Photos: LA Rising – Raging in LA with Rage Against the Machine

August 3, 2011

On July 30, 2011 I had the pleasure of photographing LA Rising (Rage Against the Machine, Muse, Rise Against, Miss Lauryn Hill, et al) in Los Angeles, CA.  Check out the published gallery on Verbicide Magazine.

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There are very few bands I’ll travel to another state to go see.  Rage Against the Machine (RATM) happens to be one of them.  The day tickets for the show, dubbed LA Rising, went on sale, I had a pair in hand and a flight down to Los Angeles booked within an hour.  At the time, I didn’t even care about photographing the show–I just wanted to see one of my all-time favorite bands.

Why has Rage been one of my bucket list bands to see since middle school?  I’ll begin by confessing that I’m a pop music junkie, thanks to my upbringing.  I spent the bulk of my life growing up on an island, where the primary music genres are pop and Hawaiian.  Even my dad knows the words to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga songs, because even they are part of the “adult contemporary” radio playlists in Hawaii.  Any time we had a concert, it was a ska/Hawaiian local band, or a huge pop star who could afford to come out to the islands. Case in point, my first concert ever was Destiny’s Child at the Blaisdell Arena in September 2001.

In 1999, Rage’s third album, The Battle of Los Angeles, was released.  I had just started middle school at a Southern Baptist school that would be my prison for the next 5 years (think Saved!). Needless to say, I needed rebellious music to go along with my attitude.  Rage was the soundtrack to my years of “dramatic” teenage angst and are likely a good reason why I didn’t go insane while being forced to listen to Michael W. Smith. In essence, seeing Rage had to happen.

Two days before LA Rising was to take place, I learned I’d be photographing the event as well.  I just about passed out.  Not just out of excitement, but because I realized I hadn’t planned any other part of the trip either.  Luckily, thanks to social networking, all accommodations and even selling my LA Rising tickets, was taken care of within a couple hours.

On Saturday morning, I arrived in Los Angeles, and picked up my first rental car ever.  After playing tourist in Beverly Hills and The Grove, it was off to the historic LA Coliseum.  Despite the $25 parking fee and insistence by friends that free parking was “out there,” I opted for the safety of parking in a lot and coughed up the cash.  From then on, every annoying festival “rule” came into play.  The press entrance was impossible to find, and every security guard pointed you in another direction.  Finally, I spotted a couple with huge cameras hanging from their shoulders, and followed them to the unmarked (and well hidden) press table. Check-in went smoothly, but we did get hassled by bag check at the entrance.  In the end, they didn’t even check for wristbands or tickets, just nodding at our cameras and waving us through.  I ended up being the only media person from the Pacific Northwest, but was happy to run into several CA-based photographers I knew.

Despite being issued tickets with seat numbers, photographers were allowed to set up shop in the press box.  It ended up being a fantastic view from stage left, but was a challenge getting down to the stage, as we had to walk down several steep staircases.  Later in the festival, lack of sunlight made navigating downstairs harder than ever, especially as we were forced to weave through thick crowds of fans.  Each time we navigated down to the pit, security had a new rule.  One time we needed original tickets to get past one barrier, and another time we were required an escort.  For the final act, we were led by staff around the entire Coliseum, only to be forced to walk through the pit back to the other side during Muse’s final song and getting yelled at by security.  In the end, the on-site staff ended up being wonderful, especially the elevator ladies who put up with us smelly photographers stuffing ourselves inside.

As for shooting in the pit, that was another story.  Luckily, the stage wasn’t terribly high, but unfortunately, a lot of the photographers were really tall.  Those lacking in height toted a step stool with them–all except for me.  Towards the end of the night, as the more popular bands started taking the stage, the pit got fuller and fuller, and it was a race to get in first and claim your spot, since there wouldn’t be much movement after that.  For Muse, I ended up smushed against the barrier with a mass of torsos, tripods, and speakers blocking my view.  Hail mary shots and climbing up on the barrier were the only ways I could get decent shots.

Alright, enough logistics.  On to a mini review of the show!

Approximately 60,000 people filled the huge Los Angeles Memorial Colesium, which was the site of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics.  Each of the five other bands was selected by Rage to perform at this festival, which, according to a source, may become an annual event. The show began at 3pm and went on past midnight.

El Gran Silencio: Mexican roots-rock all in español.  Good energy and a lot of fun.

Immortal Technique: Straight up revolutionary rap oozing with New York pride.  Too much political preaching, but it was nice to see Killer Mike‘s familiar face as part of IT’s rap posse.

Miss Lauryn Hill: Although happy she played a lot of old hits (including Fugees material), her overall performance quality felt and sounded sloppy, not to mention she was 20 minutes late.  The only performance that didn’t have the audience visibly rocking and swaying.  Still, she looks amazing.

Rise Against: Loud, energetic, and fun rock music.  The band’s guitarists had no shortage of jump kicks and on-stage theatrics, and mosh pits formed all over the crowd.

Muse: My first time seeing this Brit rock trio live, and I was impressed.  Stunning light show, and lead singer Matthew Bellamy made full use of the wide stage (making us photographers feel like cats chasing a mouse).

Rage: They were 20 minutes late, and waiting for them was like anticipating the start of a war.  While Zack de la Rocha kept mainly to the middle of the stage, Tom Morello was practically in my face on stage left. Having a front row seat to witness his precise technique on the guitar was jaw dropping.

Most notable moments of the show:

– Rage lit the Olympic torch high above the stadium, a gesture of pyro that was followed up by several fires being started in the mosh pits below.

– De la Rocha’s mic cut out for the first few bars of the opening song “Testify,” but he kept giving it his all until the sound burst back into life.

– As one review mentioned, if you wanted to commit a crime in LA, this was the night to do it as it seemed all of LAPD was surrounding the Coliseum.  Firetrucks, ambulances, cop cars, and even a helicopter circulated above, waiting for…something.  It turns out nothing major went down, other than awful traffic at the end of the show.

For more comprehensive reviews, check out the articles by Rolling Stone and LA Times.

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