After making the UK Christmas number one last December, when Rage Against the Machine promised fans a free show in London in return for their support, tickets for the Finsbury Park event were always going to be hot property. Over 180,000 hopefuls tried to apply – just under 40,000 of those were lucky enough to attend what will surely be one of the greatest gigs of the summer.
This was far more than another concert from the LA four-piece; it was a movement in action and a powerful statement against the brazen manufacturism of the music industry. RATM had beaten Joe McElderry, winner of the TV-talent show ‘X Factor’, to the number one spot with their signature anthem “Killing In The Name”.
This was the first time in five years that Simon Cowell, the archetypal pop-music Svengali and creator of the TV show, failed to have a Christmas number one with his latest offering from the X Factor assembly-line. As the sea of souvenir t-shirts in Finsbury Park read, it was ‘Rage 1 – Cowell 0’.
Cowell had called the Facebook campaign to get RATM to the top of the charts “cynical” (a rather hypocritical attack considering the persona he portrays as the judge for his reality show), while “vulgar” was the word McElderry used to describe his opponents entry into the race for No. 1. But a more conscientious music-buying public had chosen and, thanks to the assiduous efforts of the campaigns organisers, Jon and Tracy Morter, Rage coasted to a comfortable victory.
Six months on, the privileged ticket holders (plus a few hundred or so fence jumpers) were waiting in anticipation for the show to begin. Roots Manuva and Gogol Bordello had filled the support slots, but this was all about the headline act – and the cause that brought them there in the first place.
The proceedings began with a cartoon Cowell appearing on large screens either side of the stage, claiming that RATM “wouldn’t have got past boot camp” if they entered his TV talent contest. He was then drowned out by Rage’s custom air-raid siren, and the huge roar from the crowd that followed.
Refreshing to see was that each person in attendance seemed to be a true fan of the band. And as the night kicked-off with favourites “Testify”, “Bombtrack” and “Know Your Enemy”, vocalist Zach De La Rocha’s polemic sermon was being tracked almost word for word by many of his followers.
Of course, De La Rocha and the rest of his RATM band mates have always had their minds on more serious matters than chart-topping success. “Township Rebellion” was introduced by the front man with an angry condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. His audience, naturally, gave full and vocal support.
Next up was a real belting performance of “Bullet in the Head”, which was followed by Morello inviting Jon and Tracy Morter on to the stage. The two people who made it all happen were given a huge ovation, as well as a huge novelty cheque from the guitarist, representing RATM’s royalties from the Christmas no. 1 that will be donated to Shelter – a charity for the homeless in the UK. With financial matters out of the way, the band paid further homages, this time to one of their greatest inspirations, The Clash. A lightning-quick cover of “White Riot” was a surprising treat.
11 songs had passed when the band walked off stage to rapturous applause and adulation. Then, to the bewilderment of many, McElderry’s Christmas single “The Climb” began playing through the PA. Fortunately, it was cut short by the thumping intro of the song that left him at no. 2. When the first ‘killing in the name of’ was delivered down De La Rocha’s mic, the crowd was lifted by that inimitable, unmistakable and almighty riff, driven by Morello’s guitar and the bass of Tim Commerford.
Witnessing such a crowd screaming the song’s infamous closing refrain was a true moment to treasure – the perfect end to an historic night and this victorious campaign for the freedom of music.