The Night Watchman: Doing the Rootsy Rounds
By
Brian Dowell
9/19/2004 8:56:27 PM

The Night Watchman, Ike Reilly Assassination, Absynthe
The Gig, Hollywood
September 16, 2004


Tom Morello is one of the few musicians of the post-metal age that can rightly be classified as a "guitar god". As a founding member of Rage Against The Machine, Morello stretched the boundaries of electric guitar, using the instrument in a way it had never been used before, producing sounds that earlier generations of axe-men would have thought impossible. More recently, in the band Audioslave, Morello's guitar work was more understated, but still laying an impressive groundwork for Chris Cornell's well-written songs.

Now, Morello is embarking in a new musical direction, a solo, acoustic side project, dubbed The Night Watchman. Yes, one of this country’s richest self avowed socialists and a master of capturing the very sound of anger on his electric guitar is now trying to transform himself into an upper class Woody Guthrie. In this guise, he appeared at The Gig, a small Hollywood nightclub on Melrose that is refreshingly non-trendy. Only a small percentage of the venue’s patrons spend the shows there pretending to make movie deals on their ever-present cell phones, which makes The Gig a rare Hollywood haven for music lovers.

The club was full of Rage fans, anxious to get a glimpse at their rock and roll hero and the air of anticipation was heavy. People were excited to see a rock star, but their emotions seemed strained, unsure. I, for one, have sat through enough bad acoustic folk singers warbling protest songs at strip mall coffee shops to learn to expect the worst from such events. Walking in to the Gig that evening, it was not unlike plopping down money to see Michael Jordan...play baseball. Sure, it’s still a very famous person that has mastered a skill, but you probably won’t see any evidence of skills that they had mastered.

Absynthe, the opening band, did nothing to ease my sense of dread;. All of their songs sounded like rejected cuts from the first Stone Temple Pilots album. Essentially, Absinthe is completely derivative of a derivative band. (In their defense, Absinthe claimed to be “inspired by” the Doors...so, perhaps, we can fairly say that they‚re ripping off a band that a bunch of other bands are copping from too). They weren’t bad, per se, and their drummer was quite good, but they offered very little original or interesting.

Graciously, Morello appeared as the middle act on this show, although his performance was what the vast majority of the audience had come to see. When he appeared onstage, decked out in an all black outfit and his ever-present baseball cap, The Night Watchman received much applause. When the music started, I was pleasantly surprised. He has a surprisingly nice voice; honestly, he sounds unexpectedly like Johnny Cash. A higher octave, perhaps, but he sings with the same syrupy accent, and with the same conviction and inflection. Plus, his songs offered the same psuedo-religious imagery and empathy with the everyman as Cash’s best work. It was appropriate for an angry man dressed in all black and his songs are very well structured.

His first song quoted Rage Against The Machine lyric; the often repeated “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”. All of his songs were politically, of course, very left wing, but even to a cynical curmudgeon like myself, nothing he said came off as too unreasonable. Of course, The Night Watchman isn’t nearly as interesting as Morello’s pioneering electric work, but I did enjoy it. In either case, it’s much less painful to listen to than most acoustic folksingers. And the crowd seemed to lap it up.

After Morello left the stage, most of the audience predictably filed out. That’s too bad. They missed a compelling musical tour de farce by the headlining band, Chicago’s The Ike Reilly Assassination. Performing against a backdrop of bad Catholic velvet paintings, Reilly and his talented band tore through their warped songs with reckless abandon. To me, he resembles Vincent Gallo...a hipster attempting to look like a small town mortician, and Reilly’s gravelly voice sounds frighteningly like Don Henley. Playing rock songs with country elements, and incorporating organ sounds and acoustic guitars, the Assassination reminded me a little of Cracker or Modest Mouse. They were awesome. The Ike Reilly Assassination owned the night. Too bad the celebrity-obsessed audience didn’t notice.


 

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