The Nightwatchman @ Swedish American Hall, 7/20/07

I’ll admit that the first time I heard The Nightwatchman album, it took a bit of reaching for me to reposition Tom Morello’s space in my head, where he had comfortably sat as one of my favorite guitar-shredders for a decade. Not that I didn’t like it- I just didn’t expect that voice- that rich, command and conquer voice singing folk music hymns in my ear.

I was, as most, first introduced to Tom Morello through Rage Against the Machine in the mid nineties. While the initial attraction was their hard rock sound, which fit into my diet of White Zombie, Pantera, Metallica, and NIN, Rolling Stone soon taught me that this band might be my generation’s Dylan, politically aware smart kids who wanted to bring change and rock out at the same time. A Harvard educated rock guitarist? At this point in my life, I thought the only kind of guys who could make music that sounded like RATM were the uneducated yahoos that I hung out with in my hometown. Just read Morello’s bio in his wiki. He comes from a family of revolutionaries.

I saw RATM in ’97, and then sadly remember the band’s break up shortly after the MTV VMA incident where bassist Tim Commerford climbed some stage decoration after losing an award to the highly acclaimed Limp Bizkit. It has always been my top VMA moment. I was also able to see Audioslave in 2005- one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.

So, I’m sitting here in SF, waiting for The Nightwatchman to announce some tour dates, and I write a recommendation to go catch his set as SXSW, which I was sad sad sad I couldn’t go to. So, to add insult to injury, I check out the reviews the next day and see this:

I’m still green with envy about that one. Regardless, I got tickets to see him here at the tiny, no alcohol served Swedish American Hall. I warmed up for the show by watching Tom on Henry Rollins, one of my favorite shows, last weekend with his Axis of Justice pal Serj Tankian:

OK, enough background. Here’s the show story. The combined performances of Ike Reilly, The Nightwatchman, and special guest, Boots Riley of The Coup, was a beautiful thing. Ike Reilly, while vocally sounding very Dylanesque, weaves modern day icons and issues together into his music: sorority girls and executions, lesbians and suicide. Both he and Morello told great stories in between songs- which made for an even more memorable evening. It was great to see Morello handle an acoustic guitar, sometimes breaking into his signature metal moves, but not quite. We heard some great stories from him: how the guitarist gets no love from the ladies (which I don’t believe), the real story behind the MTV VMA incident, and the PMRC protest. Song highlights: hearing ‘Flesh Shapes the Day’–hearing the “hoo-hoo-hoo, mike check” part live was great fun, and the audience stomping and clapping during ‘The Road I Must Travel’ was fun. Also, hearing the unedited version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land’ was pretty powerful.

I go to a lot of great shows. Some are really fun, some are wild, some are painful; but this was one of the really special ones. I’m sure I’ll look back on this as one of the more important shows that I’ve been to, where I was reminded to open my eyes and realize what is going on. I can be a one woman revolution.

Woo Hoo — Mic Check
[audio:woohoo.mp3]

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