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Tom Morello, Boots Riley (of The Coup) – November 17, 2008 – Middle East – Cambridge, MA

Tom Morello

“Nylon string folk acoustic protest rock show.” Those are the words, straight from the Nightwatchman’s mouth, about what this concert was all about.

Boots Riley (of funk-hop group The Coup, which also includes Morello), opened the show with a free-flow set of rhymes over an acoustic guitar. It was simple, stripped-down hip-hop at its best. The highlight of the set was his tongue-in-cheek homage to his eleven-year-old daughter, “Wear Clean Drawers,” that sang as a sweet, funny bouquet of praise and fatherly advice. “If someone hits ya, hit ‘em back / then come up with a peace contract.”

The audience was antsy for Tom Morello as he took the stage in a black baseball hat and aviator shades. He was greeted by an uprising of cheers, as well as a particularly loud, female “I love you, Tom!” He responded with a logical, “You don’t even know me!”


With that, Morello and his backing band, the Freedom Fighter Orchestra (Kip Lightning on bass, Eric Gardner on drums, and Carl Restivo on guitar) ripped into “One Man Revolution,” followed by “Whatever It Takes.”

I paused to consider how many fans in the audience must be Rage Against the Machine fans. Certainly most, if not all, and perhaps Morello owes a bit of his newfound solo success to his work with his former group. I have to theorize that most of the people in this room wouldn’t have a Froot Loop of a clue who Morello was if it weren’t for RATM (myself included). Perhaps the greatest, and most ironic, part about this connection is that Morello has morphed his own efforts toward a folkier, Americana-tinged style of rock music.

Boots RileyWhile I am pretty sure that most guys in the crowd would give their left nut to headbang at a Rage show right now, I am certain that these same fans are digging the new style. Especially the guy standing behind us, singing aloud to every “oh” and “la,” providing that extra special stereo sound, if you know what I mean.

As Morello moves into “The Fabled City,” his voice resonates through the low-ceilinged room as well as his harmonica, reminiscent of Nick Cave and David Edwards (of 16 Horsepower). His power lies in his deep, booming voice, infectious energy, and the delicate balance between riff-strong rock and tender folk music.

Later in the set, our boy Boots came back onstage to participate in a debut performance by what is apparently Morello and Boot’s new secret band called Streetsweeper, whose album will be released next year. Boots launches into rap-hop vocals while Morello wails on his guitar in his signature style: toggling pickups while ratcheting strings and performing envious fretwork. I hear a few “revolutions” and “put your fists in the air” and “motherfuckers” and realize this is absolutely the next incarnation of RATM. The song structure, the attack on riffs, the fists attached to sweaty arms, waving in the air…

Morello treated the audience to his own version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” followed by a tribute to his now-passed-away aunt, “Saint Isabelle.” After proposing that a sleep deprivation cell [RATM’s music was used to inflict sleep deprivation] in Guantanamo be kept open for the Bush administration, he launched into “Guerilla Radio,” a glorious blast to the past for most of us, albeit a little less loud and way more bluesy. And of course, all the boys in the audience chimed in for “all hell can’t stop us now.”

Tom MorelloFor the big finish, the audience was treated to a Morello-ized anti-Bush-administration version of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” as well as the grand finale after a resounding encouragement from Morello to correct injustices and fight evil (starting tomorrow): Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

In short, this show was everything I wanted it to be, and more. He gave us rock. He gave us folk. He gave us protest and perspective. He gave us cover songs; he gave us reminders of Rage. He gave us his “deep, rich milk chocolate baritone” voice; he gave us hope for the future. He gave us a piece of himself in a way that was inspirational and awesome, which seldom seems to happen at shows anymore.


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