Whatever It Takes

Tom Morello does whatever it takes.

Tom Morello may be igniting a One Man Revolution under the guise of the Nightwatchman, but he’s not against enlisting the occasional aid of his like-minded, A-list allies. Last night at the Parish, the Audioslave bookended his acoustic performance with appearances from Slash, Perry Farrell, and Wayne Kramer of the MC5, among others, using the music as a weapon to take the power back.

After a rousing introduction, the Nightwatchman quickly withdrew into the shadows of the larger-than-life figures gathered on the stage, allowing Farrell, who is launching his own star-studded Satellite Party at South by Southwest, to lead the ensemble, which included current bandmate and former Extreme shredder Nuno Bettencourt, through Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song” and “Ain’t No Right,” each with a solo from Slash. Morello appeared all too happy, bouncing up and down in the background, strumming his acoustic guitar, and occasionally raising his fist in triumphant jubilation. Interestingly, it was Farrell, dolled up in a light-blue button-up shirt and black vest, who initially inspired Morello to trade his pedals for a pen.

“There’s a great quote from Perry Farrell in a Jane’s Addiction song where he says, ‘If you’ve got some big fucking secret, why don’t you sing me something?'" Morello said in an interview before the Festival. “I’ve got some big fucking secrets, and I’m not going to be scared anymore. I’m going to get out there and sing for the people.”

Alone on stage, the Nightwatchman did just that, using his dark voice and railroad rhythms to spit harrowing tales of vengeance and retribution (“House Gone Up in Flames,” “Midnight in the City of Destruction”) alongside rallying battle cries like “Union Song” and “Flash Shapes the Day.” The acoustic take of Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio” was oddly compelling, the masses uniting - all hell couldn’t stop ‘em.

“This shit just don’t stop,” an ecstatic Morello beamed to the crowd as UK singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch, who jammed with the Who’s Pete Townshend earlier in the evening at La Zona Rosa, made his way to the stage for “Something Beautiful.” Immediately following, the rest of the crew came together behind Wayne Kramer and proceeded to “Kick Out the Jams” (Mother Fucker).

“Don’t view this as unrehearsed, but as a gift,” Morello remarked. “You get to see music being made, not played.” It was more than just music. In fact, I’m not sure if the music itself even mattered. While it would have been fucking killer to have heard more of what these artists could have come up with together or to have replaced actor Breckin Meyer behind the drum kit with someone worth a damn, to do so would have completely missed the point of the Nightwatchman. By tapping into social-protest music’s roots, like the evening’s rousing finale, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Les Claypool on bass, Morello gives a voice to the voiceless and compels listeners to contemplate the significance of the events transpiring around them.

“Put it this way,” Morello said. “If someone were to accuse me of preaching to the converted, I would say that the converted need a kick in the ass. It is music that will hopefully energize and invigorate those who believe that things are not headed in the right direction and perhaps convince them to do something about it.

“I worked for two years as the scheduling secretary for U.S. Senator Alan Princeton, so I got to see the internal workings of a very progressive Democrat. My take is that we basically live in a one-party system. It is the party of corporate power, and it has two right wings. One of them is particularly more outrageous in their willingness to commit war crimes around the globe, but I’m not going to wait around for the president - whether they are Democrat or Republican or Independent - to wave a magic wand to make things right. I think it has always been up to the people to demand change. That’s where the Nightwatchmen comes in.”

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