Ever since the long-awaited Rage Against The Machine Public Service Announcement world tour first came into focus in early 2020, the illustrious rap-rock quartet’s trip to Madison Square Garden has stood out as a focal point of the itinerary.

What started as a two-night run at the famed New York arena on the initial 2020 schedule ballooned to a five-night, tour-closing residency by the time the extensive outing was rescheduled to 2021. Even when yet another COVID postponement pushed the spring leg of the tour to 2023, the five unaffected August 2022 dates at MSG still lined up as the culmination of RATM’s first true U.S. tour in more than a decade.

On Monday night, frontman Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk finally began their momentous NYC stand with an explosive performance that both reasserted Rage’s singular sound and served as a stark reminder that the band’s rebellious, truth-to-power frequency rings just as true in today’s flawed society as it did in the ’90s.

rage madison square garden, rage against the machine

[Photo: Jesse Faatz]

That staying power seemed to run through the packed arena like a high-voltage current on Monday as Run The Jewels warmed up the crowd, their confrontational yet contemplative brand of hip-hop underscoring RATM’s undeniable influence on the socially conscious, stylistically versatile rap acts that followed in the group’s wake.

When Rage Against The Machine finally took the stage to a canned “Public Service Announcement” intro, it was difficult not to contemplate the bumps and bruises the band had picked up along the way on the tour’s early-summer U.S. leg. While Morello had quickly recovered after being accidentally tackled off the stage by security in Toronto, de la Rocha was carried in by security and remained seated throughout the show, as he has since he injured his knee during a performance in Chicago last month.

Would this saddling of the band’s bombastic mouthpiece dampen the potency of the performance? The answer to that question presented itself early and often: In a word, no. In two, hell no. Endlessly animated from his unassuming seat on a road case, de la Rocha’s writhing delivery reached well beyond his physical restraints, his performance faithfully evoking hysteria among the gathered masses.

[Photo: Jesse Faatz]

The ninety-minute performance was a barrage of hits and deep cuts befitting of the billing. Even as they were rendered minuscule by the towering screen and simple panel of lights that framed the stage, the four musicians still managed to maintain a larger-than-life aura from the first note of the show-opening “Bombtrack” to the final riffs of a closing “Freedom” > “Township Rebellion” > “Killing In The Name” combo.

Morello strangled dystopian machine tones out of his guitar in every manner imaginable. Wilk propelled the music with thundering blows, ensuring that each big moment reverberated with the same fury that it did on record. Caldwell wove the rumbles together with impeccable feel. All the while, de la Rocha recited the words of their generation-defining catalog with patented urgency, his unmistakeable sneer ringing out through the fray as the World’s Most Famous Arena shouted along.

rage against the machine, rage madison square garden

[Photo: Jesse Faatz]

Though these songs originally served as the rebellious soundtrack of the ’90s, their prevailing themes ring true in 2022. Throughout the show, various images, messages, and video clips displayed behind the stage illustrated jarring parallels between the anger of their era and the societal ills of today.

During a vitriolic “Wake Up”, Zack called out to generations worth of victims of violence at the hands of law enforcement, from Fred Hampton to Tamir RiceEric Garner to Breonna Taylor. “This song is for every person’s name we haven’t heard,” he added, “every child’s name we haven’t heard.”

“Testify” came complete with footage of an El Paso police truck engulfed in flames, a striking visual to remind revelers of the racially motivated massacre in the predominantly Latino Texas town back in 2019. Within a searing “Freedom”, he called out for the release of Leonard Pelletier, the American Indian Movement figure who has long been imprisoned on controversial charges.

That characteristic anti-corruption thread even extended beyond the concert itself and into current events: As the lights came up following “Killing In The Name” and security guards swooped in once again to carry de la Rocha backstage, the screen informed the crowd of the tragic story of Raymond Chaluisant, the 18-year-old who just last month was gunned down in the Bronx by an off-duty corrections officer who “felt threatened” because he was holding what turned out to be a toy gun.

Bobby McFerrin‘s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” whistled through the PA as the crowd read his story on the screen, a cleverly contradictory soundtrack to the vexing range of emotions coursing through the room—from elation to nostalgia to frustration to, well, rage.

rage against the machine, rage madison square garden, zack de la rocha, tom morello

[Photo: Jesse Faatz]

That anger you feel is real. That frustration is not misplaced. We can’t accept playing with the deck stacked unfairly. At Madison Square Garden, Rage Against The Machine once again channelled that lingering fury into the gift of rock catharsis like no time had passed—or maybe, just enough.

Scroll down to check out an extensive gallery of photos from the first of five Rage Against The Machine shows at Madison Square Garden via Jesse Faatz.

Setlist: Rage Against The Machine | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 8/8/22

Set: Public Service Announcement*, Bombtrack, People Of The Sun, Bulls On Parade, Bullet In The Head, Testify, Take The Power Back, Wake Up, Guerrilla Radio, Down Rodeo, Know Your Enemy, Calm Like A Bomb > Sleep Now In The Fire, Born Of A Broken Man, War Within A Breath, The Ghost Of Tom Joad (Bruce Springsteen), Freedom > Township Rebellion > Killing In The Name

Notes: *Pre-recorded intro; “Don’t Worry Be Happy” (Bobby McFerrin) played over the PA as the band left the stage after the set.


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