This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.
This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.
Tom Morello, Boots Riley @ El Rey, 12/9
My first thought when Boots Riley took the stage was, "Holy crap! Shaft has gone on tour with Kurt Cobain." Sporting an Afro, leather overcoat with a fur collar, and some impressive sideburns, he took the stage at the El Rey accompanied by a young man with long blond hair, a green winter jacket, and who frankly looked quiet stoned. If you look at the photo gallery below, you'll see that first impression was warranted.
Boots performed an acoustic set rapping with only a guitar as the rhythm section. The young man, who Tom Morello introduced later as Carl "The Wizard," provided a stark backdrop for Boots' songs, which amplified the meaning of his words. It was perfect. Each member of the audience could clearly hear every line Boots sang about political injustice, intolerance, and social activism.
The man who "came from the city where the Panthers grew" blew the crowd away with the complexity of his lyrics from the angry social ballads Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO, to the hopeful We Are the Ones, to the downright silly Wear Clean Draws which was full of sound advice he had for his four year old daughter. The crowd responded most vocally to the politically focused songs.
Granted this was a Tom Morello crowd and therefore more prone to be provoked by ballads about social outrage, but I couldn't help thinking we need more of this. In times like these we need more songs about how angry we are with the government and big corporations. Because the frustration and rage needs to go somewhere. It cannot stay bottled up within our communities and fester. Music is a cathartic, healthy, and more importantly peaceful way of releasing some of those frustrations that seem to be increasing in this country every day.
And no one knows that importance better than Tom Morello. While Rage Against the Machine is disbanded (on hiatus? No one is really sure what's going on with them.) Morello formed his own band called the Nightwatchman. And thank goodness he did. Such a legendary guitarist should never be idle for very long. It would be criminal. I would tell you all the things he did with that guitar that night, but you wouldn't believe me. I don't believe me and I was there.
Before the show began, a little old lady in a Nightwatchman shirt appeared on stage. "I would like to introduce my son, Tom Morello." she said before raising her fist in a triumphant salute, "Peace!" It was a really touching moment. Morello took the stage and launched into his first single One Man Revolution. His band known as the Freedom Fighter Orchestra (No really. That's what they were called.) were dressed in jumpsuits and ties with the American flags tied to their lapels. Which struck me as funny that a man who is so anti-uniformity would have his band dress up in uniforms.
Tuesday night was a prime example of why live shows are so exciting. You are never quite sure what is going to happen. Morello covered the AC/DC classic Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap with new lyrics that applied to the Bush administrations torture tactics. Serj Tanken of System of a Down made a guest appearance in the middle of the set. He lent his angelic and let's be honest, kinda creepy voice to Lazarus On Down. Boots Riley came back on stage as Morello introduced their collaborative project, Street Sweeper. They will have any album out some time next year. Also, Morello played an unflinchingly beautiful ode to his late Aunt called Saint Isabelle. All he used to play it was a drum and a harmonica, which he used to express his grief with such grace that the whole place was silent in awe.
The show ended with a rousing version of Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land which was an unusual pick to end a rock show. But Tom Morello had everyone singing a long and jumping up and down by the end of the night, which got a little out of hand. Yes, there was a semi mosh pit during a Guthrie song, which I can't imagine happens to often. Nor are we encouraged to be socially responsible and get good and pissed at the establishment as often as we should by musicians.
It has long baffled me why more music that is produced today doesn't address our political outrage like they did in the 1960s. I know people are angry enough. Anyone can see that from the cloud of gloom that instantly appears overhead when someone mentions the word "bailout." But where are our balladeers to record it? Morello is a powerful voice, but he is just one. Where are the others? I believe it's time to start a musical revolution. Not that it should be all politics all the time, but wouldn't it be cool if every musician put one political song on their record? Not just people like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana. That would be really wild. We could have a whole spectrum of political opinion on the radio. Man, and while I'm still dreaming Ticketmaster will get rid of all of their bogus charges and start including free concert t-shirts with every purchase. A girl can dream.
All photos were taken by the lovely and talented Leslie Kalohi.