Prophets of Rage - Kentish Town, Forum - 13 November 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 16 December 2017 04:20

Prophets Of Rage Kentish Town posterIt goes without saying, but Prophets Of Rage are far too big for the Kentish Town Forum. Of course, if you’d said that in January, back when the band were announced as a sub-headliner at Download Festival UK, as well as a headliner in their own right at some Euro fests, you’d have been met with snarling backlash as people bemoaned the fact that a) there is another fucking ‘supergroup’ doing the rounds and b) they’re getting high-profile spots and coverage based almost entirely upon the past output of their individual members.

 

Those arguments aren’t any less true in November than they were in January, but the fact is that Prophets of Rage aren’t “just” another supergroup, they can be considered one of THE supergroups, featuring the incredible talents of the Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave rhythm section alongside legendary rappers Chuck D (of Public Enemy fame) and B Real (of Cypress Hill) and turntable wizard DJ Lord (also of Public Enemy). The band’s Download performance had us won over back in June and the subsequent release of their debut album showed that, while they had their wobbly moments – all mentions of drones earning a quiet shudder in those who know – this is a band very much burning with creative energy. Returning to the UK for the third time this year, the band land at Kentish Town Forum almost 25 years to the day since Rage Against The Machine played their debut UK show at the venue, making this a very special and commemorative event – for the RATM members, at least.

 

Tickets are sold out well in advance of the event, a steady queue forming outside at 6pm, punters braving the November chill in a sea of RATM, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy T-shirts. As bizarre a decision as it seems, to wear just tees and jeans to a show in November, the fairly mild chill of London takes the worst of the sting out and once bodies start piling into the venue it quickly becomes apparent that the least dressed have got the last laugh.

 

Openers Blood Youth play to a steadily filling room, the band afforded the only support slot for the evening. In the modern climate the number of rap-rock crossover bands still going strong post-Nu Metal is (thankfully) minimal, promoters seizing at straws as they go for the closest approximation they can find to politicised rap-rock. What we get instead is a band that sit somewhere between melodic hardcore and pop-punk, crashing beatdown riffs mixing with stand-out choruses to tickle the ears. The crowd lap it up warmly enough, but there is every sense that they’re just humouring the band, not really caring about any band that doesn’t have a Rage-association for the evening.

 

 

This isn’t helped by a patchy sound at the start of their set, which robs many of the choruses of their potency, making the band seem exceedingly small to be playing such a big stage. Such notions are quashed when the sound is sorted fully, the band building a head of steam as they bounce around the stage, starting to win over more and more members of the audience. As they are now, they aren’t in danger of selling out a venue like the Forum any time soon, but if they can organically develop their sound further and push hard against the limitations of the hardcore scene (melodic or otherwise), there’s enough fire here to see this band go far.

 

The room is unbearably hot as it hits peak capacity. Bodies are crammed in, packed and stacked every which way, every inch of space occupied by an increasingly sweaty music fan looking to grab a spot in front of the stage. Classic rock singles mingle with hip-hop hits in a carefully curated playlist thrown down from the stage, each song met with a cheer of approval.

 

The tell-tale siren which heralds Prophets Of Rage’s arrival onstage feels like an ominous tolling, bodies already crashing together as the band launch into their eponymous Public Enemy cover. Each member sizzles with brilliance as we are treated to Those riffs, That verse delivery and All the beats you could possibly want. A sea of raised fists greets the band and D reciprocates. Unlike the band’s Download set earlier this year, Prophets aren’t here to win anybody over; that battle has already been won decisively, the sell-out clearly well and truly invested in seeing what they can do.

 

 

Following the same steps they did back in June, the band launch into a cover of ‘Testify’ to keep the pressure cooker boiling over, the dancefloor erupting into a wave-filled sea of bouncing bodies. Where Zack De La Roch’s delivery always had a punkish nervous energy, Chuck D is authority and assuredness, grounding the song and giving it some real punch, backed by the inimitable tones of B-Real providing additional lightning. Three songs in and the band are still treading the same boards as before, running through a powerful rendition of ‘Take The Power Back’ to up the funk quotient for the evening. Fantastic as it hear these songs however, you can’t help but wonder when they’ll get onto their own material – they did drop an album this year, after all.

 

The anticipation is worth it – the band burst into ‘Living on the 110’ to break their cover streak and finally we get a flavour that is well and truly theirs, the funk-hop vibes and enormous chorus re-affirming this song’s status as one of the best rock tracks in a year brimming with excellent releases. Further, the song’s direct nature (addressing the poverty divide in LA between the homeless and the rich, the former living under a direct route to some of the richest neighbourhoods in the city) is hugely refreshing, a direct target of anger being fired at with sniper precision.

 

Y’see, the main problem with POR playing RATM – or Public Enemy – songs is that the lyrics come from protagonists 20, 30 years younger than the band are now and from a much more disadvantaged position. It’s been 25 years since any member of the band can really say they haven’t been considered iconic in their genre, their contributions putting them on top, the power well and truly took back. So, to hear veteran rap icons Chuck D and B-Real, or guitar hero Tom Morello, or rock star drummer Brad Wilk (etc. etc.) roaring about being underdogs all feels a little moot. That’s not to say there’s no legitimacy to what they sing (far from it, The Power really does need taking down a few thousand notches right now), but they aren’t necessarily the best spokespeople of the disadvantaged, successful as they are. Call it the U2 conundrum, if you will (except with much, much less self-congratulatory dickheadedness).

 

 

Carefully choosing their targets has been a hit and miss situation for POR – the band’s initial singles were lauded with critical acclaim, but the album met mixed reviews largely because its message seemed far too sloganized, the few direct targets they do take shots at somehow delegitimising the overall political message and seeming like a tired rehash. Prophets aren’t just a rehash – when they hit their own stride they take shots with deadly accuracy, even managing to personalise their venom towards even big targets like the Commander in Chief, contributing something new to discourse rather than partaking in the pecking party.

 

The sojourn into POR exclusive material feels light as the band launch into ‘Guerilla Radio’, but once that riff takes hold you know that nothing is going to stop the whole room erupting into a frenzy. Chuck D isn’t just a hip-hop icon; he’s part of the rap-metal revolution, the team-up between himself and Anthrax for ‘Bring The Noise’ helping to make history in the mid-90s. As such, when the floodgates of hip-hop open for a rendition of Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ there’s plenty of jubilation to go around, utilising his own prolific discography to deliver a bona fide hit. A mash-up rendition of Public Enemy classics ‘Harder Than You Think’, ‘Can’t Truss It’, ‘Bring The Noise’ and ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’ goes head to head Cypress Hill hits ‘Dr. Greenthumb’, ‘Insane In The Brain’, ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That’, ending with House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ to treat the audience to a crash course in A+ quality hip-hop, Prophets style.

 

 

The only problem is, once it’s over it feels like the hip-hop influence of the band has been quietly stuffed into one part of the set, the remaining covers few and far between. The sedate beats of late 80s/90s hip-hop give way to punk-inspired rock fury for ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’. Tom Morello is brought to the forefront of the stage to once again lead the band in an instrumental cover of Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’, which elicits a positive response but feels greatly diminished from the band’s Download performance of the same (after all, you can’t replicate 60,000+ people singing along as a tribute to a fallen icon), not least because the sincerity of it feels hollow now that the band are pulling it out for repeat performances after the initial run.

 

Still, it’s as close as any of us are likely to get to Audioslave live, and the song doesn’t sound entirely out of place as far as anthems go, sandwiched between ‘Sleep’ and follow-up ‘Know Your Enemy’. 13 songs into the set (not including the various songs in the mash-up, which is considered one track) we finally come back to original PoR material with ‘Radical Eyes’, whose B-Real led chorus “They didn’t hear my cries/they said fuck my crisis” powerfully relevant in the wake of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

 

Following the funk-heavy ‘Radical Eyes’, ‘Unfuck the World’ sounds positively apocalyptic, the blows of the opening riff hitting like a ten-tonne weight to the chest. The band’s debut original single, the song demonstrates perfectly how the band’s dynamic works, each member given an opportunity to shine as they show off their musical prowess. Building to the big close, the band pull out Cypress Hill’s ‘How I Could Just Kull A Man’, albeit with elements of the RATM version from the ‘Renegades’ cover album. The band close with a one-two explosion of energy, courtesy of ‘Bulls on Parade’ and ‘Killing In The Name Of’, bringing the curtain down with two of the biggest hits in the RATM back catalogue and conjuring the exciting spirit that carried the band back in ’92.

 

In execution, Prophets Of Rage are exceptional – a band very much on fire when they hit their stride, performing the back catalogue of each band with enough stylistic flourishes to plant their own personality on it. That said, the decided lack of original material six months after the band’s debut album dropped starts to lend a lot more legitimacy to the complaints that they aren’t filling rooms in their own right, but on the strength of their back catalogues. While the shape of the political landscape has changed massively over the past 25 years, the targets and issues highlighted in the songs hasn’t massively, but one of the bigger pitfalls that the band do fall into is a tendency to overindulge in nostalgia.

 

Considering that nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ is a tool being so powerfully used by more problematic political ideologies right now, it feels trite that any band with a heritage can both indulge in call-backs and try to reshape political conversation in any meaningful way. Under the right circumstances, Prophets of Rage have the back catalogue and the energy to remind us just what can be achieved by bands and artists that do choose to fight the power and tackle social injustice. Give the band a set with less crowd-pleasers and more of a focused message and we just might be on the way to having less profits, but more Prophets. 

 

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