The date was November 29th, 1999 and the venue was Maple Leaf Gardens. The occasion was Rage Against The Machine’s Toronto stop on the Battle of Los Angeles tour, and that was the last time Hogtown ever laid their eyes and ears on the legendary L.A. outfit…until now that is! The twice delayed Public Service Announcement Tour finally touched down in Toronto on July 21st and 23rd after navigating the choppy waters of Covid lockdowns, but even that might have been in doubt after a freak injury to frontman Zack De La Rocha’s foot/ankle (we still don’t know which) on the second show of the tour. It hardly seemed believable that a show that I had bought tickets for before anyone had ever uttered the word Covid was now threatened, or at the very least, altered significantly by a seemingly innocent misstep by the legendary vocalist. Regardless, all the Youtube video I had combed through of the shows leading up to Toronto’s proved without doubt that the band sounded as vital as ever.

El P and Killer Mike (AKA: Run The Jewels) had the unenviable task of opening for one of the all-time great live bands and they more than held their own with the crowd that was largely male, and of an aging frat boy mindset…it helped that they had a great sense of humour and were clearly honoured to be on tour with the such legends. The audience knew the hits and it was mission accomplished as far as raising energy levels and expectations for what was to come.

At some time slightly past 9:00 the lights dimmed and De La Rocha’s prerecorded spoken word verbal barrage entitled “Public Service Announcement” blasted through the Scotiabank Arena…and then with that still ringing in our ears, the band ambled up on stage, aside from De La Rocha who was still being carried to his seated position by two more than able security personnel, and after four clicks of drummer Brad Wilk’s sticks, they locked into the debut album’s “Bombtrack”…Fear is Your Only God emblazoned on the large video screen behind them as they tore through the number.

From there it was a non-stop barrage of greatest hits: “People of the Sun”, “Bulls on Parade” and even an early set placement for “Bullet in the Head”…the crowd left breathless, but not enough to not crowd surf and slam dance. Guitar hero and first ballot hall of famer Tom Morello showing all the tricks of his trade that we’ve grown to know and love.

In keeping with the socially conscious nature of Rage Against The Machine, the band used riveting video of all sorts of immoral acts against the less fortunate in between songs…a helicopter descending on a raft of migrants, a border guard with a barking (and menacing) German Sheppard, and damning statistics on Canada’s incarceration and murder rate of it’s indigenous people all helped set the scene for what a heavy night this really was.

The tour has stayed true to a setlist that features all the notable staples that include “Testify”, “Know Your Enemy”, “Guerrilla Radio” and “Wake Up.” Each night though there is a subtle variation that sees one, maybe two, other songs enter the fray…on this night it was “No Shelter.”

With the night already assured as a sure-fire success, all that was left to do was further burn down the house with blistering takes on the showstoppers “Freedom” and “Killing in the Name.” As per usual, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford were in lock-step on the back-end while Morrelo led a masterclass in guitar theatrics, but it was the seated De La Rocha that really commandeered the proceedings. Any notion that his injury would have a negative effect on this tour was quickly swept aside when the intensity of his performance was on full display…of particular note is his eye contact with the audience, always intense, but even more so when he’s rooted in one place.

For a brief moment during “Killing In The Name” (the obvious show closer) it looked as though the Public Service Announcement Tour was well and truly cursed. At around the two minute mark, a stage invader breezed passed by Morello and lept back into the frenzied pit (and it should be noted that no one caught him), and it all happened so fast that the security guard assigned to the stage left area was just slow enough that he tackled Morello instead of said interloper (gasp!)…De La Rocha shutting everything down when he understands the situation. All nerves were eased when Morello bounced back up a moment later and mouthed the words “I’m alright…I’m ok…take it from the top!” And just like that we got a second take of “Killing in the Name” and in doing so, the perfect ending to one of the all-time comeback shows. Let’s see where they go from here.

-Johnny Hooper