Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images by: Julian Furtak
Tom Morello :: 11.17.08 :: Middle East Downstairs :: Cambridge, MA
In a recent interview with JamBase, Tom Morello described his forthcoming tour plans as being "Fifty percent Bob Dylan and fifty percent Hendrix." When he came through Cambridge to kick out a set of tunes at the Middle East Downstairs, Morello kept his word, offering up acoustic ballads, substantial riffage and some experimental solos that would have made Jimi's jaw drop.
One Man Revolution, Morello's solo debut as The Nightwatchman, was an acoustic album that lacked the drum/bass accompaniment featured on his sophomore release, The Fabled City. So, when he played tunes off City, like "Whatever It Takes" and "The Lights Are On In Spidertown," electric riffs were backed by a live band as expected. However, what truly stood out was the balls-to-the-wall electric ferocity of his adaptations of his older, folksier tunes.
The set kicked off with "One Man Revolution," an acoustic tune Morello says he wrote with "three chords and the truth." But, when he tore into the song at the Middle East the power of a full drum kit, another guitarist and a bassist fleshed the song out in ways the studio cut lacked.
Back in the day, Rage Against The Machine was known for doing a haunting cover of Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" that strayed from The Boss' version and featured Morello hammering out his own riffs behind Rage vocalist Zach de la Rocha's aggressive howl. More recently, Morello played the tune with Springsteen during his performance in Anaheim, and when The Nightwatchman brought his bag of tricks to Cambridge, he played the tune with a mellower tone that disregarded the Rage version and kept true to Springsteen's original.
The highlight of the night was "The Road I Must Travel," which was fueled by countless reprises that never ceased to raise the bar. Morello went on to tell his audience about RATM's failed attempts to sue the State Department over the use of Rage's tunes as a sleep deprivation aid for Guantanamo Bay inmates, suggesting that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld should be forced into orange jumpsuits, have black hoods pulled over their heads and be made to listen to Rage Against The Machine tunes blasted through speakers for extended periods. With these sentiments in mind, it was fitting that he played a cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap" where he rewrote some lyrics to criticize a few of the current administrations dirtier deeds.
The covers kept coming, with a romp around Grand Funk Railroad's "We're An American Band" and an encore of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." Morello can usually be counted on to close his shows with the Guthrie tune, always mentioning that this version would incorporate the censored verse that FM radio refused to play. With opener Boots Riley (The Coup) onstage to help out with the lyrics, Morello wrapped up "This Land Is Your Land" with a tease of Rage's "Testify" that tied things up on one helluva high note.
|Tom Morello - The Nightwatchman :: 11.17 :: MA|
Since Tom Morello adopted The Nightwatchman moniker, everyone and their mother has taken to talking about how unlike Morello's Rage riffs his Nightwatchman work has been. His first album was entirely acoustic in the vein of Woody Guthrie, and he took to writing the words "Whatever It Takes" on his acoustic guitar. However, another album in, the story this time around seems to be how unlike The Nightwatchman this "new" Nightwatchman is. For the most part, he ditched his "Whatever It Takes" acoustic for his famed "Arm The Homeless" electric, and he went nuts with experimental guitar solos, tweaking and maiming his pickups and toggle switch in ways he never did with Rage. To say his early solo material was aimed at distancing himself from Rage would be more than fair. Now that Morello seems comfortable in the identity he has developed apart from the act that made him an icon, his next move warrants that much more anticipation.
Tom Morello is on tour now as The Nightwatchman, dates available here.
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