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Twin Cities rock fans should thank the Republican National Convention.
Eleven years after its last local show -- and eight since going on a hiatus from which it has only partially returned -- radical rap/metal band Rage Against the Machine finally came back to town Wednesday to mess with the RNC. Whatever it accomplished on the political front, the Los Angeles quartet set off an atom bomb in what has mostly been a fizzling year for big concerts.
Come to think of it, Wednesday's nearly sold-out Target Center show in Minneapolis could well go down as the local hard-rock show of the decade. You could have forgotten all about the, um, elephants in the room, and that assessment would still hold up.
Rage put on an incomparable 90-minute show, filled with brick-punching intensity, an innovative melding of once-disparate working-class music genres and bold lyrics that could even get a nun mad about something. Many of the 13,000 attendees did more damage to one another in the mosh pits on the arena floor than they could have out on the streets.
But even for the fans "only [there] to get down," as singer Zack de la Rocha put it, it was hard to miss the RNC connection. Not a single person arrived to the concert Wednesday without passing a line of police in riot gear. You can imagine the impact that added to lyrics like, "The war is right outside the door," which De la Rocha emphasized during the second song, "Testify."
The band's four members sent a message even before the vocalist opened his mouth. They were ushered onstage wearing orange Guantanamo Bay-like prisoner suits and proceeded to tear through the opening song, "Bombtrack," with black hoods over their heads. Watch out, Slipknot!
Most of the attacking from then on out really was just musical, not sermonic (and it's perhaps worth noting that most of the music was written during the Clinton administration).
While he held his instrument tightly to his chest as if it were monitoring his heartbeat, guitarist Tom Morello kicked the stage floor in unison to the thundering beats of drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford -- none of whom lost his edge during his time in the more mild-mannered rock band Audioslave. Morello's screeching, turntable-inspired solos and riotous riffs genuinely came off wizard-like in songs such as "Bulls on Parade" and "Born of a Broken Man."
Ultimately, though, it was De la Rocha -- mostly missing in action since Rage's split -- who came back strongest. He owned the stage. His MC-ing in "Bullet in the Head" and "Freedom" was panther-like. One of the most stirring moments came as he quietly but passionately delivered the climax of "Guerrilla Radio" ("It has to start somewhere/It has to start sometime/What better place than here/What better time than now").
De la Rocha did not break to make a speech until the last song before the encore, "Wake Up," when he urged fans to "interrupt and disrupt the destruction that this party has brought to the world." As the encore ended with the crowd screaming, "[Expletive] you I won't do what you tell me!" (the final refrain of "Killing in the Name"), the singer tempered the anger with pleas to "protest peacefully."
Accounts vary about post-concert rioting. Police reportedly arrested about 70 protesters, but those mostly came more than an hour after the show. Whether the trouble was sparked by the Rage show (or was just more protesting, or was just bar-hopping drunkenness heightened by the heavy police presence), don't let it be a black eye on the concert.
This was one for the books, and not about the bookings.
See Rage's set list at startribune.com/poplife. Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658