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All the rage: Machine gears up

The circumstances couldn’t be better for an incandescent performance by these explosively feisty, Grammy-award winning thrash rockers.

An opinionated take on the week ahead in music, Aug. 29-Sept. 4

Members of the band Rage Against the Machine lead a march through Denver on Wednesday. The band plays Sept. 3 at Target Center.
REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Members of the band Rage Against the Machine lead a march through Denver on Wednesday. The band plays Sept. 3 at Target Center.

Gig of the week

Rage Against The Machine
(Target Center, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m., $60)

The circumstances couldn’t be better for an incandescent performance by these explosively feisty, Grammy-award winning thrash rockers. They were in their pissed-off prime during the Clinton era, splintering into semi-retirement right around the time the U.S. Supreme Court was ruling on Bush vs. Gore. Consigning themselves to a smattering of gigs during two terms of Bush seems like a missed opportunity — or unbashed piñata — for band and die-hard fans alike.

Unless they’ve curiously mellowed over the years (don’t bet on it), there will be pent-up vitriol galore when they take the stage ten miles away from where John McCain will be formally nominated as the Republican standard-bearer the next day. That would be the latest manifestation of the “Machine” they’ve been raging against these many years. A performance near the Democratic Convention in Denver earlier this week and the prospect of an impromptu Rage gig at SEIU “Take Back Labor Day” at Harriett Island on Monday (guitarist Tom Morello is on the bill with “and friends”) certainly won’t take the edge off — if anything it will hone their chops rather than plane their disdain for the ruling policies of this nation.

No doubt their lyrics can descend into radical cant and facile sloganeering. But compare that to a slew of thrash-punk-metal outfits who dwell in misogyny, or suicidal self-pity, or even less incisive socio-political angst —and they don’t rock with half the intoxicating turbulence that Rage Against the Machine can muster. No, Zach de la Rocha remains one of the most compelling rap-vocalists in the game today, and with a flip (or many flips) of the switch on his axe, Morello can pivot from crazy-quilt noddling with special efx to powerhouse chords that would make Ozzy and Slash envious. Check the momentum shift the band executes from 3:00 to 3:15 in this blistering 2000 rendition of “Bullet in The Head.”

Rage Against the Machine performing “Bullet in the Head” at the 2000 Rock am Ring music festival held at the Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

There are some potentially superb anti-Republican National Convention shows on tap this week that I previewed in Tuesday’s column; I’m especially pumped to see Michael Franti & Spearhead and Dead Prez on the State Capitol steps Tuesday. But most of these are festival-like, relatively informal affairs, with little or no cover charge and the musicians not necessarily controlling the timing and agenda from the stage. The Rage gig at the Target Center is a full-fledged concert with top-notch technical support to stage an arena-sized event (and, ironically, given the political bent, includes a hefty ticket price). Of all the performances on tap this week, this one holds out the prospect —for better or worse — of being special.

Foot soldiers on the scene

The Root of All Evil Memorial Metal Massacre (First Avenue and Seventh St. Entry, Friday, Aug. 29, 5:15 p.m., all ages until 9:30; 18-plus after 9:30; $12)

Bill Kubeczko Appreciation Concert (Cedar Cultural Center, Sunday, Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m., $8 in advance, $10 day of show)

From the outside looking in, local music scenes rise and fall on the number of nationally renowned acts who break through to the big time. But if you are blessed enough to become part of a steady community of like-minded players, listeners, bookers, roadies and roustabouts, you know a scene is defined by its intimacy and selfless camaraderie. The vast majority of people in this town, let alone across the state or country, wouldn’t recognize the names of Earl Root or Bill Kubeczko, but those who do will invariably get soft and tribal when you mention them. Because if you were looking for two people to plant the flags for heavy metal and “world” musics, respectively, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, these two — taste-maskers supreme, both of them — would probably top the list.

Earl Root was the patron saint (satan?) of metal in these parts. He was a decent-enough guitarist, but was best known for his retail stores (the vinyl-only Root Cellar Records, and the gothic metal-oriented  Root Cellar’s Dungeon), his record label (Root Of All Evil Records), and his decades-long tenure as host of the Root of All Evil radio show on KFAI. In late May he succumbed from a 10-year battle with cancer at the age of 46, and tonight the local metal community is understandably out in great force to honor him and help pay off his medical bills. Twenty different bands festoon the lineup, with Impaler probably being the best known but Aesma Daeva, Root’s last band, holding the greatest cache.

Nine days later, the Cedar Cultural Center will fete Kubeczko, who thankfully has merely retired after 15 years as the Cedar’s artistic director. Under Kubeczko, the Cedar grew from a shoestring organization (at the time he was hired Kubeczko was the only paid employee) to a nationally known venue for roots music from around the world, with more than a dozen paid staffers. Eschewing the “cast of thousands” approach, the concert will consist of Eight Head (the genuinely exotic yet versatile jazz group that is Kubeczko’s favorite local ensemble) as the house band, engaging special guests such as Ruth MacKenzie and Sowah Mensah.

Another thing about local music communities: Concerts that pay homage to one of their own tend to be wildly varying in quality, but the high points often generate poignant moments of genuine affection, and inspiration.

Tube Boobs and the Sling Blade

Americans Idols Live (Target Center, Sunday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., $37.50-$66.50)

Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters (Pantages Theater, Saturday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m., $35)

With its ersatz intimacy and marketplace aristocracy, celebrity is the opposite of community. Those who want to gawk at the flesh-and-blood versions of the images they’ve seen in the movies or on TV can hustle on down to the Target Center to watch third-rate singers unadorned by Simon Cowell, or Angelina’s ex-main squeeze, the Sling Blade himself, going through some rockabilly covers and forgettable originals with his band. No, Thornton’s music isn’t terrible (which is better than I can say for the Idols). But there are a half-dozen local acts plying similar tunes with similar competence that won’t cost you 35 bucks in a place you can’t dance.

Appealing fluff

Ruby Isle (Kitty Kat Club, Friday Aug. 29, 8 p.m., $5)

Vocalist-keyboardist Mark Mallman has a flair for self-promotion that includes his infamous music marathons — literally round-the-clock performances of a single song. Ironically, the glam-rocker’s going relatively under the radar with the CD release from his new band, Ruby Isle, a sleek, Cars-like ensemble that is cranking out what may be the best music he’s ever done. It’s the converse of Rage Against the Machine — deliberately disposable hedonism that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It should make for a nice detour from all the political heavy-lifting to come in the day ahead.