Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Joyously Militant Celebration Of Joe Hill with Tom Morello And Friends

Today is the 100th anniversary of the execution of Joe Hill, labor radical and forefather of all American protest music. Hill was honored and celebrated on Tuesday night with a truly incredible, beyond sold out show put on by Tom Morello and his friends to carry on the rabble rousing started by Hill long ago.

The Troubadour stage held a large tapestry of Joe Hill, where he watched over the proceedings and reminded everyone why they were there. Morello introduced the night by reading the foreword he'd written for the centenary edition of The Letters Of Joe Hill (a copy of which each audience member receieved after the show). You should just get the book, but the point is that Hill was killed because the powers that be were afraid of him ("and they should be") and his songs that demanded the working class to organize for social justice. A quick paraphrase ...

Joe Hill is my favorite musician, though there are no known recordings of him ... but Joe didn't just sing songs confronting injustice. He was on the front lines risking life and limb to try to create a better, more just world ... That's why they killed him ... But as the song says, Joe Hill ain't dead. Wherever, whenever you raise your fist, your voice, or your guitar in the name of justice and freedom, Joe Hill is right there by your side. Solid. - Tom Morello

So that's exactly what we did all night (three plus hours), raised our voices and our fists in the name of freedom and justice ... like this:

Morello opened the evening solo, shouting, "This is a freedom song! This is a fighting song! This is a UNION song!" and launched into his "Union Song" to the delight of the many members of the Nurses Union in the house in their red shirts, who LOVE Tom, and the feeling is mutual. Joe Hill is name dropped in the song that celebrates Union members standing UP and standing STRONG, and when it ended, Morello said that Joe Hill always liked to stir up a heap of trouble, and that's what else we were going to do on this night. Solid.

Tom introduced "the first living legend of the night", Van Dyke Parks, who played Joe Hill's song "The Preacher and the Slave" that coined the term, "pie in the sky" back in the day. Parks played piano beautifully and sang, accompanied by a friend on an accordion, and shared that he'd last played The Troubadour 52 years ago! He also played a song by Blind Alfred Reed, of whom Parks said, "He couldn't see, but he could." Van Dykes Park is great, and that's just that.

From the most senior performer of the evening to the most junior with The Poet Puff Girls (Zariya Allen, Belissa Escobedo, and Rhiannon McGavin), a trio of slam poets who delivered a heavy, pointed spoken word poem about the state of schools today, ending it with, "The greatest lessons are the ones you don't remember learning." Our future is safe with these girls. Wow.

They were followed by another extra powerful female (in fact, this was by far the most women I've ever had the pleasure of being entertained by at one of Morello's Justice shows - the ladies are fierce!), with Delila Paz from The Last Internationale absolutely killing it with their "I'm Gonna Live The Life I Sing About In My Song." Paz is one of my very favorite female voices of our day, and you simply must first, check them out, and second, strongly consider living the life she sings about in her song. It's a good one.

"A modern day Joe Hill ... always on the front lines, if there's tear gas, he smells of it," was how Morello introduced the great David Rovics, who amused everyone by saying he'd been planning for this occasion for a year. "It's not every day a leftie activist gets these kind of events." He played Joe Hill's "Where The Fraser River Flows", and then sang his own song "Joe Hill" about the Wobblies, and "the Bard with the Union Card" who had to be killed "Lest he organize the working class in song." Rovics is the real deal.

"A lot of who plays these shows is who says yes, and our next performer always says yes," said Morello to introduce the wonderful Jill Sobule (another fierce woman!). She said, "This is a song about the history of immigration in America," and played her hilarious and spot on "When They Say They Want Our America Back" ("Well, what the fuck do they mean?"). The crowd loved it, singing along with gusto (though she reports it doesn't go over as well in the South. Go figure.)

To remind everyone of what we were up to, Morello read the preamble to the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) Constitution (aka what Joe Hill was about) and its call to do away with capitalism. "So enjoy the nice singalong songs, but this is the real shit that's going down tonight." We were all down.

Morello's co-founder of Firebrand Records, Ryan Harvey and his musical partner, Kareem Samara (on the beautiful oud), played one of their new songs about the Kurdish people, and we all sang the chorus, "I will stand with the People of Rojava". Harvey is one of the most erudite and truth-seeking sharers of wisdom about social injustice struggles that I know. When I don't understand an ISIS thing, for example, I look to Harvey for help. He's another artist like Rovics who is out there on the front lines at any and all protests, and was particularly helpful in understanding all the trouble in Baltimore (where he's frorm) for Freddie Gray earlier this year. When you listen to Harvey's songs, really LISTEN, because you will really learn.

Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes came out next and gave us his acoustic version of Dylan's "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" and I think I got a new crush. I wasn't alone either, as a girl passed out in the audience right then off to the side. It was handled very subtly, and I hope she's ok today. Robinson making the ladies swoon!

"Please welcome my longtime comrade in arms, Boots Riley!"said Morello, to shouts of "BOOOTS" (not boos), and my complete surprise and happiness. Riley (of the supercool The Coup) is one of my very favorites, and like Harvey, very well versed in all that is going on in the world, and how we got there. Though his lyrics are always witty and cool, they contain a biting truth that never leaves you. He threw down his spoken word, "Underdogs", which is real hard to follow.

But not if you're Tim Armstrong. The Rancid frontman came out in his big bushy beard and shades, and blasted out Joe Hill's classic, "There's A Power In The Union", which I think Hill would have dug. We sure did.

Next up was a teaming of guys from Mumford and Sons, Dawes, and Alaina Moore from Tennis, who played Hill's "Rebel Girl", saying, "It's not the original, but I think Joe Hill would be cool with that." They also gave us a cover of New Order's "Love Vigilantes", which I think Hill would have been cool with too.

{Just then as I was scribbling notes down in my book, Van Dyke Parks walked by and squeezed my arm. I looked up, and he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Magic! I think he liked seeing a pen put to paper in this techno world, but he might have just been flirting too, which I'm fine with.}

Another Firebrand Records artist was next, with Lia Rose from Built For The Sea coming out next to lead everyone in singing the old Union song, "Which Side Are You On?" joined by Morello and his Freedom Fighter Ochestra (the always awesome David Gibbs, Carl Restivo, and Eric Gardner) to belt it out. It was awesome, and when Jill Sobule read one of Joe Hill's letters about how important women were to organizing, that was an exclamation point to the song. Fierce.

THEN .... JOAN BAEZ! This was a really big deal to me as I've loved her voice and her politics ever since I was little, and now here she was singing - in her sublime as ever voice - the Phil Ochs song, "There But For Fortune", accompanying herself on her acoustic guitar, also beautifully. I had chills. We marched along as the percussion to her song about the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, and then crushed us even more with her song for Chile, "Gracias A La Vida". The place was silent (except for the tools hoping for Springsteen standing next to me), and I felt thoroughly transported. LOVE Joan Baez.

"That concludes the acoustic part of the night!" shouted Tom before bringing up the fantastic Ziggy Marley! "This is a cry for justice!" shouted Marley before launching into his song, "Justice". The night's women were his backup singers, and it was so good, with about a dozen people playing on stage. They followed it with Ziggy's Dad's "Get Up, Stand Up", which everyone did, and absolutely vowed to not give up the fight. Ziggy Marley, People!

:Rebel music comes in a lot of flavors, and one of those is punk rock. This one is from the greatest punk band of all time, The Clash!" before leading the dudes in an incendiary cover of "Career Opportunities". It was so punk rock, you guys.

Well, now it was time to "Kick Out The Jams"! The MC5's Wayne Kramer led all the guitar players in the world (it seemed) in kicking out his trademark song. This one featured the old Morello guitar solo with his teeth that always slays the crowd, and added Edgey Pires from The Last Internationale to the mix. Those jams were done kicked OUT, let me tell you.

The teeth solo was really no match for what followed, when Morello blew the roof off with his now-classic take on Springsteen's "The Ghost Of Tom Joad". It's a real show stopper with a solo for the ages that still gives me chills, but my favorite part is when he sings, "Look in their eyes, Ma, you'll see me!" and you see Mary Morello looking down at her son singing that. No one could be more proud, and she taught him everything he knows - except maybe that guitar solo.

After people completely lost their shit, Morello and Company helped them find it with the Street Sweeper Social Club slammer, "Ghetto Blaster". It ruled, as one would expect, and it was so extra fantastic to see Riley perform again in L.A. When he tells you to fight the power, you listen.

"The next two songs are candidates for the Revolutionary National Anthem!", shouted Morello, and then turned his mic stand to the crowd, saying, "Kids, I'll let you sing this one." We heard the opening chords of Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" and the entire crowd took over Zack de la Rocha's vocals - and it should be noted that they knew every word. "Some of those who work forces, are the same that burn crosses!" It was super cool, and super heavy, and super evident that we all need that Rage now more than ever. Really quite a moment in a night of huge moments.

"Thanks Joe, for the inspiration for all these songs, and thank you all for coming! Is it possible you'd like one more song?" (It was) "Convince my ass!" (We did). After Morello thanked all the sponsors and the Nurses Union, he shouted, "I'd like to welcome to the stage, Everybody! All the rebel rockers!" Every single one of the night's performers then crammed up on the stage to belt out "This Land Is Your Land", the one that really should be our National Anthem.

Verses (ALL of them) were traded off between performers (many now wearing paper targets pinned over their hearts in the same manner as Joe Hill was executed by firing squad), as the audience followed Morello's instructions to listen, sing, and JUMP for joy. "If you can stand, do stand. You don't want to be seen shirking in Mary Morello's presence! We're all going to do this joyously, and yet militantly at the same time!"

With verses taken by the likes of Kramer, Parks, Riley (in a cool rap style), the one that soared and blew us all away was taken by the E Street Band's Cindy Mizelle. There are almost no words for this woman's voice straight from Heaven. It was simply stunning, as was the visual of every body in The Troubadour jumping and singing their hearts out in the name of freedom and justice.  When Morello yelled "Take it easy, but take it!" at song's end, it was with a hoarse and cracking voice, evidence of all that had already gone down.

But we weren't done quite yet. We all joined in a hearty, rousing singalong of "Solidarity Forever", the Union anthem sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic", and you absolutely felt the power in unity that so frightened the authorities back in Joe Hill's day, and still does today. When the People unite, anything is possible.

My favorite moment among many favorites was then, when Joan Baez took to the front of the stage with her acoustic guitar and began singing "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night", the very song that she mesmerized the entire Woodstock with. All the other performers surrounded Baez with their fists raised, and the audience all followed suit. Without even noticing it, I had tears running down my cheeks. The beauty and power of the moment was so touching and inspiring, but more than anything, it filled me with hope.

These are real crazy, scary, violent, unjust times in many ways, but when you get people to stand together in a show of unity and support for freedom and justice in such a pure and unafraid collective rebel yell, it's clear that goodness always prevails. As Baez sang "'I never died,' says he" ... you could feel Joe Hill's presence in the room, confirming exactly that.

"See you in 100 years!" shouted Morello to conclude the epic three hour+ show, again showing the optimism and promise that was the vibe of the entire evening.

Joe Hill would be - no, IS - proud.

*Most photos courtesy of Chuck Walker
** Morello teeth solo and Baez/Paz/Morello photo by Randall Wallace

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