AUSTIN, Texas — The Occupy movement came face-to-face with South by Southwest Friday night, brought together by guitarist and singer Tom Morello and countercultural rock ‘n’ roll icon Wayne Kramer of the MC5 in a showcase they dubbed “Occupy SXSW.”
Morello performed as the Nightwatchman, the Rage Against the Machine guitarist’s often-polemical protest outlet. He burned through a set of fierce, pointed songs before leading the crowd in the small (and sweltering) club Swan Dive into the street, where a group of a couple hundred Occupy protestors had gathered after a march from the state capitol building.
Once outside, he led the crowd in a singalong of “This Land is Your Land,” then performed another tune using the “human microphone” technique of having the crowd amplify him by repeating back his phrases.
A handful of police looked on, and while Morello at one point seemed concerned the cops were ready to shut him down, the officers were unperturbed.
“I like Rage,” one joked. “If he was playing some Rage, we’d let him go a little longer.”
It is Austin, after all.
Before taking it to the street, Morello performed solo and with a band as he played songs from his Nightwatchman albums, including the insurrectionary “One Man Revolution” and the working-class paean “Union Town.”
He also did a searing cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (which Morello had played with Springsteen the night before) and brought up Kramer for a beautifully chaotic version of the MC5′s seminal anthem “Kick Out the Jams.”
Kramer’s set before Morello was more eclectic, and included several unexpected guests, playing unexpected songs. Singer and songwriter Jesse Malin came on to sing a taut, edgy version of “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, and Kramer brought up roots-rock up-and-comer J.D. McPherson to sing his own rollicking, rockabilly flavored tune “North Side Gal.”
The MC5 guitarist also played a cover of the Clash’s “Jail Guitar Doors,” which the English punk band had written in part about Kramer when he went to prison in the ’70s on drug charges. The song inspired Kramer and folk singer Billy Bragg to start an organization by the same name that uses music as a rehabilitative tool for prison inmates.
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