We Rock With Standing Rock
Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016
“Water is life.” That rather obvious concept has been at the center of a showdown between activists and authorities in North Dakota in a battle that shows no signs of slowing. It was also a sentiment and phrase that was uttered many times over the course of We Rock With Standing Rock, a benefit concert at a venue over 1,500 miles away in Southern California.
For the better part of the past eight months, activists have hunkered down in North Dakota in response to the controversial building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The oil pipeline was slated to run underneath the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply. As fall turned into winter, police tactics against the tribe and other protesters grew increasingly inhumane.
Many musicians, including Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Radiohead, Green Day, Kate Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Vic Mensa, have stood with the tribe. Two weeks ago, at the urging of the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of the pipeline, a short-term victory that could be overturned with Donald Trump heading into the Oval Office in a month’s time.
At the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, far from ground zero of the protests that have gradually captured the attention of the larger public, a benefit show in support of Standing Rock featured prominent artists such as TV on the Radio, whose Kyp Malone organized the event, Devendra Banhart and Fiona Apple.
Activist and former L.A. Weekly writer Seven McDonald spent time on the front lines in North Dakota and co-produced We Rock With Standing Rock. McDonald, along with musician Robby Romero and actress Patricia Arquette, were out in the Fonda’s lobby talking to and educating attendees about the situation at Standing Rock and how people could donate to the charities involved with the cause.
Beginning with an opening statement by Bobbi Jean Three Legs of the Lakota Tribe, who led a 500-mile run against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the defiance and steely resolve shown by the activists was on somber display throughout the show.
Speeches by Riley Keough and Arquette echoed the fear that this is an issue that is only starting to gain international prominence and the battle is just beginning. Arquette echoed this sentiment when the Weekly caught up her before the show.
“This is a humanitarian disaster,” the Academy Award–winning actress said, discussing her charity’s involvement in providing proper sanitation at Standing Rock. “It’s not acceptable. This is a critical time for Mother Nature and we’re looking at something that no other generation has had to face.”
Owing to the sheer volume of performers on the night's bill, performances were mostly limited to one song per artist, though many made the most of their few minutes onstage. Benjamin Booker’s take on Rage Against the Machine’s anti-corporate “Sleep Now in the Fire” and a Valerie June collaboration with Malone and Moses Sumney were among the standout moments.
For many of those in attendance, seeing Fiona Apple’s first performance in more than three years was the highlight. Opening with “Sleep to Dream,” the singer, backed by a three-piece band, performed with raw, manic energy. Her second tune, "The Christmas Song," seemed to be headed in a warm direction, until she belted out “Donald Trump, FUCK YOU!” which was met by loud cheers. As quickly as Apple feverishly took the stage, the bespectacled singer’s whirlwind three-song set (which also included a cover of The Brains' "Money Changes Everything") was done, after a little over 12 minutes.
“We need a shot of love, and isn’t it great to have a purpose?” TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe asked the crowd during their closing set.
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Performing without keyboardist Dave Sitek, who was in El Paso, Texas, the band rolled through a four-song set that opened with “Young Liars.” The heavy tone of the night dissipated with TV on the Radio. They were relaxed and the performance was relatively smooth, even without Sitek.
“Thank you very much for your participation,” Malone told the remaining crowd before leading the night’s ensemble with a stirring rendition of Mavis Staples’ “We Shall Not Be Moved.” “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but if South Africa is evidence, economic motivations are effective.”
Looking down at the performance from the Fonda balcony, Bobbi Jean Three Legs remained calm as she discussed the many hurdles that the tribe faces. She was excited to be in Los Angeles at a concert that has raised even more awareness for the protesters, but she knows there's more work to be done.
“I didn’t think we’d get worldwide attention, and I wasn’t thinking about that at the time,” she said. “Our futures are in jeopardy — literally. We have no choice and this is our future at stake here. It’s something that people can relate to, especially all of my people back at home.”