Thousands of sunburned fans roared in unison and pumped their fists in the desert air Sunday night as reunited political rockers Rage Against the Machine took the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Grinning, lead singer-rapper Zack de la Rocha’s fist was right up there with them.
Seven years after the quartet broke up following de la Rocha’s departure, the band returned with a vengeance to close out the three-day festival east of Palm Springs.
Stomping, shouting into his microphone, grabbing his curly hair and inciting the audience to “keep fighting,” de la Rocha powered through songs ranging from the bass heavy “Bulls on Parade” to the anthem “Killing in the Name.”
He also railed against the war in Iraq and likened Bush administration officials to Nazi war criminals.
Drummer Brad Wilk, bassist Tim Commerford and guitarist Tom Morello, who wore a hat with the word “UNITY” on it, completed the lineup.
“They changed my life. They made me a liberal,” said sweat-drenched history teacher Rafael Ramon, 25, who had waited in a crowd packed shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the stage all day.
“All of America needed Rage to come back. They’ve been missing,” he said.
The band last played the festival during its first year in 1999.
An estimated 180,000 people attended the festival over the three days but police said there were few problems.
Fewer than 100 people were arrested, most of them for investigation of drug or alcohol use, and there were a couple reports of people being treated for drug overdoses, Indio police spokesman Ben Guitron said early Monday morning.
Triple-digit temperatures on Saturday also led to some cases of heat exhaustion, he said.
Anticipation for Rage started building Saturday, when Morello performed a solo act of protest songs as the Nightwatchman.
Morello wore a harmonica and swapped his standard electric guitar for an acoustic with the words “whatever it takes” scrawled on it.
He dedicated tunes to “rebel girls and women,” unions, farm workers and the audience.
Other Sunday highlights were country music veteran Willie Nelson, performing a day before his 74th birthday, and reunited rock band Crowded House.
On Saturday, Los Angeles hip-hop fusion ensemble Ozomatli provided one of the most energetic shows of the festival, with band members calling out to the audience in both English and Spanish.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined Saturday.
Singer Anthony Kiedis, sporting a mustache and wearing a black vest and fingerless gloves, raced around the stage, zipping past bare-chested bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante.
“Out of all the bands playing, I wanted to see them the most!” said Nicole McMachen, 21, who danced ferociously to the music with her fiance, Dustin Palmer, 21.
McMachen said she planned to get lyrics for the song “Snow (Hey Oh)” tattooed onto her arm.
Flea, known for his giddy stage outbursts, expressed the opposite of rage to the audience.
“Everything is beautiful,” he yelled out. “Love and peace is in all our hearts.”