Down under for Download Festival this weekend, Prophets Of Rage led a politically-charged rally for good ol’ fashion rap-rock at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion on Thursday night. The supergroup, made up of three parts Rage Against The Machine (Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford), two parts Public Enemy (Chuck D and DJ Lord) and one part Cypress Hill (B-Real), brought a mix of ’90s nostalgia and new tunes for their debut show in Australia.
On a rainy night, they drew a modest crowd made up mostly of dudes in their 30s and 40s rocking Metallica and NOFX shirts (although a special mention has to go to the guy with the Rage Against The Machine tramp stamp tattoo). But for what the crowd might have lacked in numbers, it more than made up for in enthusiasm.
The night kicked off with support sets from local punk rockers Bare Bones and Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus. In the intermission between DLC and Prophets Of Rage, Public Enemy’s DJ Lord had the crowd dancing and chanting along to a motley mix which ranged from Black Sabbath and Dr Dre to Punjabi MC and John Williams’ Star Wars score.
As the house lights went down, the Hordern boomed with whirring sirens and crimson search-lights, as the crowd quickly became a sea of raised fists. Once the six prophets stormed the stage, it was only fitting they kicked off with their self-titled track ‘Prophets Of Rage’ from their 2017 debut album. But they wasted no time returning to their roots, launching into two RATM favourites ‘Testify’ and ‘Take The Power Back’ (both of which featured some of Morello’s quintessential kill-switch skills and face-melting guitar solos).
The setlist boasted a mix of hits from their well-known past projects, rock n’ roll covers and tunes from their latest record, which meant there was no room for filler. And although they smashed through tracks like ‘Living on the 110’ and ‘Hail to the Chief’, bangers like RATM’s ‘Guerilla Radio’ and Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ were proof that these old favourites remain the overwhelming crowd pleasers.
As you’d expect from the Prophets Of Rage, the gig was fuelled by equal parts rock n’ roll and political advocacy. As Chuck D rapped through a graffiti-covered megaphone, Morello flipped his guitar to reveal a “Fuck Trump” sign stuck on the back, and later did the same to show an Aboriginal flag during ‘Fight The Power’. For ‘Unfuck The World’, B-Real rallied the crowd to form a massive circle pit.
As we approached the half-way point, the rest of the band left B-Real and Chuck D to command the stage for what they called “some classic hip hop”. This was essentially code for a monster mashup of Cypress Hill’s ‘Hand on the Pump’, ‘Insane in the Brain’, ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That’ and Public Enemy’s ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’, ‘Bring The Noise’ and ‘Can’t Truss It’. To top it all off, B-Easy asked punters to crouch down on the floor, before the booming call of House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ caused the entire crowd to spring-board back up and bust into some of its best dance moves.
Once the rest of the band returned to the stage, the set took a momentarily somber turn when Prophets of Rage made a touching tribute to late Audioslave and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.
“Since the last time we came here, we lost a really good friend,” Morello said. “If you know the words sing along and if you don’t, say a prayer for peace,” he added, before launching into an instrumental cover of Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’. Auckland fans were lucky enough to have System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian join the guys on stage for the cover on Wednesday night, but he didn’t make a cameo on the mic for the Sydney gig. Instead, Morello turned the microphone to face the crowd, and they echoed every word in a spine-tingling chorus.
The energy was quickly wrenched back up for RATM’s ‘Know Your Enemy’, Cypress Hill’s ‘(Rock) Superstar’ and one of the supergroup’s new tunes ‘Legalise it’ (during which B-Easy lit up what appeared to be a doobie).
To the crowd’s delight, Prophets Of Rage closed out the night with a trifecta of RATM hits. For ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’, Morello brought out what The Simpson’s character Otto would articulately describe as “you know those guitars that are, like, double guitars?”. And in ‘Bulls On Parade’, the crowd formed another circle pit, dudes jumping on their mates’ shoulders to rip off their shirts and whip them around like sweat-soaked lassoes.
And without fucking around with pseudo final songs and encores, Prophets Of Rage capped off the night with RATM’s iconic hit and what they described as the “most dangerous song of all time” — ‘Killing In The Name Of’.
Not only did the show help alleviate some of the FOMO for any Sydney-siders who are still salty about Download Festival being confined to Melbourne this year, it also proved that the six rap-rock alumni can hold their own with their new project. And with some new tunes apparently on the way, we’re sure this won’t be the last time Sydney rallies behind the Prophets Of Rage.