For those of us well versed in the festival scene, a quick mention of Sidewave Week is certain to elicit nostalgia. A full week of high-scale sets from international artists, with a daylong festival sandwiched in-between: it was the dream for Australian mosh addicts. Its nominal Soundwave crashed and burned in 2015, but with the Download Festival (finally) rising from its ashes, we’re set to do it all over again. Night one: politicore supergroup Prophets Of Rage, taking residence in the stately Hordern Pavilion.
Usually synonymous with Sydney’s underground hardcore scene, Bare Bones proved they’re making the transition to arenas without a hitch. Their third stint in the Hordern since last August (where they opened for Stone Sour, followed by a choice spot in front of Rise Against back in February), the punk’n’roll pulverisers held a small, albeit impassioned crowd in the palm of their hand – every thick, Metallican solo tangled veteran moshers in their whirlwind, every slick Bronxian riff a swift punch to the skull. Cuts from their debut LP – last year’s monumentally underrated Bad Habits – saw the fivesome spit the most fire, closer “Copper In The Cast” a particular highlight with its vicious melodic edge. An edge, as it seemed, that is far more suited to venues like this than our local grogshed.
It made sense for Bare Bones to open the show – their sludgy pubcore energy was a perfect fit in tonight’s retro-centred vibe – but Dead Letter Circus was... An interesting choice. Their wireless setups, tight composure and masterful production indicated the Brisbane prog-thrashers had their best wits about them, but a crowd sparse, mostly older and duly beered-up weren’t having a bar of their schtick. Hindered further by a truly shit mix, vocalist Kim Benzie struggled to nail verses, axemen Clint Vincent and Luke Palmer left to fill in the (generous) blanks. The pair did a bang-up job, thankfully, crushing every sharp, spacey hook like true guitar heroes. It’s just a shame they had no effect on the night’s overall mood.
So too did DJ Lord have trouble spurring any semblance of energy from our quickly bolstering crowd. Spinning a haphazard 15-minute playlist of '90s grunge and hip-hop bangers, the longtime Public Enemy turntablist had limited success in hyping the crowd up for our headliners. That didn't matter, though, because when Prophets Of Rage erupted from the curtains – their titular theme blaring as they sprinted out – all hell broke loose. Pits were immediately unhinged, punters spanning three generations all throwing down in unity.
Comprising members of Rage Against The Machine (all but vocalist Zack de la Rocha), Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, it should come as no shock that Prophets Of Rage held their politics tight on-sleeve for the two-hour showcase: between tracks, rappers B-Real and Chuck D made speeches touching on white supremacy, America's gun crisis, and the universal mistreatment imposed on refugees. Such heavy-hitting dialogue would often prompt discomfort at a mainstream rock show, but here they served as unifying rally cries – when Chuck D cited the importance of opening borders, our crowd raised fists in solidarity. Early in the set, shredlord Tom Morello flipped his axe to reveal a DIY "F*** TRUMP" sticker lying underneath – cheers were deafening, as they should've been.
Speaking of Morello, the legendary string-splitter was a pure marvel from start to end. Often switching between his iconic 'Arm The Homeless' piece and a custom Fender Aerodyne Strat (dubbed 'Soul Power'), the sunglassed hero waged war against the venue's PA with a downright assault of rabid fretwork. Solos were abundant and blasted out with turbulent aplomb, Morello rarely breaking his poker face – not an indication of his lack of excitement, but more his way of rubbing in how much like child's play the most technical of riffs are to him. Distortion reigned surpreme when Morello tackled early Rage Against The Machine cuts, his gritty churns roaring like a pterodactyl. Don't even get us started on his whammy bar magic – if there's a shredder that can replicate vinyl scratching more precisely, we're yet to meet them.
Despite their self-titled debut still hot off the presses, the group rarely tapped into it. Lead single "Unf*** The World" was an immediate chaos-brewer, but for the most part, we were treated to an avalanche of gems from Rage Against The Machine's back catalogue. "Sleep Now In The Fire", "Take The Power Back" and, of course, "Killing In The Name" were all obvious highlights – B-Real and Chuck D never quite hit Rocha's signature flare, but their own take on his lyrical havoc was a solid fit. Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" stood out in the top end of the set, and though we feel a tad shorted with only one Cypress Hill cut in the mix, "How I Could Just Kill A Man" (which saw Morello rep a spicy double-necked Gibson) felt damn near unethically wild.
In memory of Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell (with which the trio were all bandmates), Morello, drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford played "Like A Stone" instrumentally, a white spotlight shined at the vacant mic with its surroundings encased in red. It was a powerful moment, with the crowd chanting along so loud they pieced in the puzzle better than any vocalist (sans Cornell himself) could've. It was moments like this that made tonight's show one for the memory bank. It felt like we were in the midst of history being made – as though in 50 years, teenagers will stream clips of this show on YouTube and think, "Damn, I wish I were alive to witness that."
Tonight may have been the first time Sydney bared witness to Prophets Of Rage, but we sure as f*** hope it wasn't the last. With a promise of new music right around the corner, we might just be seeing more of the sextet soon...
Check out our full gallery of shots from Prophets Of Rage after the jump!
Prophets Of Rage are performing at the inaugural Download Festival in Melbourne on March 24th, and at the Tivoli in Brisbane on March 26th. Hit up livenation.com.au for more details!