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The Roots
Michael Levin

The Roots were also on the bill and gave the rock crowd a lesson in hip-hop history.

Atari Teenage Riot and Rage Against the Machine's intense sloganeering didn't interfere with a good time at Shoreline

By Todd S. Inoue

Tell-tale sign you're at a Rage Against the Machine concert: the line for the men's room is longer than the women's.

It was a bizarre turnaround from countless concerts when men could breeze into the urinals, drop trou, spill the wine and be back in time for the first song. Not tonight. The small percentage of women was holding purses and tapping toes outside the bathrooms while men slowly lurched, processionlike, and relieved themselves of liquid courage.

For sure, the testosterone level was higher than Shoreline Amphitheater's twin towers last Monday night (Sept. 15). Grease-painted men, dressed for combat in big trousers and no shirt, wet themselves thinking about crowd surfing to "Killing in the Name" and "Freedom" up on the grass, flailing with abandon to Zack de la Rocha's incendiary vocals and Tom Morello's hellcat, dentist-drill guitar riffs.

They would have to wait a long time to get to that point. First up was Atari Teenage Riot. The Berlin group is on the edge of "digital hardcore." If the Prodigy were the common cold, Atari Teenage Riot are ebola. The hyperspeed beats and jacked-up bass of "Sick to Death" and "Not Your Business" zoomed way over the heads of the early arrivals. MCs Alec Empire, Carl Crack and Hanin Elias flailed about (not unlike an episode of SNL's Sprockets) to five strobes, spouting slogans like "destroy 2,000 years of culture" and "start the riot." Atari Teenage Riot looked like three people doing interpretive dance to hyperactive beats. In a small club setting, Atari Teenage Riot could probably set it off, but on the big stage, they were slightly ridiculous. Whatever riot ATR was attempting to start was quelled by the audience's brutal indifference.

With Staten Island's Wu-Tang Clan off the tour, Philadelphia's organic hip-hop crew the Roots filled in at the last minute. An excellent choice, but as hip-hop heads will point out, this is the group's fourth local stop in the past year. Unlike past sojourns, the Roots had its secret weapon in tow: beat-box master Rahzel, the Godfather of Noize.

Outfitted in requisite Tommy Hilfiger jeans and Timberland shoes, the Roots--bassist Hub, vocalist Black Thought, guitarist and keys Kamal, drummer ?uestlove--knocked boots on "Proceed," "Mellow My Man," "What They Do." They used the riff from Puff Daddy's "It's All About the Benjamins" for Black Thought to freestyle lyrics over.

The Roots did its usual routine: "Hip-hop 101" was a trip through classic jams, individual solos, a jazz vamp and Rahzel's beat-box solo. Rahzel, using only mouth and microphone, simulated a scratch DJ, a CD-Rom game, Jurassic Park (with dinosaurs and helicopters) and a martial-arts movie ("Your kung fu is really good!"). At the end, he played Beck's "Where It's At" and dedicated a slow jam to the ladies.

The Rage Against the Machine fans where I was sat cheered these displays, but for the hardcore Rage head, patience was wearing as thin as dried war paint.

So when Rage finally took the stage at 9:45pm, folks were keyed up. The Russian national anthem played, the fellas entered and the curling guitar loop of "People of the Sun" turned the upper reaches of Shoreline into Pamplona; the bulls were trampling across the grass in a wild stampede.

Behind a backdrop of Boys Life illustrations marked with questions such as "Who Is Bought and Sold?" "Who Is Beyond the Law?" "Who Is Free to Choose?" Rage broadcast its left-leaning agenda through songs such as "Bombtrack," "Vietnow" and "Bullet in the Head."

An upside-down American flag draped over Timmy C.'s bass amp, images of Ché Guevara plastered on Tom Morello's speaker--both have become inextricably linked to Rage identity. Coupled with pithy sloganeering ("Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me," "Anger is a gift"), their heroes and catch phrases come off as Rage's own designer badge, like a Nike swoosh.

"Fistful of Steel" and "Bomb Track" rendered ethical arguments moot. The songs hit with the unseen force of an roundhouse kick. De la Rocha, hampered by a sprained right ankle, played through pain with an air cast. Morello knows his way around a fretboard, accentuating his firepower riffs with mule kicks. His talents and signature moves--replicating a turntable scratch for solos, finding new areas of atmosphere with his tremolo bar--are still poisonous and pressurized.

The band's chemistry works much like Seinfeld. Each member is directly reliant on the other; there is no central character. Zack wouldn't sound as good without Morello. Morello needs Timmy C.'s evil bass. Keeping everything intact is drummer Brad Wilk.

Rage Against the Machine maintained a enviable level of intensity up straight through to the final call, "Freedom." The encores, "Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name," whipped the Amphitheater into a frenzy, the crowd chanting "and now you do what they told ya" like a mantra.

After, outside of the Amphitheater, one unlucky fan was loaded into an ambulance and bootleg T-shirt vendors were starving (all of Rage's T-shirts sold inside the amphitheater were $10). Shoreline staffers worries of an imminent teenage riot were unfounded; Rage diffused the powder-keg through healthy, aggressive music, keeping the rage confined to its 90-minute set. The bulls, still buzzing, panted their way to the parking lot, torn shirts in hand, steam pouring off their bodies, every ounce of energy expended.

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