Coachella: Rage Against the Machine return to fight the war, [bleep] the norm
a bullet in your head… a bullet in your head… A Bullet In Your Head… A BULLET IN YOUR F—ING HEAAAAAAAAAAAD!!
Oh! Excuse me, PopWatchers—I was just reminiscing about some of Rage Against the Machine’s performance tonight, or what will heretofore be known as THE GREATEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE. Um, or at least that’s how it seems right now. I’m sure I’ll remember other wonderful things that have happened to me over the last 31-some-odd years, but for the time being, it is awfully hard to envision that anything could beat standing on a picnic table, surrounded by like-minded strangers, and watching one of my favorite bands of all time reunite after seven years, screaming things like “THE NINA! THE PINTA! THE SANTA! MARIA!” for all I’m worth.
For what it’s worth, I can’t believe everything lived up to my lifetime of expectations. It’s been a little over two hours since the last notes of “Killing in the Name” rang out through the night sky, a little over two hours since I let loose the loudest profanity I have ever unleashed — you know which one I’m talking about—but I haven’t yet quite come to terms with the fact that the show, and this weekend, are actually over.
After the jump, my recap of the final night of Coachella 2007, in which I will try and probably fail to talk about something other than Rage Against the Machine. Come along, won’t you? I shall try and keep the shouting to a minimum…
Let’s see. When last we spoke, I was sitting in a field listening to Willie Nelson as the sun set over the crowd. God, that feels like months ago, PopWatchers, and I’m just going to breeze through what transpired between him and the headliners, as, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we’re not terribly interested in them and would prefer to cut right to the Rage, right? Right.
Willie was followed by a recently reunited Crowded House, who played to a dwindling crowd but sounded phenomenal. I didn’t stay for the whole set — headed off to find food once they began a bizarrely faithful cover of the Dixie Chicks’ “Silent House” [Editors’ Note: Actually, Finn co-wrote the song with the Chicks, and Crowded House later recorded their own version.] — but I made sure that, before I left, I heard what I came for. Yes, I am a sucker for “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” for reasons that have to do with warm summer nights and a broken heart resulting from an unhealthy crush on a boy from swim team, and I’ll admit to feeling another flash of unrequited love as those twangy opening notes made their way to my ears. But then tragedy struck: Neil Finn’s microphone cut out, mid-chorus, and the poor guy looked out at the audience and implored the group—at this point comprised largely of enormous men in “Battle of Coachella” t-shirts and kids who were either not alive or not sentient when the song was released — to sing. This did not go well. For the record, Neil, I tried.
From there by way of the deep-fried artichoke hearts stand (disappointing), I set a course for Lily Allen. This was less exciting for me than it may have been for you, as I just saw her at SXSW and she has not canceled any tour dates for which I have tickets. The prom queen seemed to be coping with her recent sobriety as well as can be expected, and while I noticed nothing all that special going on vocally, I did note that she was cursing far less than usual. My cue to leave her party was when she lit up a smoke after singing “Littlest Things,” which she’d introduced by apologizing for her voice being “really f—ed right now.” (And yes, for Lily Allen, that sentence structure constitutes cursing less.)
I swung past Amos Lee, who was doing his down-home thing (somewhat refreshing, actually), then hustled to the Outdoor Stage to catch some of Air, because it looked like everyone and their mother was walking in that direction. Sure enough, the grounds were packed… but damn you, Outdoor Stage: In the exact same place that Jarvis Cocker showed up 20 minutes late, the trippy Frenchmen were a full forty-five minutes late in beginning. That is too long to wait, PopWatchers, especially when the show on the nearby mainstage is booming with the smash of Manu Chao. Once the crowd started angrily booing, I took off.
Later reports confirmed that Air did in fact eventually play, although it was only for five songs, and yes, everyone could hear the thumping of Manu Chao throughout. (They also suggested that Air did not explain the delay, and spoke only through their robot.) It seems that boneheaded scheduling haunted a couple of the lovelier acts this lovely Sunday: Sweet little José Gonzales was stuck in a tent sandwiched between Placebo and the dance venue, which can’t have been fun for him, as he is somewhat averse to loud noises; Amos Lee was stuck contending with Lily Allen’s brass section; and, oh, yeah, a couple people had to play opposite Rage. (It’s a shame about that, isn’t it, Evan Dando of the Lemonheads?)
So, yes, this Manu Chao person. I had taken to calling him “Manu What’s-His-Chops” until I got over there and actually saw what he was all about: Imagine Keith Richards fronting a band that plays reggae-tinged reworkings of Clash songs, primarily in Spanish. Now apply some revolutionary political leanings to that music. (Manu: “You cannot fight terrorism with terrorism! You cannot fight terrorism with Guantanamos! You can fight terrorism with education! Schools!”) Now make it really good and generally entertaining, and play it in front of thousands and thousands of starved Rage Against the Machine fans. What’s-His-Chops was a significantly more appropriate opening act for Zach de la Rocha etc. than, say, Crowded House would have been. Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s a bullet in your f—ing head…
And then we waited, and waited, and waited… and then the lights went out, and I screamed, and Tom Morello’s magical mystery guitar kicked into the first strafing, chilling notes of “Testify.” And from that point on, I saw very little outside of my tunnel vision to the far-off stage where, for about an hour and a half, Rage Against the Machine was finally playing a concert, one I was at. Yes, it’s true, PopWatchers: I’d never seen Rage before tonight. It’s a long story, involving symphony musician parents, abject poverty, bad timing, crabby siblings, and Mike D from the Beastie Boys falling off his bike, and I’ll spare you the details (for once). Suffice it to say that this was a very, very special experience for me, one which I enjoyed thoroughly, much to the amusement of those around me. (One of the guys we were sharing a picnic table with turned to me mid-show and said, “You seemed so mild-mannered before.” Yeah, not so much.) And now I’m torn between wanting to keep it all to myself, for myself, and wanting to do my job. Hmm. Well, let’s just describe the scene:
Every hand in the joint was raised and holding a digital camera, the blue view-screens speckling the dark crowd like stars. From my perch high atop a picnic table in the VIP section—yes, I wussed out, and yes, I fully appreciate the hypocrisy involved in screaming things like WE DON’T NEED THE KEY WE’LL BREAK IN from within a VIP area, thank you very much, but I wanted to be able to see, and write, and not die, okay?—I couldn’t see if there was crowd surfing going on… but you know there was crowd-surfing going on. Rage worked through the set—“Testify” into “Bulls on Parade” into “People of the Sun” into “Bombtrack” into “Bullet in Your Head,” and they could have stopped right there and I could have died happy—with just slightly less than their old zeal. Sweat still drips from Tom’s baseball cap, and the rhythm section of Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk managed to survive Audioslave with their skills intact. But Zach de la Rocha, having finally abandoned that dream of a solo career, seemed to be holding something back. He said absolutely nothing between songs until he reached “Wake Up,” where he finally, finally compared the Bush Administration to Nazis and said, in the only phrase that rang out clearly to where I was standing, “The current administration should be hung, and tried, and shot.” Ah, Zach. We missed ya, buddy.
Back half of the set: “Know Your Enemies,” “Guerilla Radio,” “Renegades,” “Wake Up,” and probably some other stuff I didn’t write down, so busy was I with my thrashing. Then a short break, and a two-song encore of “Freedom” and, inevitably, “Killing in the Name,” an event whose power I cannot put into words. It was perfect. Except for the fact that, in general, everything was about 200 times quieter than I thought it needed to be. If my ears aren’t bleeding, it’s not loud enough. So who turned the speakers down? Respect for the neighbors… or government conspiracy? Don’t be fooled into thinking the latter isn’t possible. WAKE UUUUUP! WAKE UUUUUP!! Oh, wait. There I go again. Sorry.
I guess that’s gonna have to do right now, unless you want to hear about watching a river of people stream towards the gates, or how it took us two hours to get home. I’m wiped. I left it all out there on the field, PopWatchers, and I did it for you. I’ve got nothing more to say, no conclusions to draw. I’ll try and come up with something more cohesive later this week, which I’ll post along with my pictures. Meanwhile, please share your own memories or experiences with Rage (the band or the emotion) down below as I go take a very long nap. Anger is a gift, people. COME ON.
UPDATE: The Editors have corrected the errors cited below by PopWatch readers. Whitney regrets the errors in this entry and would like to thank the commenters for thinking more clearly than she was at 3 a.m.