Well known as the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Tom Morello also performs solo as The Nightwatchman, a folk music act reminiscent of and influenced by artists such as Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan. For two weeks in seven cities the “Justice Tour” will have Morello participating in a day of local social activism. The focus of each stop will be homelessness (Los Angeles); addiction recovery (New York), safe, secure, and affordable housing (New Orleans); a living wage (Asheville); peace and veterans care (Washington, DC); affordable healthcare (Boston); and labor organizing (Chicago).
The local organizations partnering with the tour are People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), Road Recovery, Sweet Home New Orleans and Amnesty International, Just Economics, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), HealthCare-Now, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
To help draw attention to his work, Morello and assorted friends are performing concerts in each city at the cost of $10, except for the New York date. Proceeds from each show benefit the local social justice partner. The Los Angeles show had an amazing line-up that sounds unbelievable to me even though I witnessed it. The three-hour show was very relaxed as the artists causally walked on and off stage and many delivered stunning performances in the small confines of the legendary Troubadour club.
Morello as The Nightwatchman played “Flesh Takes The Day” on acoustic guitar, “St. Isabel” on drum and harmonica, and followed up his much-talked-about recent performances of “Ghost of Tom Joad” with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band the week before in Anaheim with an acoustic rendition. He then brought out the house band for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”
The first musical guest to join Morello on stage was drummer Stewart Copeland. They played two Police tracks with Carl Restivo on vocals. They started with “So Lonely,” which not only drove the crowd wild, but also Perry Farrell who hopped on stage to join in the chorus. After “Message In A Bottle,” the stage was given to individual performers. Pete Yorn played a couple songs, Jerry Cantrell played one, and Wayne Kramer played two silly songs, closing with a jazzy number about writer Charles Bukowski.
Larger line-ups began to fill the stage. State Radio, an up-and-coming band with a rock/reggae sound, played three songs. Guitar whiz Steve Vai took the stage with the house band and played two brilliant instrumentals. Cantrell and Flea watched from the sidelines and were equally in awe of the sounds Vai made as was the audience. When musicians are impressed, you know you witnessed something spectacular.
Farrell, his wife Ety, and Restivo are the remaining members of Satellite Party. They performed over recorded material, including weird-sounding dance versions of Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” and “Stop” that only became recognizable from the lyrics. While I hesitate finding fault with anyone who gives their time to charity, the songs didn't sound good, made even more evident when Dave Navarro, Flea, and Travis Barker joined Farrell for Jane’s “Mountian Song. ” The crowd went nuts for the classic Jane’s sound, and even Farrell seemed more inspired performing in front of it. They set the music bar very high.
It was then time for all-star sessions as people rotated on stage for different covers. Flea and Barker stayed as Morello, Slash, Vai, and Yorn on vocals came out for a raucous version of Neil Young's “Rockin in the Free World.” Morello was the bandleader, calling out audibles: who was up to solo or if another chorus was to be played. No one wanted it to stop. Yorn left in exchange for Cantrell who sang Thin Lizzy's “Jailbreak.” Then Farrell and Copeland replaced Cantrell and Barker for Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” which included a Flea bass solo.
Most musicians cleared out, but the crowd wasn’t given the luxury of a breather as Morello and Barker stayed behind while Davey Havok from AFI and the house band took the stage. Havok told the audience he was about to live his dream out: singing The Cult's “Fire Woman.” Farrell joined in and Barker’s drumsticks signaled the beginning of Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Music.” Farrell made way for State Radio and Wayne Kramer who took part in Madonna’s “4 Minutes.” They didn't know it that well and the idea worked better on paper. Havok left and Cantrell grabbed a guitar to assist Kramer singing the rowdy “Kick Out The Jams” to cleanse our ears. Cantrell left as the guys on stage returned to world of pop music with Rihanna’s “Umbrella.”
The night was getting late, and some musicians had slipped out as the pop excursions were taking place, so it seemed like the show was about to wrap up. Then, Sen Dog and B-Real from Cypress Hill hit the stage with Slash and Vai. They reignited the room’s energy and the place went wild as they all tore it up on Hill’s hits “Insane in the Brain,” “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” and “Rock Superstar.” The rock guitars fit into the songs seamlessly. Slash left, and the remaining members played House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Sen Dog and B-Real exited, and the remaining band closed with Tom bringing it all back home by leading the audience in a version of “This Land Is Your Land.”
Morello stated that if the audience felt they got more than $10 worth, they could pay extra on the way out or visit the website. I can’t imagine any person in the place who didn’t, considering seeing just one of these gracious artists in so small a setting for only $10 feels like highway robbery.