“It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime What better place than here, what better time than now?”
When Zack de la Rocha delivered that line near the halfway point of Monday night’s roast of American Exceptionalism by Rage Against the Machine at KeyBank Center, everyone in attendance appeared to be in total agreement. After all, they had waited two-and-a-half years for this moment to arrive, and, by some stroke of kismet, the 30-year-old material they were there to hear had managed to grow in importance since the world went dark back in March of 2020.
There was simply no better place to be on a summer night in Buffalo than in the presence of the greatest political band to emerge during the post-Reagan era. Their 18-song set was a fast and furious sermon in which a hobbled de la Rocha took to task a societal structure that has allowed Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to become a nightmare of Orwellian proportion. Everything from racism, police brutality, and the violent realities of Manifest Destiny were broached, but, unlike other artists with an agenda, they let the music do the talking.
Tracks such as “Take the Power Back,” “Down Rodeo,” and “Sleep Now in the Fire” got the message across just fine, because there’s really nothing else to add. de la Rocha says what he means and means what he says without requiring anything beyond the song itself. His snarling delivery coupled with Tom Morello’s six-string wizardry ensured that there would be no opportunity for anyone in attendance to claim that they weren’t getting exactly what they paid for.
Some personal highlights included “Bullet in the Head,” “Wake Up,” and a haunting rendition of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” that eclipsed Springsteen’s original in every way. I’ve been fortunate to experience hundreds of concerts since 1999, but the literal sweat and emotion that poured out of de la Rocha at every turn ranks among the best individual performances I’ve ever seen. Then again, all four members met the moment by turning that shit up and not being afraid to tell it like it is.
For a band that hadn’t played a show in 11 years prior to this tour, they returned with a vengeance and should be on everyone’s list of shows to see in 2022.