INDIO, California — For the first time since the inaugural Coachella in 1999, the Machine was Raged Against in the California desert, and damn, it felt good. So good we can almost forgive Zack de la Rocha for basically being invisible for the past half-decade.
Of the 124 acts that performed at Coachella this year, one mattered a little more than all the others, and that was the reunited Rage Against the Machine, who headlined the final of three days with a set just as ferocious as guitarist Tom Morello promised.
The fiercely outspoken Los Angeles quartet have said they're reforming because the current political environment needs them (see "Nightwatchman, Rage Reunion Have Morello Fired Up For Political Fights") — and there was clearly no doubt Sunday just how, well, enraged Rage are about what's going in the world, particularly in Iraq.
Although de la Rocha said virtually nothing between songs, one tirade in the middle of "Wake Up" said it all. "Our current administration needs to be tried, hung and shot," the singer boldly stated. "We need to treat them like the war criminals they are."
Rage Against the Machine proved they clearly have not lost their stride, and were all the more impressive considering the Coachella Stage lineup before them — Willie Nelson, Crowded House and Manu Chao — did very little to warm up the crowd. And when Rage finally hit the stage with "Testify," they battled a muffled sound system for the first three songs. (Perhaps their popular Battle of Coachella T-shirts proved prophetic.)
Still, the band was on, like they just got off an arena tour. De la Rocha's snapping vocals were as passionate and crisp and ever, and Morello's guitar antics gave the songs just the bit of newness they needed. Playing most of their debut album along with the hits from their other three LPs, Rage stirred up the kind of testosterone not usually associated with Coachella. (The Lemonheads, for instance, were playing simultaneously nearby.)
When Coachella launched in 1999, it was just weeks after the third Woodstock, which ended disastrously in a massive riot. Although many of the acts were the same (including Rage), the palm-tree setting and far-stretching eclecticism gave it a different vibe, a mellower, desert version of Woodstock.
While Coachella's vibe hasn't changed over the years, Sunday's show felt as much like Woodstock as it ever has, mainly due to the politics.
Aside from Rage, the Roots also strongly protested the war in Iraq in words and song, including an epic 15-minute-plus version of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" which they began by singing the anti-establishment lyrics to the melody of the national anthem.
Against Me!, the Coup and even old Willie Nelson also got in on the fun, which gave the Kaiser Chiefs' set-stealing version of "I Predict a Riot" a new meaning.
Of course, it wasn't all anti-this, anti-that — just ask the dudes in the bear masks (that would be the Teddybears, of course), who were having a hell of a time turning the Gobi Tent into a dance-athon.
There are always a few tent bands who steal some of the talk from outdoor stages (Bloc Party two years ago, Gnarls Barkley last year) and this year both of those came on Sunday, with the Teddybears and the Klaxons, another dance-friendly band but with a British punk twist. Get both those records now and brag later.
Other highlights included early Coachella Stage performers Explosions in the Sky, whose instrumental, landscape-painting rock (fans of "Friday Night Lights" should know their music well) was the perfect soundtrack for an hour of basking under the scorching afternoon sun.
Instrumental music actually popped up a few times, with the Roots jamming on dozens of hip-hop favorites, both old ("Push It") and new ("This Is Why I'm Hot"), and both Ratatat and Air opening with vocal-less numbers. Unfortunately, with the latter taking the stage 30 minutes behind schedule, an instrumental song just created a further disconnect.
Early in the day, Lily Allen and the Kooks (think Dogs Die in Hot Cars with a better name) lived up to their buzz, the Junior Boys and Soulwax gave very different treatments to synthesizer-driven rock and José Gonzáles and Damien Rice proved louder isn't always better.
But when the dust settled, (actually the dust probably never settles in these parts), there was definitely a loudness in the air, captured in a little mantra that goes "F--- you, I won't do what you tell me." And it feels good.
Check out "Amy Winehouse Tests Tent Limits, Bjork Previews Weird Timbaland Tracks As Coachella Kicks Off" and "Chili Peppers, Arcade Fire Rock Out To Sweltering Fans; Travis Pray For Rain On Coachella Day Two" to see what went down in the desert on Friday and Saturday.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.