Why I Was Able to Enjoy Prophets of Rage

A “tl;dr” by Sunny hate5six

The last 24 hours have been a complete and total mindfuck and I feel like I need to transcribe this because this will inevitably be one of the defining moments in my life story.

Let me get this out of the way immediately: Prophets of Rage is a cover band, at least with respect to the RATM catalogue. My friend stole the words directly out of my mouth when he said it “lacks urgency and the sense of pleading with the listener to pay attention”, or as my brother said, “it’s like driving a Lamborghini but never getting out of first gear”. None of this is meant as an insult, but rather an honest assessment of what it is not. As soon as you can accept this it becomes easier to appreciate it for what it is. This is a close attempt at a full RATM experience but that isn’t saying much because the gap left in Zack’s absence is immeasurable. It’s an incredibly far second, but in my estimation it isn’t unlistenable even for the purest diehards. I’ll tell you why.

Let me rewind to Saturday morning. I was having breakfast with a friend in Dorchester, MA and she asked me to tell her something about myself. I told her something that isn’t all that shocking: one of my great joys living a solitary, roommate-less life is being able to crank up live RATM sets and run around the living room with a fake mic pretending to front the band. I’ve been doing this since I was 10 and I’m going to keep doing it until I fucking croak. Judge me. I don’t give a fuck.

I spent the rest of Saturday on a secluded farm in MA with friends and ended up camping over night. By Sunday morning my Google alerts had gone off and started pinging me: Prophets of Rage had flown to NYC to play a last minute set at Governor’s Ball later that afternoon. I contemplated dropping by on my drive home to Philly but after seeing tickets going for $300–400 on StubHub thanks to Kanye headlining, I chalked it up as a lost cause. By noon I was on the road, dreading the 5.5 hour drive ahead of me. I cued up a recording of the second Prophets show from Friday in LA, which was graciously sent over to me by a friend. They sounded better but still unable to close that aforementioned gap. The highways were a mess due to a severe storm but I thought nothing of it.

At 1pm, Little Bird (Chris + Sarah) chirped and notified me that Governor’s Ball had been cancelled and that a backup show was hopefully in the works. At that moment my indifference inflected towards intrigue as I imagined myself witnessing this shit in something like Vitus. I had to make it to NYC and just make myself available to run to whatever venue would be announced. Chris and Sarah kept me abreast of where and when to be and I am indebted to them for it. I cued up the July 4, 1996 RATM live set from Moscow which never fails to get me hype as fuck. I still had a few hours left and the storm that cancelled Governor’s Ball was becoming a real threat on my drive. By 2:30 the update came in: be at The Warsaw in Brooklyn. Only a few hundred non-transferable wristbands would be available at 5. I was still 2 hours out, without factoring in the storm. I hauled ass and cursed myself for not having the insight to leave MA earlier. I intentionally did not broadcast the show on hate5six outlets so as to minimize my chances of losing a spot to some fucking snake in the grass.

At that point I said fuck it and messaged Brad Wilk on Instagram, who had responded to me many months ago but whose ear I try not to punish. I pleaded with him to let me film the show, thinking that if I pulled that card I could secure a spot and not have to die en route. He responded a few minutes later saying they had a crew (more on them later) but that he enjoyed my previous Muhammad Ali post and would be resharing it. By then my ETA was 5:05. I followed up with a thanks and hopeful wish that I’d be lucky enough to get in. I ended the conversation with a link to a recent hate5six interview that goes into meticulous detail about how the hate5six model is a direct reflection of the model RATM created, and expressed my wish for him to read it when he has time to kill.

The storm didn’t let up and pockets of traffic were forming all along parts of 84 and 91 South. ETA 5:18 with over an hour left on the drive.

I made it to the outskirts of Brooklyn just before 5 and Chris told me he and Sarah were holding my spot as they were probably 50 or so people from the door. They advised me to double park and just jump the line. Would I get beat up for pulling such a dick move? Did I want to risk getting a parking ticket? None of it mattered. I was on that Vietnow head rush shit and couldn’t shake it. All hell wasn’t going to stop me.

At around 5:10 I realized I was only 3 blocks away and uncontrollable panic began to set in about what the fuck I’d do with my car. I was on McGuinness Blvd desperately looking for a spot. I found something that could have been off limits but I stopped giving a fuck. I pulled over, ditched the car in that spot without checking any signs and jetted the 3 blocks down McGuinness while my GPS still barked directions at me: slight right on Graham and right on Driggs. I cut Graham and turn the corner on Driggs and immediately came face to face with the massive line wrapped around Eckford Street. I nearly froze. My eyes locked on Chris and Sarah and I ran across Driggs, dodging a car. The line began to applaud as I raced towards the crowd control barrier. I hurdled it and collapsed on the ground as a sea of applause and “holy fuck!”s rained over. Chris and Sarah had been giving everyone around them a play by play and they were all rooting for me to get there. About 15 seconds later the box office opened and someone behind me yelled, “they were waiting for you, man!”

Fast forward to 8pm when the doors open for the show.

I walked in and it’s the size of a fucking middle school cafeteria. My intrigue inflected again but this time towards excitement. Under 1,000 people in this tiny room. Shit was gonna go down.

I’m not gonna go into a song by song breakdown but I legitimately had a shit eating grin on my face the entire time. I had pushed my way to the front for most of the set and had fun calling out the next songs with almost 100% accuracy just by looking at Tom’s guitar changes. Singing along to the Public Enemy songs revealed two things: I love PE and most people attending these shows are in dire need of a history lesson.

I was pleasantly surprised to see them unveil the “Renegades” version of “How I Could Just Kill A Man”.

The main riff in their new song “The Party’s Over” is a direct rip off the unreleased 93 RATM/Tool collab “Can’t Kill The Revolution”, originally recorded for the Judgement Night soundtrack. The other half of that song later became “New Millennium Homes” on BOLA. It was a nice surprise to hear that riff resurrected and put to use again.

Being within mere feet of the “Arm the Homeless” and “Sendero” guitars had me transfixed like a snakecharmer. Some of my favorite riffs that elicit the most primitive reactions out of me were written on those guitars.

I was also pleased they Zack-ified the chorus during Killing in the Name by tweaking it slightly. Where he was known to change it from “some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses” to “some of those that hold office”, Chuck/B swapped it for “some of those that’s in Congress”. That made me smile.

Photo by Chris Wyatt

They also might as well have hired apes to film the set. There were 2 cameraman, both of whom decided it was appropriate to simultaneously film almost entirely on Tom’s side, along with one GoPro angled at Tom — -leaving one GoPro hanging off the side facing down on Tim. No angle from behind the kit to get Brad and the crowd, and they made zero use of the balcony. Complete and utter idiocy. I would have produced the greatest god damn live video of that set at 1/1000000th of the budget. Chuck D still has yet to respond to my proposal on Twitter.

Chuck’s ability to handle the songs, specifically Take The Power Back, is improving but is still falling short in some regards. Then again, that he isn’t trying to imitate Zack also leaves me wondering what my realistic expectations of his ability should even be. The sets are bereft of the impassioned speeches that defined RATM, but that’s something that cannot be imitated. But truth be told, that’s one of THE most incendiary and potent parts of a RATM set, and they are needed now — maybe even more than the songs themselves. The band sounds great and I think with more shows will only become more refined playing those classic tracks again. But it was during Bullet in the Head when I started to realize why I was enjoying myself in face of, again, such an immeasurable distance from “the real thing”.

Photo by @grifflotz on Instagram + Rolling Stone

I pushed myself out of the front to sacrifice myself to the pit during Bullet. I paced around and ripped myself apart, screaming those fucking words that penetrated my existence as a kid and woke me the fuck up. Not just Bullet but the entire RATM catalog. Words that molded me consciously into the 30 year old I am, whose only care is to create spaces for communication and build positive momentum in this world in some capacity, day in and day out. The entire push pit stopped and everyone just started to look at me as I paced and screamed the first and second verse. They began to make room for me as I obliterated myself into smithereens. Maybe it was because a bunch of white bros were shocked to see this skinny brown dude with a massive beard and sweaty Rob Zombie hair covering his face going completely ballistic. In my head I simultaneously replayed every live RATM show or recording I’ve ever seen, and thought about myself at every stage of my life when this band changed me, and I thought about my brother who wanted to be there and is responsible for infecting me with this band’s bug. At that point everyone faded around me and it was just me, Tom, Tim, and Brad. And I was in my living room. I was singing these songs. I was working that crowd. I was pleading for people to understand what the fuck these songs are saying.

No one is going to replicate Zack’s presence and command of the mic, not Chuck, not B, not even my imaginary impersonations. I’ve often said that once music is played live it becomes a communal act. I was able to enjoy Prophets of Rage not because it may or may not want to be RATM, but because of what RATM means to me.