At The Drive-In Experience Arena Life On Rage Tour

Texas rock group, cast in the opening-band role, prefers playing to the friendlier faces in clubs.

At the Drive-In guitarist Jim Ward said he understands what it's like,

going to arena shows and having to sit through opening bands.

And now, winding up a string of dates supporting Rage Against the Machine,

he knows too well what it's like from the opening band's point of view.

"It's pretty intimidating to walk out there and see all those people, and

they really don't want to watch you play," Ward said Wednesday from

Massachusetts. "You know, when you're a kid and you go to a concert, you

don't want to watch an opener you've never heard of."

The Rage tour constitutes a big change of venues — and audiences

— for At the Drive-In, who've spent years playing small clubs, living

rooms and basements.

The five-piece band formed in El Paso, Texas, in 1994, and has released

two LPs and two EPs, including this year's Vaya, which features

the song "Rascuache" (RealAudio

excerpt). At the Drive-In began touring relentlessly in 1997,

earning a reputation for energetic live shows that feature the bandmembers

— especially afro-sporting singer Cedric Bixler — climbing,

leaping and rolling around the stage, their bodies functioning as vessels

for their emotive hardcore music.

The first show with Rage Against the Machine was Nov. 27, at the Palace

of Auburn Hills, near Detroit.

"Some people were into it," Ward said. "There were actually some of our

fans there, wearing our shirts, up front, singing along, stuff like that.

But at different points, like when we'd bust out with a slower song or

a mellower song, we'd just get flipped off, or people would scream. They're

meatheads, you know? There's a lot of a--holes in the world."

Despite having to deal with "meatheads," as well as certain factions of

the underground music community who are critical of the band's overnight

leap into the spotlight, the group has managed to attract some new fans.

Robyn Gilverson, 20, of Kitchener, Ontario, had never heard of At the

Drive-In when she went to see Rage Against the Machine at Maple Leaf

Gardens in Toronto on Nov. 29. But she liked what she saw.

"They won me over," she wrote in an e-mail. "I spent a good five hours,

the other day, trying to find where I could get their CDs."

Ward said he wasn't sure why his band, which also has opened recent shows

for Foo Fighters, had been invited to open for Rage, but he said he'd

heard that Rage singer Zack de la Rocha is a fan. The admiration goes

both ways.

"They're probably one of the only bands that we'd go on tour with in arenas,

because we respect what they do," Ward said. "It's not just a rock band

— it's a rock band with a message that we respect. ... We definitely

wouldn't go on tour with Third Eye Blind or somebody like that."

The group's stint with Rage Against the Machine ends Sunday (Dec. 5), at

the Oakdale Theater in New Haven, Conn. After that, the band likely will

never play an arena again, Ward said, preferring instead to return to

much smaller venues.

"That's where we grew up playing; that's where we feel comfortable; that's

our home — a small club or a house," he said. "Houses are the best

places to play, because if you're there with 20 people, that's the most

intimate situation you can have, and that's when I think the music and

the energy carries across at the same time."