Barack n' Roll | 10.15 | San Francisco

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Peter Ellenby/

Barack n' Roll with: John Doe, These United States & Big Light
10.15.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Barack n' Roll :: 10.15 :: San Francisco
Both inside and out front of The Independent last Wednesday I encountered something that's been in rare supply amongst most of the folks I know during the past eight years, namely hope and genuine American pride. There's been much to hang our heads about in the past near-decade, and the double-plus bad ruling party has been all too happy to paint California (and New York City, protestors, intellectuals, Muslims, the poor and so on) as somehow lesser citizens than "real small town Americans" (whatever those are), or more specifically, those who lean heavily towards the increasingly bellicose and Huxley-esque Right Wing (do you really think they wouldn't exile certain people if they could? cough... Guantanamo... cough). But this night we wore our stars 'n' stripes proudly, toasting freedom in a simple but profound way – gathering together freely to speak our minds and enjoy some live music and strong spirits (of several varieties) in honor of presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

Ostensibly a fundraiser for, a branch of his campaign dedicated to getting volunteers to crucial swing states in this election, this was also a chance for many of us to stand a little straighter, lift our chins and revel in being part of a country that has been great and feels like it will be again. Over the past two years, Obama's rivals have suggested that he's just a straw man made of words. Well, I'd remind those adversaries that the Ten Commandments are just words. The Bill of Rights and The Constitution are just words. Language has long been a unifying and empowering force – one of the key things besides an opposable thumb that separates us from the other beasts - and to dismiss eloquence, poignancy and intellectual rigor as worthless, or at the very least un-substantive, is a crock. The former editor of the Harvard Law Review knows how to argue a case, and what he's saying to us might just lift us out of the morass President W. has left us in. At least that was the feeling at this event, where Big Light, These United States and special surprise guest John Doe of X helped stoke the soundtrack on a bucolic S.F. evening. Hope might just be a word to some but it felt tangible, attainable and oh-so-comforting here.

Fred Torphy - Big Light :: Barack n' Roll :: 10.15
Big Light arrived like a warm wind, autumn scattering in the wake of their sonically snared sunshine. With guest Dan Lebowitz (ALO) working lap steel, the unforced surge of the Light took us to a picnic in our minds, laying down fuzzy blankets on emerald lawns and settling into our skin like vitamin C for our souls. Rare is the band that's a little better every time you see them but dang me if Big Light wasn't just a smidge more evolved, delivering their small catalog with increased smoothness, solidifying their marriage of pop and jam and inching out unknown spaces in their very collective conjuring. I noticed more and more folks chanting along to their signature lines, happier for the smile they'd been given and singing, "If you see me I must be dreamin'." What caught me this night, as Fred Torphy reminded us the roots are waking up, was the smarts behind such nakedly enjoyable music. It's a cool trick to make us dance and then discover after the show how much has been poured into your head. Couldn't think of a nicer way to start the evening.

However, their set and the two that followed competed with an endless and flatly rude amount of chatter. John Doe even commented mid-set, "So, I guess this is an all-talking, all the time show, huh?" One would think a tiny amount of personal shame would have clammed folks up a bit after that but the vast majority just went on running their mouths while artists tried to ply their trade. In fairness, many in attendance were there for purely political aims but jeez Louise are we really losing our ability to share an experience in a common place THIS badly? Even if the music wasn't one's primary reason for being there it seems like common courtesy and respect for those that have donated their talents and livelihood to the cause would have brought the babble down a notch or two. It did not.

John Doe :: Barack n' Roll :: 10.15
So, John Doe, armed with either a single acoustic or electric guitar and an increasingly dense songbook, may have gotten off the line of the evening when he pointed at the slide of Obama projected behind him and said, "This guy is a start. We all have lots to do. He's not going to do it alone. But at least he won't be a jerk." His stopping short of name calling or demonizing anyone was part and parcel of the evening, where no one, despite the political nature of things, felt the need to step on or belittle someone else to bolster their cause. Outside of a few kinda tacky anti-Palin t-shirts ("Drill Palin" is funny but sorta gross), I never heard an unkind word about the McCain campaign. Seriously. And this from drunk liberals!

Doe's set was roughhewn exquisiteness, the man rapidly developing into California's answer to Bert Jansch, where folklore, highway wisdom and unrepentant romanticism mingle in his tunes and pleasantly weathered voice. One caught the long miles and landscape of his years touring in his verses, the longing for home and stability playing against wanderlust and the urge to stand in front of folks to share his tales. "I've got a couple of political songs but mostly love songs," he said. "When we first went into Iraq, I thought, 'What the fuck?' Everyone did. No one thought it would happen." With that he launched into a clear jab against dumbness and division, a sharp stick in the eye of those that quash real freedom that hung on the refrain, "We're divided but we'll stand for each other." Amen, brother.

A tender reading of X favorite "See How We Are," still eerily relevant, and a raw, solo electric take on Joni Mitchell's immortal "A Case of You," that recalled vintage Billy Bragg, joined his own endless string of great songs, many of which tapped into Phil Ochs's revolutionary soul and hobo hopefulness. But, as he observed, it was the love songs that dug in deepest. One particular corker began, "You are the hole in my head/ I am the pain in your neck/ You are the lump in my throat/ I am the ache in your heart." Even amidst important social discourse it's grand to be reminded of the most basic connections, the complicated swirl of personal joining. And thanks to John for the Cali shout-out he delivered, too: "People talk shit about California but they're just jealous. 'Cause no matter who's President we go on. It's fucking cool."

These United States :: Barack n' Roll :: 10.15
Last but far from least, These United States arrived with the rush of old Beatles, summoning up the kooky energy of the Fabs in suits being chased by packs of fans in the London streets. Such is the wild, charismatic energy of opener "Get Yourself Home (In Search of the Mistress Whose Kisses Are Famous)" and the band themselves. Already smitten with their new album, Crimes (see JamBase's review here), it was immediately obvious they carry their windmill tilting, discourse elevating mojo very well into the live setting. By the second tune, they sounded like Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited band if they'd been left along the side of that asphalt desert, forced to eke out a meager, mean existence banging away in a clapboard dive where the rejected gather and drink away their dreams while the band plays behind chicken wire with undiminished gusto, doing some good while stuck inside of Mobile or Lodi or whatever backwater has seized them. Full of off-mic exhortations and great physicality, These United States answered the talk storm by plowing ahead with knowing grins and grit.

Lead singer-acoustic guitarist Jesse Elliott has a great but none too careful voice reminiscent of Patti Smith's shaman '70s, kicking against the pricks with bite and nifty falsetto. The vocal oomph is further generated by stunning drummer Robby Cosenza, who adds some bark to the backdrop, and McCartney-esque bassist Mark Charles, who recalls Macca in both his sweet harmonies and permeating, un-showy four string work. Weaving and bobbing amongst these three was sinewy, ever-tasty guitarist and pedal steel player Tom Hnatow, who may not have had a mic but sang along just the same. These four really listen to each other, pulling back and diving in tidal grace - a gravity felt, all the space and distance and daydreaming inside their marvelous tunes hitting with visceral kick. Their compositional reach and profound dynamics recalls The Weather Underground, but where those L.A. boys go for loft and epic scale in their builds, TUS invites us into their bosom, giving us space under their wings, the whispers and shouts used to lure us closer, the lyrics like super strings tying big things together in pretty knots.

Barack n' Roll :: 10.15 :: San Francisco
"We're called These United States. What do you guys call yourselves?" inquired Elliott, just before noticing the Obama slide behind the other acts had disappeared. "Where did our fifth member go? I can't believe Barack Obama would leave. Oh, there's another one of him [pointing at one of the many images of the Senator around the room]. That's the good things about him – he contains multitudes."

Singing about "pleasure and pain and pride and me," TUS echo but don't imitate the freewheeling vibe of early Steve Miller Band and Badfinger infused with the manic feel and too much information onslaught of our times. Watching them, I felt energy pumped into my limbs, and often found myself unable to resist leaping into the air, shouting along and waving my arms like some great ape, which matched up nicely with Elliot's own hopping and twitching and the swaying chug of the others. With jangle and "slow, sad bastard" songs, These United States offered us semi-apocalyptic reveries that ultimately had the long haulers dancing like a Jewish wedding reception, while TUS rosin'd up their bows as the flames rose higher and higher. Tapping into the primacy of "Not Fade Away" and Rolling Thunder Revue Bob-osity, TUS run a pipeline to rock's ancient core and splash us with something capable of unleashing the unbound, even slightly stupid energy of the genre's early days, before Presley got jumpsuits and the word "business" wasn't superglued to "music." With one show they've secured my love.

Outside, moving along the sidewalk towards home, I found myself thinking about America. We are a nation founded by dissenters and intellectually and religiously curious people. Our resistance to being told what is the right way and what the wrong is ingrained. Those who would order others around, dictate universal guidelines and demand compliance – even in the face of failure and facts – may find that our rebel spirit - our birthright as Americans from the founding fathers (and mothers) they so frequently invoke - may be the last thing they pry from our cold, dead fingers, more powerful than any bullet in the long haul. And that's what we're in for – the long haul – but I left this gathering feeling like I won't be walking there alone.

We've got a way of taking all the roads but golden, and still somehow breaking day
We're staying sane, and one more turn should be OK
See, if you're striving to illuminate the night you might as well use every lane

Yes, if the thing that drives you onward is your heart
Then you must not let that engine die

(from These United States' "When You're Traveling At The Speed of Light")

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[Published on: 10/21/08]

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bsclowds starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/21/2008 10:31AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Democracy lives! Congrats on a great event

D.B.Higdon starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/21/2008 10:46AM
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sounds like a well planned and attended event. it is great to see some coverage of John Doe; that guy has been there and done that. whether it is with X, the Knitters, or solo, he always remains a class act with one foot firmly rooted in punk rock attitude and one in songwriter compassion.

bigchris starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/21/2008 10:50AM
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Fun event, headed over after seeing Joe Jackson(great show, w/ his talented trio). Good to see so much positive energy for Obama. Music was good too. Hats off to the Indy and their staff for doing such a great job. Cool posters too, Obama as Bowie(changes), nice.

Don't forget to get out and VOTE!

O1Roggae Tue 10/21/2008 12:21PM
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Go out and Vote!! Voice your opinion. We need CHANGE

Runde starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/21/2008 01:00PM
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great show, even better review. thank you dennis, as always, for making us realize how lucky we are to see what we see!

Justin Gillett Tue 10/21/2008 01:02PM
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Justin Gillett

The show was kind of a sleeper to tell the truth. I was expecting ALO for the Xtra special guest, but wound up with that guy from X.

BGsteveBG Tue 10/21/2008 02:43PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
insignia Tue 10/21/2008 04:07PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
dreadyknowsbest starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/21/2008 04:23PM
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^ Hes going to change the green on the dollar bill to just wait...a whole new topic for music...jk

futhepharmer Tue 10/21/2008 04:47PM
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people that think Obama is a fraud need to look deep...deep...down inside themselves. yeah, down there under those insecurity problems,....way in the back around the personality problems....over there in the back, yeah way in the back where the family problems just to the left a bit...THERE IT IS....RACISM! you know it's true.

PooDolla Tue 10/21/2008 05:01PM
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Q. What do you call someone that is winning an argument against a liberal?

A. A racist

^^ Please that is the oldest liberal defence in the world. If someone does not agree with a liberal point of view then they are called a racist. Grow up old man.

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/21/2008 05:27PM
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Big Light is good shit. Check out this archive show if you're interested:


Road To Shambala Wed 10/22/2008 09:18AM
Show -5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
mikemac9317 Wed 10/22/2008 10:36AM
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How is Obama a fraud? The "change" is that there will be a different party in office. That being said, this country is ready for that. W may be the biggest idiot ever in office. He was successful as a governor, but as president? If you think he was a successful president, then you to are an idiot. Look at our economy. Also, look at the economy while Regan, Bush 1 and Bush 2 has been like. We were in debt for all three of these presidencies. We were, and are, in debt. While Clinton was in office, what was our debt? Oh yeah, we had a 400 billion dollar surplus. I would hope that Obama can repeat half of what Clinton did. Road to Shambala, what is going to happen if McCain/Palin do win the election and McCain dies? You will be eating those "experience" words when Palin fucks this country once and for all. Not that I don't respect McCain, I do; I just believe that if something were to happen to him, Palin would run us into the group. Obama may not have a lot of experience, but he has enough good sense to make it work, as well as having Biden on his side, who has a great foreign relations experience. Rebuttal, anyone?

mikemac9317 Wed 10/22/2008 10:38AM
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What's the difference between Sarah Palin's mouth and her vagina?

PooDolla Wed 10/22/2008 11:16AM
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Yeah socialism!!!

OttoVonC starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/22/2008 11:26AM
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>we're all gonna know what it feels like a porn star, screwed by a black man

Fulfilled and satisfied? Cool!

futhepharmer Wed 10/22/2008 11:33AM
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Road to shambala...your rhetoric is sadly reminiscent of that heard recently at Republican Townhall meetings where the old lady gets up and thinks Obama is an Arab. What I hear from you is fear. I can't stand McCain (even though he is a good man) but I'm not afraid if he becomes President. Just more of the fucked up bullshit their administration has given us the last eight. I struggled through that, just as I'll struggle through if McCain wins. But, I'm not afraid of him. Why are you so afraid of Obama? You think he's pulling one over on the whole Country? Got news for you bro, no President can change the country on his own.

Calm down sir, your ugly statement reeks of fear.

rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/22/2008 12:42PM
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Wheres the Nader love?

Road To Shambala Wed 10/22/2008 12:58PM
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PooDolla Wed 10/22/2008 01:28PM
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Just to let you know, there is a politics discussion room in the forums.

mikemac9317 Wed 10/22/2008 05:21PM
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Mr road to shambala,

You truely have the political views of the 50's. YOu are trying to tell me that you would rather have sarah palin run our country before joe biden. You apparently don't know what you r talking about. Yes I did mention the Clinton administration, but what i stated is a known, and quoted fact. I did mention that I respect McCain, but I also think that it is time for a change to try and get out of a pointless war. Why was Iraq put into the picture after 9/11? Before u start, I do support our troops. I have friends whom are troops, and I envy their courage. I just wnat to state that we need to give up for a change, which will try to get out of the mess. Please mr. road to shambala, tell me u want to stay in a country that we have no business to be in, instead of the fact that we fucked their world up?

dnathans starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/23/2008 08:08AM
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Nice Article. Dug the Change rockes article and show too. Good stuff here on Jambase. I visit you and iclips daily. Thank you.

Peace Love and Obama-

David Nathans

dnathans starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/23/2008 08:12AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Dear Red States:

If you manage to steal this election too we've decided we're leaving. We

intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with

us. In case you aren't aware, that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon,

Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois,

and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and

especially to the people of the new country of New California.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave

states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue

of Liberty. You get Dollywood.

We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.

We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss.

We get 85% of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You

get Alabama.

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay

their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22% lower than the

Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of

single moms.

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and

we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need

people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently

willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you

don't show pictures of their children's caskets coming home. We do wish you

success in Iraq , and hope that the WMDs turn up, but we're not willing to

spend our resources in Bush's Quagmire.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80% of the

country's fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92% of

the nation's fresh fruit, 95% of America's quality wines, 90% of all

cheese, 90% of the high tech industry, 95% of the corn and soybeans (thanks

Iowa!), most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and

condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford, Cal Tech and


With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88% of

all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92% of all

U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the hurricanes, 99%

of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100% of all televangelists, Rush

Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia.

We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually

swallowed by a whale, 62% believe life is sacred unless we're discussing

the war, the death penalty or gun laws, 44% say that evolution is only a

theory, 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61% of you crazy bastards

believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties.

Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they

grow in Mexico

Peace out,

--Blue States

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/23/2008 09:30AM
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^ to DNathans...most awesome of persons:

you sir, are my new best friend. That is the funniest, most insightful writing I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. Especially coming on these here oftentimes juvenile boards.

I recently have had just this very conversation on two different occasions. I was saying we should just split the country in two if the two sides are so very far apart. You have very effectively fleshed out the details on the topic.

Mad Kudos to you, sir.

PooDolla Thu 10/23/2008 10:16AM
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^^^ That was cute.

JennSvenn Thu 10/23/2008 11:09AM
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Nuevo California here I come!

hedgerowhunter Thu 10/23/2008 12:09PM
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sex, drugs, politics, & religion are all forms of hustling...beware who you put all your trust in.

drbell Sat 10/25/2008 09:53AM
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the south gives us most of the best music in the world...don't think i'm ready for them to leave the country.

sci4life starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/4/2008 11:27AM
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Why are all these peeps hating on Obama. I guess its evident that you're against Obama.. but why? Cus their will be no change? Change from? what.... the government from the place where Bush and republican senate has left it? Or the economy?... that was put in peril by Right-wing non-regulatory practices? Or maybe he can't change... you. uninformed, not well educated, and ignorant.

want to talk about enthusiastic ignorance. You praise leaders that quander a surplus and send us into the biggest debt in history, you praise leaders that send us into a war that spends 10 billion a week of OUR money while killing over 4000 of OUR people. Road to Shambala.. let me tell you, this government is the last thing that our forefathers would've wanted. Go read the Federalists papers.. then finish taking yourself on a long drive to the road of nowhere.