The whole shootin' match

So, I need to tell you about the show of the festival. My mind is blown, dude!

I'm sitting in this bar, reading my Archies comics, because I am desperate for anything to keep me awake through a set by Aqualung. (Aqualung are one of these tragically earnest Nic Harcourt bands. They are attempting to be Jeff Buckley fronting Radiohead. They are not Jeff Buckley fronting Radiohead.)

I have befriended two funny, nice ladies sitting next to me, who have come to this Hotel Cafe shindig because one of them is "obsessed with Badly Drawn Boy" (who's just finished a very crochet-beanie-wearing set). She mentions her obsession briefly — matter of factly — as if it were a serious chronic ailment she's learned to cope with, and doesn't want to dwell on.

So I'm reading about Betty and Veronica forging a fake diary of Martha Washington, and I look up and fuckin' Slash is walking right by me. And he's looking as Slash as Slash can be. I start, and blurt, "That was Slash!"

The Badly Drawn Boy lady says, "I'm from L.A., so that's nothing."

I'm from L.A., and I think it's totally rad. It would be rad in L.A., and it's radder in Austin. (She ultimately agrees, and we hit it off. She also loves the Archies.)

I was there out of a sense of duty, as Tom Morello was scheduled to perform his acoustic solo stuff, something I hadn't yet seen during any of his Hotel Cafe gigs in L.A.

So, I wait two hours. Finally, the show begins, and we're on our feet, standing up on a bench, screaming, and the tops of our heads burst into flames like illegal Christmas crackers as Tom Morello brings out Wayne Kramer of the MC5, our buddy Slash, Perry Farrell, and Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme ("More Than Words," dude!), and they rip into "Mountain Song," and they've got like four guitars going at once, Slash on lead. Slash and Perry look and sound exactly the same as before, but healthier. Slash's cigarette hanging from his mouth doesn't even seem to be lit. They are throbbing and grinding and pretty much jamming, like a buncha ex-drugged-out metalhead rich hippies. Slash is wearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt. "You're gonna tear yourselves apart like weasels!" says Morello approvingly.

"I am skin and bones I am pointy nose, but the motherfuckermakesmeTRY!"

Ritual was my favorite Jane's album, and the girls and I are singing it all by heart because it turns out that my new friend is an O.G. Jane's Addiction-head. She has seen them 40 times, she says, and I truly believe her. It is quite possible a small amount of pee was deposited on the bench that night.

They were rather tight, too, for a non-band... you sensed they'd really practiced, really wanted this to kick ass... and, of course, have already had the songs etched into their genetic material for a couple decades now --like everyone else in the place.

There are moments when I think Jane's Addiction will fall below the radar of history, and it makes me a little sad. But at this moment, I feel as if they've taken the baton of world's-greatest-secret-old-band from the MC5, and they shall carry it proudly.

I love it when rock stars aren't too cool to play their best, old material. There would be no Satellite Party or Audioslave or Velvet Revolver tonight.

I mean, almost. After that ridiculous opening, Perry Farrell addressed the hyperventilating, astonished crowd, gesturing toward Morello: "If there was ever a candidate for next president, you're looking at him! But Tom can do better work with his guitar, and so he shall. Carry on, Tom!"

I appreciated Perry's sentiment, but after sitting through what came next — a solo set by Mr. Morello, a.k.a. The Nightwatchman — I would bet money Tom could do better work as president.

He's not much of a singer, but that might work if it weren't for the lyrics. There are good lyrics, and then there are bad lyrics, and then there are good-bad lyrics (say, Zeppelin). I'm afraid Tom's in the middle group. Sample: "It's in the jackal's dream.../It's in the shaman's trance..."

It's difficult for anyone but Marc Bolan, Bob Dylan, or Robert Plant to use words like "jackal" in a song. Bowie would be pushing it.

At length, our friends returned to the stage, and Wayne sang lead on "Kick Out the Jams." The song that launched a thousand bands — 500 of them heavy metal, 500 of them punk; at least one of them both: Rage Against the Machine.

Speaking of which, I'll be damned if L.A. doesn't have a history of producing bands that combine metal and punk to commercially successful effect.

I gather Jane's Addiction and Guns 'N Roses were sort of rivals on opposing L.A. teams in the '80s — G'N R representing the metalheads; Jane's Addiction the punk/goth/new wavers — and yet they had a begrudging respect for one another... I think they practiced at the same place at one point. I know they both played that crazy L.A. Street Scene in 1986, the one featuring the Guns 'N Roses Riot.

L.A. youth culture in the '80s (as I remember it) was all about rival sub-cultures and choosing a team and a radio station and sticking to it. But the truth beneath it all was that musically Guns and Jane's had much, much more in common than not, including two badass metal guitarists.

And let's not even get into Motley Crue's Too Fast For Love.

The gig wound up with Morello dragging out Les Claypool of Primus, who looked like a young Fidel Castro, to join the group for a jammed-out "This Land Is Your Land." There's nothing like hearing Slash do a metal solo over Woody Guthrie. But you know, I could have done without Morello's lecturing the crowd about the true meaning of the song. This is Austin, after all (as my new friend pointed out), home of Willie Nelson, Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower... it's not exactly a political backwater. Morello said he would sing the great, secret, unknown lyrics to the song... and he did add one forgotten verse, but then he didn't sing my favorite forgotten verse of the song (or I didn't hear 'em anyway):

As I went walking, I saw a sign there;

And on the sign there, It said, 'NO TRESPASSING.'

But on the other side, It didn't say nothing.

That side was made for you and me.

No one knew all the words, so Perry Farrell was even reading off a lyric sheet — which he tossed in the air, laughing, as he screwed up the words beyong recognition, with his wife singing next to him, with her digitally enhanced anatomy pouring out of her top... singing Woody Guthrie. The cognitive dissonance was exquisite. But they seem very happy, so who cares? Really.

Tom-wise: I know his heart's in the right place, and as a proud union member myself, I appreciated his attempt at a union song — can't recall the title, but I believe it made mention of Joe Hill and Cesar Chavez. "How many of you work for a living?" he asked as he intro'd the song. Not everyone cheeered.

I guess I just don't love having a rich guy preach to me — even a really nice, good-hearted, brilliant rock guitarist... You know? I mean, later in the show, responding to Perry Farrell's comment, Morello said something like, he'd never be president because "One, I'd probably get assassinated, and two, it won't pay enough."

As a non-rich union worker who needs good, historic rock, I'd ask Mr. Morello to consider the Marxist creed as it applies to his musical pursuits:

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

And yet, I must thank him, for giving us a show that, overall, thrilled me to my toes and made everything, all of it, all of it, worth every moment.

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