Do-gooders are easy to pick on, especially rock 'n' roll martyrs like Tom Morello who are damned if they don't and even more damned if they do. But rock's most incendiary axeman also knows how to throw one hell of a party, even if it is for a cause. And it seemed as though he had invited every singer and musician in L.A. with a pulse Saturday night as part of his traveling Justice Tour that benefits various homeless advocacy groups, including the local non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless): Morello's Nightwatchman, Wayne Kramer, Slash, Lemmy Kilmister, Jerry Cantrell, Cypress Hill's Sen Dog, Slipknot's Corey Taylor, Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz and Boots Riley. It was a dizzying night of all-stars, each of whom either performed individually or together, playing covers and covers within covers, and dipping into every musical genre except show tunes. It was like a redux USA for Africa, but for America. And all for the "people's price" of $15.
"Bail out people, not banks," said Morello. Sure, there was some speechifying; you can't expect lefty Morello to sit this one out. But he also knows that in these tough economic times, most people might not give a flip about freeing Mumia anymore. So the message was clear and simple: "Feed the hungry, fight the war, and rock the fuck out."
Playing his signature "Arm the Homeless" guitar and backed by a three-man band he calls the Freedom Fighter Orchestra, Morello as the Nightwatchman kicked off the evening with the Nightwatchman's own "Whatever It Takes" and "The Lights Are On In Spidertown" from the current album, The Fabled City. He made a good MC, both humble and excited as if here were an anxious telethon host waiting to hit the million dollar mark. And political convictions aside, Morello and the fury of his finger work are still a sight to behold, whether he was playing left handed, with his teeth or creating feedback that sounded like twittering birds. It was everything but the lighter fluid and fire.
Next, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor -- minus the costume and mask -- took a stab at Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" and the Stones' "Wild Horses" on acoustic guitar, as well as Slipknot offshoot Stone Sour's "Bother." You may have hated nu-metal, but brother's got some powerhouse vocals.
Without his gypsy caravan, Eugene Hutz greeted the crowd with a "What's the haps Los Angelees?" I don't know if it's his hair, his moustache or his open shirt, but Hutz looks like he could either be a Ukrainian pirate or an organ grinder. Either way, I'd drink vodka and eat stuffed cabbage with him any day. Gogol Bordello's "Immigrant Punk" was perhaps the most appropriate for a multi-ethnic L.A. crowd such as this, while "Wanderlust King" and "Start Wearing Purple" were just foot-stomping, hand-clapping good-times.
Donning shades, Waylon's heir Shooter Jennings decided to return the favor with an almost gut-wrenching version of Audioslave's long-and-winding "I Am the Highway." Even Morello was in awe; seriously, Chris Cornell, please rethink this Timbaland business. Then, with Wayne Kramer by his side, the three tackled Bruce Springsteen's Steinbeck-inspired "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (included on Rage Against the Machine's Renegades, and a song Morello has sung live with the Boss himself.)
For his other, newer reincarnation, Streetsweeper, Morello teamed with rapper Boots Riley of The Coup, sounding like a more funked-out version of Rage. Look for these guys to do big things, including playing the opening slot on the upcoming co-headlining Jane's Addiction/Nine Inch Nails tour. M.I.A's "Paper Planes" seemed like a good ice-breaker, but I've almost gotten numb to the Clash sample, what with the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, and a cover of "Straight to Hell" by Lilly Allen (with Mick Jones) on the recently-released War Child compilation.
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After Jerry Cantrell and Slash stepped in to do Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," it seemed as though the night was mellowing out. Then, Lemmy Kilmister went all Chuck Berry; Cypress Hill's Sen Dog morphed Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" into Hill's own "How I Could Just Kill A Man"; and it was back to Taylor again for "Play That Funky Music" and a blistering, balls-out version of Guns n' Roses' "It's So Easy." Man, can this guy shred. (Applications are being taken for a new, new GNR.)
Hard to believe, but after nearly three hours, an encore was still in store. Kramer took his rightful place during the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams," followed by "Paradise City" and "This Land Is Your Land." There were four generations of superstars up there. Morello called Guthrie's folk classic "the alternative American national anthem" and ordered everybody to jump up and down, including his mother, Mary Morello. We could've hollered back, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me," but no disrespecting Mom. She raised a good, fun-loving Pinko.