Firebrand Fridays with Tom Morello and Friends!
The inaugural Firebrand Friday hosted by Tom Morello took place last Friday at Genghis Cohen in Hollywood, and it was just the best. Hearkening back to the Hotel Cafe days when Morello had these nights in residency where he would bring in all his rock star friends and for the price of $10 – with every penny going to help PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) here in L.A. – you got hours of the best music ever, in a space smaller than most living rooms. Genghis Cohen is even smaller, so it was like chilling with all your friends … some of whom were eating Chinese food.
The night began at 7:30, so with L.A. traffic, there were like six of us in the room when it began. That did not last long, however, as the next time I turned around the little room was packed in so tight, air itself was becoming scarce. And no one cared. Morello opened the evening explaining that the night was a benefit for PATH, and that Genghis Cohen was the first place he had Chinese food, and that the first (acoustic) rocker of the night would be Mr. Wayne Kramer of the mighty MC5. Yeah.
Kramer opened the evening with his excellent and appropriate “Wild America”. Kramer is the founder of the U.S. branch of the excellent Jail Guitar Doors organization, teaching inmates how to play guitar. He next shared with us a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”, a song Haggard was inspired to write after hearing Johnny Cash play in prison. Excellence. Kramer was just back from performing in Dublin, where he learned about the “Old Triangle” that was rung in the prison there. He had Carl Restivo and Jill Sobule join him for the haunting, Irish lament, their harmonies soaring as they took us back there with them. Friends singing together for a good cause, there really is nothing much better.
Morello came back up to remind the room that 100% of the night’s proceeds were going to PATH, and that we were about to hear one of his favorite new bands, “Standard bearers in the social justice struggle, The Last Internationale.” Up came Delila Paz and Edgey Pires – The Last Internationale. I’d heard Morello talk about them and heard they crushed it at the South American Lollapaloozas, but I had no idea how mind-blowingly AWESOME the voice on Paz is. WHOA. They began with a Malvina Reynolds tune, “It Isn’t Nice” that nicely complimented the night’s theme of fighting the power and solidarity … “It isn’t nice to block the doorway, it isn’t nice to go to jail, There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail, it isn’t nice, it isn’t nice, you told us once, you told us twice, but if that is Freedom’s price, We don’t mind.” That’s right.
They followed that one with their own, “We Will Reign”, and after hearing that, I have every reason to believe that they will indeed reign – over almost all the bands out there right now. Ass kicking music with a message everyone needs to hear … you can’t lose. The real show stopper was their cover of Mahalia Jackson’s “I’m Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song”. Paz said, “I’m gonna change the lyrics a bit for the times … that never change.” I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say I was covered with chills the entire song. The song was so soaring, so clearing grounded in Paz’s convictions, delivering this gospel standard with anger and a fierce strength that quite truly blew minds. The room erupted in cheers, and Morello came up with his hand over his heart and said exactly what I’d just written in my notes … “Holy. Shit.” Honestly.
Next up was the fantastic Jill Sobule, who is always a complete delight to behold. She’s not only SO talented, but downright hilarious, with some of the very best lyrics around. She told us how her first song didn’t go over so big when she last played it in Tennessee … “When They Say They Want Our America Back”, and had everyone singing along with her when she asked, “Well, what the fuck do they mean?” Super timely, super relevant, and super true, whether Tennesseans liked it or not. We LOVED it (and Thank GOD for our little L.A. bubble). Then, with all the talk about earthquakes (and actual earthquakes happening lately – and that big dumb San Andreas movie opening), Sobule sang about how it it was “A Good Life”, no matter what happens. We all sang along, and agreed with her. Especially on nights like this, it is a REALLY good life.
Sobule came out with “I Kissed A Girl” well before Katy Perry did, and on this night, she took her song back. We were all glad she did, as it was once again hilarious (and made a bunch of 13 year old girls buy her song by accident, which I love). A song about meeting your heroes, “Heroes”. Again, it was pure comedy as Sobule listed off dictators and other dicks that should not fall into the heroic category. “Where is Bobbie Gentry?” is a song about how Sobule has been stalking the singer of “Ode To Billie Joe” – and she’s getting close to finding her. You could hear Morello laughing in the wings as his friend wittily spun her musical tales and probably made people want to stalk HER.
Morello came back to let us know that Firebrand Fridays are not just musical events, but a movement. “A plan for global domination.” These shows will happen on Fridays throughout the summer (follow Morello on Twitter to be kept in the know), but even if you’re nowhere near, you can create a “Mosh pit in your mind” as you share your own firebrand thoughts through your music around the world and hashtag it with #FirebrandFriday so we can all stand together in solidarity, wherever we are. Do it. With that, Morello lit into his “Flesh Shapes The Day” and we all “Woo HOO HOO’d” with him during his musical mic check to show that we were all the way on board. “Si Se Puede, fuck YEAH!”
Carl Restivo “My Steven Van Zandt” came up to join Morello for the Ben Harper part on “Save The Hammer For The Man”, which was as excellent as ever, their voices and guitars harmonizing together perfectly. “I need Daddy’s apple juice”, said Morello after that one and once that sauce got served, we got the sublimely gorgeous song about moments of doubt, “The Garden Of Gethsemane”. Mary Morello was sitting down front, and at 91, she was as into it as anyone there as she watched her son play her favorite. It was so quiet in the tiny room, the only other sound you could hear was the (much needed) fan whirring and people breathing. Respect.
“This is a song about kicking everyone’s ass that gets in your way,” said Morello by way of introducing “House Gone Up In Flames”. It truly was fiery, in its message and delivery, his “Whatever It Takes” acoustic guitar truly a weapon. Morello was singing so forcefully and meaning it so hard you could actually see his face shaking with the sheer determination that wrongs WILL be righted. People yelled themselves hoarse when it was done, and Morello told about how he’s seen U2 at the Roxy the night before when some guy yelled out, “Helps to be Tom Morello!” to which Morello responded, “You can just put that hipster hate away, or I’ll have Mary Morello come back there and choke you out.” The hate was immediately stowed. Ha!
“The Fabled City” was dedicated to The Last Internationale, as it’s their favorite, and then a champagne bucket was passed around for people to pony up for PATH, since the $10 cover worked out to “Only about $1.15 per superstar,” and we could do – and did – better than that. While the bucket was being passed, Morello told us about how he could not believe it, but that very morning the words “Turn that music down, it’s too loud!” had come out of his mouth to his sons. Everyone laughed, as they appreciated the irony there, especially when Morello said that the look his five year old son gave him was basically, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” Ahh … the chickens coming home to roost. Hilarious. With that, Morello ended his set with a song about moments of certainty, and dedicated “Until The End” to our friend, the late anti-war hero, Tomas Young, saying from now on it would always be played for him. It was beautiful, and the room erupted in cheers after Morello’s harmonica solo riled them all up.
Rancid’s Tim Armstrong was actually kind of responsible for the Firebrand Friday, as he and Morello had talked about doing acoustic shows together, and now, here we were. I never realized the political slant in Rancid’s music before, and was pleasantly surprised to hear, “It’s Quite Alright”, with its lyrics about freedom, ignorance, and reality. It was so good. “Thank you. How great is this?”, asked Armstrong, and we all let him know it was pretty great. As was his “Harry Bridges” about the great Union leader, and also the man who lost his job. Powerful stuff. I also never knew that Rancid’s “Into Action” was really about taking public transportation, as Armstrong doesn’t drive. “Respect to New York, Respect to London, but we’re from California and our state is golden!” That got big cheers, rightly so.
“This song’s about hanging out with friends, because sometimes friends are all you’ve got.” Armstrong played his last number, “Olympia, WA”, and we were all just kind of tripping that Tim Armstrong was sitting right there on a stool, playing acoustic, and so was thoroughly entertaining that it was almost a drag that it was time for the All Star finale jam.
Almost, but not quite, because now EVERYONE came back up, and sang and played together like they were reaching for the rafters of Staples Center, but in a space smaller than one of the luxury suites over there. The legendary Pete Seeger Union song, “Which Side Are You On?” was belted out by all on stage and all in the audience alike, and all the fists in the house were raised, perhaps no higher than when Paz gave us chills again with her command to “Fight like a woman!” It was awesome in there.
Always the show stopper, “This Land Is Your Land” was listened to, sung to and jumped to in unison by all, front to back, as is required when Tom Morello is leading this classic.
He appointed one lady to film the proceedings, so we could all live in the moment live vs. through a phone screen – a greatly appreciated standard practice. The place went nuts the whole time, and then it amped up even further when Morello told the crowd that “Tomorrow is my birthday, and I’m having a fantastic time!”
So were all of us, and then it got even more fantastic when they couldn’t stop and had to lay one more song on us and that song was The MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams”!
Morello was beaming from ear to ear during he and Kramer’s guitar lick battle, as those jams done got kicked OUT. The guy right behind me said simply, “Wow.” That’s just about all you could say, truly.
The sweaty and thrilled audience serenaded Morello with the “Happy Birthday” song, and it was over, with Morello thanking the Firebrand Freedom Fighters and reminding us all to “Take it easy, but take it!” Done, and done.
The evening also served as a launch pad for the new label from Tom Morello and Ryan Harvey. Firebrand Records is the new label for rebel music … by and for the People. It’s ON.
THANK YOU to Tom, and to everyone involved. Freedom fighting is not only fun, but in these crazy times, ultra-necessary. Please join this master plan for global domination, either by attending a Firebrand Friday yourself (and supporting PATH!), or by uploading your own brand of fire and sharing it with the hashtag #FirebrandFriday. It’s on, People.
* Photos by Paul Gronner Photography