty, yes, but it was also a genuine, politicized statement. No pussyfooting around.
After viewing the show from the West side, I tried to make my way down into the field but the police had closed off one of the entrances and were only allowing people to exit there. I saw numerous mosh pits much further back north, where I had previously thought all the chaos was taking place. And all along the side of the field, the cheap wood fences had been trampled. One disturbing scene: A few 40ish Cubs fans (I know because they were decked in Cubs regalia) were camped out in the crowded slopes of the valley, harassing any girl that tried to pass through, and trying to cajole them to have a few smuggled beers with them. Ick.
Towards the end of the set, I ran into a shirtless Rage fan towards the back of the park, shivering in the nighttime chill. “Joe” came here from Seattle specifically for Rage and he had the physique of a running back. Still, he said he could only stay “down there” (among the few thousand die-hards) for four songs before he had to escape. His shirt had been torn off him and his ribs were being crushed. What’s more, there were others who were clearly not prepared for the huge rush. “People would try and lift some of these girls who had passed out up out of the crowd,” Joe said. “But they would just collapse before anyone could lift them up.” He also told me Rage almost never stops shows for crowd control and that this was the first time he’d seen them do so. The kicker: “Wow, what an amazing band,” he says.
Not to be academic about a catastrophic situation, but Rage delivered on their promise tonight. We were seeing De La Rocha’s anti-authoritarian call-to-arms manifest, right?
We’re only as good as our eyes and ears, though. What, dear readers, did you see out there? Leave your stories below.