The House of Blues in Chicago hosted a Bud Light/Chicago Cubs charity event on Thursday 1/15/09, featuring Tom Morello The Nightwatchman and The Hold Steady. Last minute tickets came into play, so off we went, into the teeth of below-zero weather and widow-making wind chill.
First to hit the stage were Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, the television team for Chicago Cubs broadcasts, followed by Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, who introduced his good friend and Libertyville native, Tom Morello.
I was looking forward to seeing Morello, I was hooked the first time I heard him in the early Rage Against the Machine days. And I have never seen him live outside of that context.
So, out came Morello, he started riffing his trademark guitar style to “One Man Revolution” … then he opened his mouth.
Dude can’t sing. Like, at all.
The next song was “Whatever it Takes.” And that started out as a great jam, acoustic/electric and a solid, steady beat. Then he busted out a harmonica and it just sounded so out of place.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Tom Morello without an overdose of politics. In between just about every song was some sort of political rant. It culminated with The Nightwatchman rewriting one of rock’s great anthems with anti-Bush lyrics. Unfortunately it just didn’t work. Or as my companion put it, “I really don’t appreciate him *#&!-ing up ‘Dirty Deeds.'”
Morello The Nightwatchman and his band, The Freedom Fighter Orchestra wrapped it up with “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. An interesting choice for a send-off. Morello sang an originally banned chorus, coaxed the crowd into jumping up and down Rage-style to a folk song and chanting, “This land is your land, this land is my land, from the California, to the New York island …” It was spirited, I’ll give him that. And of course, he’s just an amazing guitarist. Nothing about that will ever change. But I feel like he was just trying to do too much. The entire set was an odd mix of pop, metal, folk – there was even a strange hip-hop element in there.
An interesting side note: Morello says that Rage Against the Machine are suing the Federal Government for using their songs to torture Guantanamo detainees.
Next up, The Hold Steady. This band is often described as “the world’s greatest bar band.” And I can understand that point of view. The Minneapolis natives have a serious following. From the first note, the band owned the stage – the crowd was clapping along, and singing every lyric. One of the first things that came to mind was how they reminded me of Cowboy Mouth.
It’s high energy, the songs are fast and in rapid-fire succession. And, like Morello, singer Craig Finn doesn’t have much of a voice. But it works with this band – the songs are more like musical stories rather than tunes, and the rough voice fits with the bar band atmosphere. And clearly they have something going, because it was a packed house – even on the coldest night in Chicago in decades.
I’m not terribly familiar with them – I’d tell you some songs they played, but I didn’t know any titles – but the impression I got was that they delivered everything a fan could want. I don’t know that I would go out of my way to see them again, but I wouldn’t turn it down either. If you were there last night, and feel like telling the readers more about the show, please leave a comment or contact me and I’ll post your review!
UPDATE: I found a true fan’s setlist and review.
The Hold Steady, “Sequestered in Memphis”