Had the ocean beneath them been made of real water, it might have been stirred by the beads of sweat that rolled sinuously down their faces and veins as they played. But the ocean that had formed for Prophets of Rage was not liquid. It was made of muscles, bones, and wild eyes, with outstretched fists rising to the top like seafoam as it crashed into the Barclays stage. As a violent beat set the rhythm of the waves, the occasional surfer washed ashore, soon to be tossed back by a guard. From a helicopter view, one could see a whirlpool forming in the middle of it all; one large spiral of especially bold moshers, beating themselves into submission, sucking softly-thrashing bystanders into their sharp undertow.
Sailing smoothly above were Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), Chuck D and DJ Lord (Public Enemy), and B-Real (Cypress Hill). And even on their first tour together as Prophets of Rage, the chemistry between them was palpable and real. The newfound supergroup opened with The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” moving straight into “Fight the Power” and Public Enemy’s own “Prophets of Rage” as the Brooklyn crowd surged into action. The Prophets’ timely cause, to “Make America Rage Again,” came to life in the form of bright red, Trump-mocking baseball caps that flooded the arena, and a thirst for change that felt highly concentrated; almost volatile. “84 days to vote for fucking who?” B-Real said furiously. “Stay woke.”
Whether it was the current political climate, the crowdsourced aggression, or just the momentum of the setlist, Prophets of Rage were unstoppable. The rage carried on ceaselessly through RATM’s “Guerrilla Radio” and “Bombtrack,” followed by Public Enemy’s “Miuzi Weighs a Ton.” The rhythm section was tight enough to almost feel unhinged; Brad Wilk’s razor-sharp impacts inseparable from Tim Commerford’s scrupulous, mathematical basslines. And each time one of Morello’s ferocious solos came into the mix, the combination was barbaric. There was no distance between them as the energy poured out of their fingertips and into the sea of fans, their sound buzzing between teeth and pumping blood into new vessels. It was “People of the Sun,” “Take the Power Back,” Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” and “Testify” that started to push things over the edge. Then, Chuck D and B-Real left the edge altogether.
Foregoing the stage for the people, the rappers centered themselves in the crowd’s roughest current, soon swallowed by hands and screaming faces as the security guards paddled against them. They somehow kept their heads above the surface, bringing the verse in a vicious run of “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.” The others rejoined them for RATM’s “Sleep Now in the Fire,” Audioslave’s “Cochise” into Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero?!” and a divisive cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which the crowd seemed to fight against just for the sake of fighting.
Thanking Zack de la Rocha for letting them be “a bullhorn for his fucking words,” they dove into a finish that actually shook the floorboards. Prophets of Rage cranked out “Bullet in the Head,” Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down,” “Know Your Enemy,” “The Party’s Over,” “Bulls on Parade,” and an unforgettable “Killing in the Name,” sinking into the bloodcurdling screams that sent us all out the door and back into the machine of the city. But somehow, somewhere, it felt like a wire had snapped; as if the cogs beneath Brooklyn had come to a halt, still sticking and shuddering after Prophets had set them off their track. With any luck, they’ll stay that way.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley