Tom Morello, Steve Earle, Wayne Kramer, Sammy Hagar, Boots Riley (The Coup), Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Joe Satriani, and Damian Kulash (OK Go)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Better than: Playing Guitar Hero.
It was midway through the Tom Morello hootenanny when Rage's shredding machine grinned at the crowd and said, "Let me remind you, you all paid $15 to get in tonight. That's like a buck a superstar."
Actually, if you were gonna do the math, by the end of the night, we'd been entertained by Morello and his Freedom Fighter Orchestra, Steve Earle, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Sammy Freakin' Hagar, Boots Riley of The Coup, Corey Taylor of Slipknot (sans mask of course), Joe Satriani, and Damian Kulash of OK Go, so technically it came out to something like $1.87 a superstar. But really, everyone at Slim's was too busy pounding fists with fierce excitement to remember exactly how much they'd spent to get in. No matter the cost, they were getting their pennies' worth--both in the energy the audience fed to the stage to the goodwill the headliners shot back at their fans. There was a lot of love in the room, man (and a lot of men in the room). Not to mention a lot of dollar bills that went to a righteous cause, thanks to the activist concept behind Morello's Justice Tour, a singular concert that has you leaving feeling real good.
The political thrust behind these tours is, as Morello explained, to "bail out people, not banks." An alternate version of this mantra, which he also espoused during the three-hour long show: "Feed the poor, fight the war, rock the fuck out."
The Rage/Audioslave/Nightwatchman succeeded on pulling off all fronts last night. He gathered together a gaggle of rock gods during the day to personally wrap and hand out burritos with Project Open Hand, a San Francisco organization that feeds the needy, and one that received 100 percent of the ticket sales for last night's show (plus all the $1, $5, and $10 bills people stuffed in its coffers by the end of the night at Morello's repeated suggestions). But equally importantly, he also gathered those same ax slingers to get rowdy from the stage at night.
Personally, I wasn't sure what to expect from the evening--I imagined an "unplugged" event full of acoustic protest songs. But while there was a little bit of the low-key (Slipknot's Taylor came out with an acoustic guitar and warned, "I'm not going to rock the fuck out of you, I'm going to soothe the fuck out of you" before heading into emo territory with one of his own songs and covering both Tom Petty and Ray LaMontagne) nearly everything played was a 20 an energy scale of 1 to 10.
But you know things are going to get insane when the evening starts out with Wayne Kramer playing a sarcastic little ditty about the size of his amp. From there, Morello hyped the crowd by playing his "Arm the Homeless" electric guitar for a couple Nightwatchman songs, including the funk punk protest anthem "Whatever It Takes." And then came more big guns.
"This is a great thing in our own hometown--Joe and I had to come down. We didn't even rehearse, but that's ok." So said Sammy Hagar, downing a Corona and speaking of his neighbor Joe Satriani, who had just performed a couple songs of guitar mastery/wankery depening on your level of fandom (personally I find his music incredibly cheeseball, despite the obvious technical skills). Sammy was also a cheeseball of course--in a dopey, kinda awesome way. His big golden curls bounced atop his round face as the dude did leaps around the stage and did a cover of the bluesy oldie "I'm Going Down."
Even better was the band's version of the awesome butt rock oldie "Rock Candy," which Hagar wrote back in the '70s with Montrose (he kicked off the song by announcing, "In 1973, a little band came out of California called Montrose.") Hagar sometimes sounded like a stubbed cat on the high screams, but overall? "Rock Candy" came off supremely rockin.
All that was only halfway through the night too. Highlights from the second half included a long set from Steve Earl, who played with nearly all the guests over the course of the night (including Spider Stacy of the Pogues) and covered everyone from Townes Van Zant (who he recently recorded a tribute album to) and Bruce Springsteen ("The Ghost of Tom Joad") to playing a rousing rendition of his own "Copperhead Road."
Other great moments: Local firebrand Boots Riley took a turn on the mic, teasing the crowd with the excellence of the upcoming Riley/Morello project Street Sweeper by playing two tracks off their upcoming album (my gut? That project's gonna be huge if it incites half the riot it received last night) and then really knocking it out of the park with a cover of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" that got the whole crowd singing along.
By this point, Morello had played the guitar slide style, one handed, with his teeth, and in so many other incarnations there was nothing else to do, really, but get everyone (except Satriani and Hagar, who'd disappeared) up on stage...along with OK Go frontman Damian Kulash and sing "This Land is Your Land." And that's exactly what Morello did, prefacing the song with a reminder that "Real change doesn't come from the oval office; It comes from people like you," and the threat that the greedy Wall St. bastards should be prosecuted--"If not by the courts then by you!" (Big cheers to that one. Look out AEG execs).
If getting everyone to donate to the homeless, sing along to old Woody Guthrie tunes, and jump high into the air was all it took to change a country, Tom Morello would be the most benevolent, most rock 'n' roll dictator alive. But as it stood last night, the dude still rules. He proved he can still provoke people's minds as he puctures their eardrums, creating a truly one of a kind show that won't soon be forgotten.
By the way: The show left me thinking, randomly, about Noise Pop. Morello's show was just the kind of unique star personality collision/collaboration that our local music festival should be fostering. As I wrote in a recent column, San Francisco's biggest pop festival should be using its connections to create more "only in SF" experiences that you can't get elsewhere. We should leave a Noise Pop event at least once feeling like we saw something we couldn't see anywhere else. Morello's Justice tour did just that, pulling from the country, punk, metal, hip-hop, and pop worlds to create a temporary place where everyone--from the disparate artists to the disparate music the performers selected--all got along. I can't say I'm a fan of everyone who got on the stage at Slim's, but all thrown together I had a blast at that show. I really hope at some point Noise Pop can create a similar evening built on wild collaborations and the element of surprise.