Anti-war sentiment hung in the air while the pangs of power through knowledge echoed off the theatre walls. No pyrotechnics, no explosions, no colored lights.
Just five musicians encouraging audiences to seek out the truth and not give up hope. From the streets of Philadelphia to the steps of the White House, their message was a cry to politicians to drop the drama and give people the facts, not the fiction.
On Nov. 21, the Tell Us The Truth tour made a pit stop at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA. Comedian Janeane Garafolo played hostess and ringleader to the packed theater. Featured performers included Lester Chambers, The Night Watchman, Steve Earle, Boots Riley and Billy Bragg.
Bragg said the theme was “No power without accountability.” The remark was a reference to what he called the Bush administration’s seeming inability to present the facts and their supposed lack of accountability.
Responding to the list of food items available for intermission, a fan shouted, “Is there going to be Freedom Wine too?” Garafolo, pausing for quick second, quipped, “Yes. There will be Freedom Fries and there will be Freedom Wine. And God Bless America. Only.”
Chambers kicked off the show with Delta-blues howl piercing through the crowd with Bragg and bassist Michael B. Holden providing the boogie backdrop.
The Night Watchman (a.k.a. Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello) exclaimed, “This is the only tour you’re going to see where we’ve all been tear-gassed.”
Morello plowed his way through gut-wrenching cuts like “Maximum Firepower” and “House Gone up In Flames.” His throaty growl, soaked in rebellious angst, and thunderous rounds of applauses of approval followed soul-stirring lyrics.
Morello, armed with just an acoustic guitar, proved that behind his fancy guitar effects and wah pedal warfare, lies an angry yet hardened soul hell-bent on finding the truth.
Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule (known for her controversial hit, “I Kissed A Girl”) switched the mood from serious to sarcastic with acoustic cuts like “Lucy At the Gym,” “Dodge ball” and “Soldiers of Christ.”
The surreal sarcasm billowing from Sobule was a poignant shot at the conservative and commercial stranglehold of corporate America.
Country-folk rocker Steve Earle drew the night’s loudest applauses for ragged romps like “Dixieland” and “The Mountain.” The latter was written the same day that the Pennsylvania Coal Miners were freed from their coal chute. In a time of bad news, the tune was a stark, yet gleaming, ray of hope and proof of the human spirit within us all.
Rapper Boots Riley upped the tempo with eclectic funk-rap stomps like “Clean Draw’s” and “Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO.” Chamberlain, Morello and Holden joined Riley onstage. The trio had the crowd stomping and clapping right along so enthusiastically it felt as if the roof was about to collapse.
Alt-folk rocker Bragg brandished the night’s only electric guitar appearance and belted out cut after cut with a mighty English wail.
The evening drew to a close as all the performers gathered on stage and blazed through a two-song encore. Even the youngest concert-goers were left with their mouths agape and beads of sweat dripping off their foreheads.
Passionate and political, profound and precise, their message was as simple as the brown banner that hung behind them: Give us the truth. No smoke and mirrors, no tricks. Just stripped-down, back-to-basics acoustic rock sermons.
Dustin Schoof can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org