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Rage, Wu-Tang Rock the Bells

“It’s hot as balls up here, too. But we’re gonna keep it cool,” Mos Def sympathized as the sun parted the humid air and beat down upon a vast cross-section of New York City’s eclectic populace Saturday afternoon (July 27), all braving the blistering conditions for a taste of Rock the Bells and all its booty; an extensive bill featuring much-mooted sets from the likes of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, and most of all, Rage Against the Machine.

Upon entering to the venue, a spacious field surrounded on all sides by the East River, Mos Def and Talib Kweli dove into “Umi Says,” flailing towels while bounding the stage and periodically spraying the crowd with a hail of water. Following a few more selections from the rhyme-saying duo, including a head bangin’ rendition of “Get By,” Public Enemy was poised to take the main stage.

The concert, an incarnation of the famous show birthed from one fan’s determination to unite the Wu-Tang Clan, which has now grown into a nationwide affair, dons the “Join the Revolution” tag-line. And while the mission statement was often up for interpretation, most the show’s performers shared a semi-streamlined ideal. “Fuck Bush,” Chuck D shot out as Public Enemy leapt into their set, crashing across the stage as a live band belted out beats aplenty. Later in the show, adding to its VH1-cred, already near maximum with Flava Flav’s ubiquitous TV persona on hand, Anthrax axeman Scott Ian joined onstage, offering supplemental guitar fingerings and vocals to the seminal “Bring the Noise.”

Following Public Enemy’s set, including a few last-minute, self-indulgent introductions (all his children) and drum solos courtesy of self-confessed hype-machine Flava Flav, Cypress Hill rolled out, touching on many of the seminal outfit’s Latin-tinged ride or die gems; “Dr. Greenthumb,” “Pigs,” “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” and “Hits From the Bong,” the latter ushered in by a large smoking Buddha onstage, all emanated unto a crowd of herb-burning headbangers,

Emerging from the haze, many of the roughly 30,000 attendees, a large percentage of which sported tattoos and ball caps and were rapidly seeking liquid nourishment, lounged in the grass and prepared for the show’s two highlights: the Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine.

With all eight members swarming the stage, New York City’s Wu-Tang Clan powered through 36 Chambers cuts like “Method Man,” “Bring da Ruckus,” and “Shame on a Nigga.” With onstage banter running in the red, including an apt-comparison of deceased member O.D.B. (Ol’ Dirty Bastard) to another three-letter name, G.O.D. (sound it out), and a little promotion for their new album 8 Diagrams, Wu-Tang’s collective also tendered “Triumph” and “Ice Cream,” as well as Method Man’s “Da Rockwidler,” which showcased a lauded appearance from co-lyricist Red Man.

Finally, the sun dropped below the horizon and the main show lay imminent. The front barriers bulged as Rage Against the Machine fanatics, many donning tattered band t-shirts, Mohawks, and dread locks, pushed forward, flopping into the arms of bouncers, sweat drenched and desperately reaching out for water. The lights dimmed and a roar enveloped the sunken field, the quartet emerged and frontman Zack de la Rocha simply projected, “We’re Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California.” And with that utterance, the bona fide show was underway. Diving into classic rocker “Testify,” replete with guitarist Tom Morello’s six-string screeches, the politico-minded outfit acted characteristically; de la Rocha offered vocal-chord ripping roars while perched solemnly atop the monitors, Morello, clad in blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a ball cap, ran his fingers up and down the neck of his guitar, and shirtless bassist Tim Commerford, along with drummer Brad Wilk, anchored the others’ rowdy antics.

With a set rich in material from 1992’s self-titled debut and 1996’s Evil Empire, Rage also rehashed the band’s first Coachella reunion gig and the controversial remarks de la Rocha spat unto the California desert. “We didn’t say the president should be assassinated,” the frontman retorted, “we said he should be brought to trial, tried, and hung… and we refuse to stand down from that position.” With that said, Rage then dove into “Freedom” and “Wake Up,” both clearly solidifying at least Rage Against the Machine’s interpretation of Rock the Bells’ “Join the Revolution” statement, as well as that of many fans, as the crowd, in unison with de la Rocha, taunted the current administration, repeating the lyrics “freedom, yeah right!”

We asked: Rock the Bells’ ubiquitous mission statement is “Join the Revolution”; what exactly is this ‘revolution’ all about?