Rage Against The Machine at the United Center in Chicago, IL

It’s been a mightily long wait, but worth every second as the Public Service Announcement Tour has a two-night engagement at Chicago’s United Center.

It’s the tour that felt like it was never going to happen. Rage Against the Machine‘s last tour before the current one was in 2011. Since then, there’s always been a hope that they would get back together again, but deep down probably never expected it to happen. Then in 2019, the news came that they were taking to the road again. Cheers rang out but were short-lived as the Covid pandemic put the kibosh on those plans. The tour was postponed and then postponed again, with the originally-planned first half of the tour being pushed back to next year. Much to everyone’s delight, the Public Service Announcement tour is now underway, having kicked off in Milwaukee at the weekend ahead of the two shows at Chicago’s United Center. 

When the tour was originally announced, Run The Jewels was named as the special guest for all dates except Chicago. Luckily, after the rescheduling of dates, RTJ was most definitely present at the Chicago shows, much to the delight of the crowd. It’s difficult to imagine a more apt touring partner for RATM. 

Their 45-minute set was a treat for both the eyes and the ears. Often the opening band has to perform on a stark stage, crammed in front of the headliner’s musical instruments draped in tarps. This was not the case here. Suspended from the ceiling you could see their two-hand emblem. The stage itself was covered with an elaborate screen made up of various lights which added to the dramatic presence of the duo. 

El-P and Killer Mike looked like they were absorbing every second of the atmosphere while on stage, smiling throughout and interacting with the audience. On numerous occasions, they voiced how much they appreciated being given the opportunity to join RATM on this tour. Looking out at the ample crowd that filled the United Center, they reminisced about how they used to get excited about performing to a venue of 300 people. Judging by how well their set was received by the Chicago crowd, their presence was more than justified. 

With just four studio albums under their belts, the last of which was a covers album that was released 22 years ago, it’s incredible to see the pull Rage Against the Machine still has. Incredible but also warranted and understandable given the political climate we find ourselves in recent years. 

The stage was shrouded with material shielding the set, building the anticipation that bit more (not that it needed any building!). As the opening notes of “Bombtrack” rang out, the screen dropped to reveal the four-piece as they jumped around the stage. Zack de la Rocha was leaping all over, adding to the ferocity of his performance until he seemingly landed awkwardly and injured his leg, causing him to perform the rest of the show sitting on a monitor. He wasn’t, however, going to let a severely injured leg stop this performance.

Since their tour opener in Milwaukee, a few concert-goers have been voicing their shock at RATM suddenly becoming political, and not sticking to “playing songs and doing their thing.” Have these people ever listened to a single RATM song? Clearly not. The band’s thoughts and opinions were not voiced through speeches, in fact, there was very little to no talking in between the songs. Instead, they let their songs and the highly impactful video screen do the talking for them. Images and videos depicting border control and police brutality were displayed on the huge screen behind them, as well as text showing their outrage for the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade and a call to “Abort the Supreme Court.” 

It’s hard to believe after watching a performance like this that they have not toured together in 11 years. They were as tight and in sync as ever. It felt as if there has been an energy building up in them over all these years, that was suddenly released the moment this show began. Tom Morello has a unique guitar playing style that sets him aside from other players. He has previously mentioned in interviews that he self-identifies as the DJ in the band and, as a result, has developed a sound that is instantly recognizable. Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk also made their presence known as they were locked in throughout the set, providing the foundation upon which Morello and de la Rocha built the house. Even after his injury, Zack’s vocals were like a machine gun ripping through the ears of those in attendance. 

The majority of the set comprised of songs from their self-titled debut album, such as “Bullet in Your Head,” “Freedom,” and “Wake Up.” They also included “Bulls on Parade,” “Guerrilla Radio,” and “Testify.” Throughout the night, the audience sang along, doing their best to keep up with the lyrical poet de la Rocha, while thrusting their fists in the air and jumping along to the powerful beat. The 16-song set was rounded out by “Killing in the Name of” which marked the abrupt end to the evening with no encore.   

Their songs are as relevant today as they ever have been. Who knows if this will be a one-off tour, or if it will be ongoing with the chance of new music. We can only hope. But let’s face it, there’s certainly plenty of fodder for them to comment on today. The tour is exactly what we needed and couldn’t have come at a more apt time. 

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
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RUN THE JEWELS
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UNITED CENTER
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About Kirstine Walton 380 Articles
Kirstine moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, and has fallen in love with the city and its music scene. She enjoys combining her two biggest passions – music and photography. If there is a band with a guitar playing, chances are she’ll be there…camera in hand. Kirstine went to her first live concert at 7 years old, and hasn’t looked back since!