Like a lot of you, I’ve spent the last 8 years attending loads of parties and listening to a crap ton of DJs. Though I’ve managed to pepper my mainstay diet of the 1’s and 2’s with the stray rock and rap concert here and there, it really hasn’t been until last couple years or so that I’ve truly been able to dive back into the live music arena like I’ve been longing to. With the 20 year anniversaries of all my favorite records coming and going, I’ve been first in line to punch my ticket for the nostalgia train. And while it’s great to revisit classics and to finally hear some chart topping favorites on instruments not processed through a Disc Jockey’s Laptop, it’s clear that a lot of these tunes-much like the pop hits of today-were composed during a lighter time, eras where lyrics were focused a bit more on keeping people grooving than inciting a political riot. It was with great joy then, that on August 20th at BB&T Pavilion, that I was asked to review the first ‘Prophets of Rage’ performance to hit the Philadelphia area since the super-group’s formation, in support of their newly-released debut EP, ever-so-aptly titled ‘The Party’s Over.’
Fronted by ‘B Real’ of ‘Cypress Hill’ and ‘Chuck D’ of ‘Public Enemy’, the 6 piece live ensemble of Prophets of Rage is rounded out by DJ Lord (also of Public Enemy) and 3/4 of Rage Against the Machine; bassist and backing vocalist Tim Commerford, revered guitarist Tom Morello, and drummer Brad Wilk (you can read our recent interview with him here). With the harsh looming political climate in America, coupled with the Post-EDM and lyrically vapid landscape of popular music today, I could think of no better harbingers for this particular prophecy than these 6 gentleman, trusted forefathers of my fired up youth. Men with messages, Men of substance, Men who could really play their instruments. At long last, the Prophet’s have arrived: The Party is Over.
Our night started with a warm up set from AWOLNATION, another band we are quite familiar with after covering them several times and interviewing front-man Aaron Bruno. While AWOLNATION’s message does not delve into the political realm like the collective (and new) work of Prophets of Rage, their self-described “brutally hard” live sound still easily managed to set the proper tone for the evening. The message of a band can easily be lost on a crowd that is not in the proper mind-set to receive it but AWOLNATION prepared the crowd to rage, and rage they would.
After a deftly cut intro medley from DJ Lord featuring bars from ‘Ironman,’ ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ ‘7 Nation Army,’ ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Sound of the Police’ and more, sirens filled the air and the band entered the stage bathed in darkness, MC’s with fists raised in the air. With 5 fresh collaborative tracks under their belt, the super-group boasts an updated version of Public Enemy classic ‘Prophets of Rage’ on their new EP with both new music and a new verse courtesy of B Real. They burst out of the gates at BB+T Pavilion with this track, their namesake, Tom’s opening riffs shredding thru the system with optimal clarity. Quickly displaying their tightness as a unit and the benefit of having not 1 but 2 seasoned MC’s accompanying a veritable Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Class as a backing band, Chuck D and B Real traded verses while the audience struggled for which superstar to focus on for more than a few seconds at a time. In my biased opinion Chuck sounds stronger, and more relevant, than ever when he hits us with lines like “…I’m keeping you from sleeping… I roll with the punches so I survive, try to rock cause it keeps the crowd alive, I’m not ballin’, I’m just calling’, but I’m past the days of yes y’alling.” Originally released in 1988 on Public Enemy’s 2nd album, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,’ Prophets is 1 of 2 Public Enemy tracks to get a rework for the group’s new release, alongside ‘Shut ‘Em Down,’ the popular single from ‘Apocalypse 91.’ Though 25+ years old, these tracks take on new thunder being backed (fronted?) by Rage Against the Machine’s entire instrumental section. Honestly, I have never seen a rock/rap hybrid group so effectively blur the line between one genre and the other as to not to be able to definitively labeled; they are the perfect balance of both worlds.
After a quick intro of everyone in the group, Chuck grabs a megaphone for the intro to ‘Guerrilla Radio’ and the crowd erupts. Prophets touches on the catalogs of all 3 of it’s members previous groups, and if you have been wondering how Rage [Against the Machine] hits would transcend live for this configuration, let me tell you: it’s a thing of beauty to behold. Already some of the highest caliber poetry absorbed by radio suburbia in the alternative 90’s, hearing Chuck D backed by B Real (and vice versa) barrel through ‘Bombtrack’, ‘People of the Sun’ and ‘Take the Power Back’ (sandwiched nicely with ‘Miuzi Weighs a Ton’) I can tell you that nothing was missing from the songs I grew up loving and instead the classic tracks transformed before my ears, lyrics being punctuated with newfound clarity. When B Real takes over verse duties on ‘Sleep Now in the Fire,’ the track takes on a blistering new persona entirely, and the true future potential of Prophets shines through; somehow this a supergroup greater than the sum of it’s parts. Though the band has stated that the door is always open for Zack [de la Roca] to join them again, it’s a beautiful thing that these songs aren’t remaining stagnant for the lack of a messenger, and when B Real gets on the mic to remind the crowd how lucky we are that these musicians have come together to deliver this project we can truly feel the respect for this undertaking ripple through the audience. These guys are superheroes in their own right and they’ve essentially formed ‘The Avengers’ of current musical social commentary.
After kicking the place into overdrive by dropping the first true Cypress Hill track of the night, ‘Rock Superstar,’ followed by ’Testify,’ the trio from Rage left the stage and Chuck and B Real descended into the pit to perform a medley of hits accompanied by the legendary DJ Lord, including “Hand on the Pump / Can’t Truss It / Insane in the Brain / Bring the Noise / I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That and Welcome to the Terrordome.” Back-to-back working mics, smoking blunts (from the crowd of course) and grabbing fans phones to snapchat without missing a beat, the 2 Prophets of Rage frontmen ripped through so many recognizable tracks so quickly that by the time Chuck’s ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’ line seamlessly flowed into the opening riff of ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’ you had totally forgotten that a guitar god had just walked offstage for a hot fifteen minutes. With a couple more classic Public Enemy cuts to follow, the real ramp up comes in the final act of the Prophets set, when Rage Against The Machine classics ‘Bullet in the Head’, ‘Shut Em Down’ and ‘Know Your Enemy’ were aired alongside verbal barbs intended to light a fire within the gasoline-soaked crowd. Prophets doesn’t just warm their crowd up, they light a damn powder keg. Unfurled banners baring raised arms with clenched fists flag the performers. Sweaty guitarists shred neck, sporting hats emblazoned with the mission statement: MAKE AMERICA RAGE AGAIN.
Prophets kept the banter to short, in no way and at no time lecturing the crowd, poignant vignettes in between songs, often tying the preceding or proceeding lyrics into the messages as only seasoned MCs can. Only a couple times throughout the night were extended statements addressed to the audience, once by Tom after a ripping version of ‘Bullet in the Head,’ to let us know that a portion of every Prophets show would be going to local homeless or charity organizations and to thank the workers who set up, tear down and clean up the concert, another a lengthy diatribe from B Real before ‘Killing In The Name,’ the closer of the night. Though at no point was any individual candidate or ideology disparaged by name, at one point in the evening Tom flipped his guitar upside down to shred a solo and revealed a secret message taped on the bottom of his guitar that said it all: NO ONE FOR PRESIDENT.
As a fitting counterpoint to that hopeless inscription, B Real left the crowd with a call to arms: “We’re going to play this one last one for you tonight… but right here, this Prophets Of Rage thing, we started as a call to action. Because the people in the middle who don’t believe in the false leaders need a voice. We know that you’ve been hungry for this shit. We know you’ve been needful of it. It’s been absent. There’s a lack of compassion, a lack of fucking-just-intellect in the world today. There’s some stupid fuckers out there with a backwards way of thinking. 2 of them are running for President. Raise your voice, raise your fist, create the change you want.” And with that inspiring message, the band launched into ‘Killing in the Name,’ another track receiving the full Prophets update for the new EP, a record I highly recommend you obtain and digest as quickly as possible.
In a night chock full of memorable hits, nostalgia laden riffs and updated takes on game changing classics, Prophets actually saved their best 2 tracks for last. The 1-2 punch of ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘No Sleep til Cleveland’ perfectly punctuated the theme of the evening, and really brought it home for this reviewer: these guys are just getting started [and thank the heavens!] Though they’d go on to encore with 2 popular RATM songs (Bulls and the updated Killing in the Name of) right afterwards, these 2 brand new songs marked a tonal change in the evening for me. No longer were we comparing and contrasting the strengths and focal points of these damn fine musicians and front-men, now we were witnessing the coalescing of these players into one final fighting unit. I know I’ve already made an Avengers metaphor in this article, but this part of the program was more like witnessing Voltron form from 6 already bad-ass-on-their-own Lions. The first of these new songs was 1 of 2 studio recordings new for the debut EP, and the title track, with the second being a politically charged and updated cover of the Beastie Boys ‘No Sleep till Brooklyn.’ Incorporating Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power,’ Prophets of Rage shined a glaringly bright light on the unique talent they’ve brought to the table here: they’ve actually got something to say, and they’re finally somebody reallyworth listening to! In 2016 they’d brought more people together for a concert relevant to inciting political action than any I’d seen in this previous election year; nothing else in demo had even come close. Looking around a packed BB+T Pavilion last Friday I realized the union of this super-group had assembled more chanting faces and more raised fists than I had seen in a long, long time. In weaving these beloved elements from our past into an intricate narrative so overwhelming relevant to our present state, Prophets tricked us, almost forced us, into acknowledging the message that had been with us all along (albeit absent from the lyric booklets of late)- we have the power, there has always been strength in numbers! We’ve just been too busy partying too realize it.