Friday, September 2, 2011


I'd seen the great Tom Morello in concert a number of times - with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club.  But this was my first real Nightwatchman show (other than a brief appearance at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday concert).  At that show, Tom and Bruce Springsteen did an acoustic duet of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad," a song that Rage surprised people with when they covered it in the '90s.  These days, it makes a lot more sense. Tom's dedication to sticking up for the less fortunate, and his outrage at the evils of society is similar to Bruce's (he's even more "left" than Bruce, I think).  But performing as The Nightwatchman, Tom makes a compelling case as a guy with two different and legit musical personas.  One - the guitar shredder from Rage and Street Sweeper, and, two, The Nightwatchman either solo or backed by a band. The Nightwatchman is something he can always do, whether or not he is with a band. Or whether or not he has electricity.

There's a bit of a misperception about Tom doing The Nightwatchman.  Because his debut album, 2007's One Man Revolution was a bit sparse and dry, people probably think his shows will be slow and boring.  I think on some level, even Tom realized that he could be playing to bigger audiences by, well, having a bit more fun.  If you listen to "The Iron Wheel" (a duet with Shooter Jennings) from his second album, 2008's The Fabled City, it's a great sing-along tune. Some of Woody Guthrie's songs were fun, I think Tom caught on to that.  I think his earlier tours were like Bruce's first solo acoustic tour for The Ghost Of Tom Joad. I saw that show twice: it was good, but demanding, and it felt like fun was not allowed. You can pull that off if you're, like Leonard Cohen or something. But Woody, Pete Seeger, even Steve Earle, they have fun at their shows.  I think Tom realized this. This tour was more like Bruce's Devils and Dust tour: he realized that it's ok to do serious solo acoustic shows and still have a good time. Everyone walked out of the show with a smile on their face, but also charged up.

So last night's show was a solo acoustic deal, but he was joined by Carl Restivo from his backing band (Carl is also in Street Sweeper Social Club).  It was an incredibly powerful show.  Like Bruce, Tom lets the audience know when to be quiet, and those moments provided some of the most powerful moments of the night. One was "Battle Hymns," which he dedicated to Iraq Veterans Against the War (learn more about them here). He also did a version of Pink Floyd's "When The Tigers Broke Free" from The Wall (about how the main character's father died in the war), updating the lyrics for 2011.  

But those songs had greater weight, because, as Tom put it, he brought the "heavy metal thunder" on many other songs.  "Save The Hammer For The Man" from his new album, World Wide Rebel Songs, was incredible (the original is a duet with the great Ben Harper, Carl did his best to sing Ben's part, and he did so ably).  "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" was mindblowing - Tom switching to an electric in the middle of the song to melt faces.  Maybe the most rockin song was "This Land Is Your Land." Tom added the "censored" lyrics, which make it much more radical (see the lyrics and a historic performance of that song by Seeger and Springsteen here). He had the whole room jumping - explaining that everyone HAD to jump, as his show was "an irony free zone" even though it was in New York City.  You can see a bootleggy video of the performance here.  It's obvious he has taken notes from Springsteen, but he's clearly doing his own thing.  He finished up by inviting the audience on stage for "World Wide Rebel Songs," instructing one woman in the audience to film the show for YouTube, and demanding that the rest of us stop tweeting and filming and live in the moment.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the after-party (and this is a good place to mention that I got complimentary tickets, in the interest of full disclosure).  I met some nice folks from Tom's management team, and even introduced my wife - who took these excellent photos, and who is a public school teacher and a proud union woman - to Tom.  She got to thank him for his support.  It was a great moment.

One moment that I wish he had was "The Iron Wheel," one of The Nightwatchman's greatest songs.  Shooter Jennings was there, I couldn't believe they didn't perform together! Maybe next time.

On a final note, I'll mention that I got to chat with Mr. Morello the day before - I filmed him for SiriusXM's E Street Radio.  We discussed a recent quote of his from Rolling Stone magazine, where he said that he's the last man in America who thinks Bob Dylan sold out by going electric. So, I'm here to say that Tom has at least one stance that I totally disagree with.  "Hurricane" is way better with a band than it would be without, and ditto for "Lovesick." That's just off the top of my head. But anyway, thank you Tom for a great show, hope to see you again soon. (Tom will be on E Street Radio on September 5 and 6, for listings and rebroadcast times, go here).

1 comment:

Portugal said...

I think this soundtrack is terrific. When I grew up in the sixties, I remember being addicted to old time music and listening to it on our tube mono upright phonograph. Of course I didn't realize it was old time music as a little kid. I just knew it was easy to latch onto. This CD reminds me how much the world and popular music as changed.