Politics on Full Display

Run the Jewels performed as opening act.

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In a show fans waited some two and a half years to see, Rage Against the Machine brought its politically charged rap/rock sound to the Capital One Arena to an audience just as loud as the amplified music.  

The first of the two-night engagement brought all the rage and disdain toward misused authority pent up since COVID-19 lockdowns first began. Rage took no time in taking the stage and making it clear, the most politically immersed band in recent American history hasn’t lost a step. 

This, despite frontman Zack de la Rocha’s foot injury that rendered him unable to rage from a standing position. The same energy and enthusiasm one has always expected from the Los Angeles-based revolutionaries was fully present, and de la Rocha’s seated delivery made no difference to the crowd.

High expectations were certainly met by the nearly two-hour set, and despite the band performing songs that were hits during the Clinton administration, they still took deft aim at the issues of the day. Writer and lead guitarist, Tom Morello, a grand-nephew to Jomo Kenyatta, the first elected president of Kenya, and a Harvard political science graduate, definitely makes it apparent that whether nature or nurture, he’s definitely able to demonstrate how politics and art can make fine bedfellows.  

Before a screen with bold type reading  “ABORT THE SUPREME COURT,” the band (and the crowd’s) disgust at the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was unmistakable. Breaking in between songs to remind the crowd that “The GOP voted against making baby formula more accessible,” and images of a burning police car and the faces of Black people killed by police violence, the audience was treated to a skillful display of messaging and music.  

Opening act, Run the Jewels got the crowd ready for a night of political intensity.  After all, Killer Mike and El-P’s motto is a plainspoken, “F*** the law, they can eat my d***.” At times it was hard to believe that Run the Jewels were the opener. Their sets were as well received and rapped along to as any but the closing song of the feature. 

To finish the night, Rage performed their 1992 track, “Killing in the Name,” and brought the house down. Sharing photos memorializing Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot dead in Cleveland by police as he played with a toy gun at a playground, Philando Castile, a beloved 32-year-old school employee who was fatally shot during a traffic stop for trying to get the identification the officer demanded, a more recent victim of police violence was also shared. Brianna Griner was cuffed and lifted by her arms and legs before being placed into the back of a Hancock County, Georgia police car after a schizophrenic episode. She wasn’t belted in, and she fell out of the vehicle when the car was in motion. Griner died July 21, after spending a week in a coma.

In a poignant update, the song’s refrain, “some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses” became “some of those that burn crosses are the same that hold office.”

There was also some chatter among the crowd that was unrelated to the show. For the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the right to abortion was put on a state ballot. Toward the end of the show, the news came over people’s phones that Kansas voters defeated a measure to ban abortion in that state. In keeping with their most political lyric of all, at least last evening, Kansans did not “do what they told you.”

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