NEW YORK, NY—It was a little odd, to say the least, seeing a stage that is usually overrun with amps, mics and drumkits for a few different bands, stand practically naked except for a single chair with a mic stand in front of it. However, the bare canvas befitted the artists who performed at The Bowery Ballroom on this hot night since they were naked themselves. No, not fleshy naked as in the way Tom Morello described how Rage Against The Machine took the 1993 Lollapalooza stage in protest at the JFK arena, but Dustin Kensrue, known as the frontman in Thrice, and Tom Morello of RATM and formerly Audioslave, were stripped of their gear, electronics and even band mates as they thrilled, awed and elevated the consciousness of a sold-out crowd.
Dustin Kensrue released Please Come Home on Equal Vision, a solo acoustic album in the early winter, and the title track with its prodigal son theme received a very warm reception, but his version of Radiohead’s “Creep” really displayed how Dustin’s pipes could fly upwards from a hollow dirge whisper and transform into a star-scraping ray of light. The singer, who for the time being traded in the mosh pits he usually creates for the harmonica straddled around his neck, also covered “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” but his originals teeming with sweet embers of heartache and hope, like “Pistol” and “Blanket Of Ghosts,” had the audience purring along. “State Trooper,” a song about trying to slip away from the long arm of the law, capped off Dustin’s set.
The night’s headliner, Mr. Tom Morello, AKA the Nightwatchman, reminded everyone that protest songs weren’t dead at a time when they are needed the most. In this incarnation, the guitar virtuoso bares the stark intensity of Johnny Cash, the ingenuity of Jimi Hendrix and the finesse of Carlos Santana. He spoke of himself in the third person, adding a dash of charm to his folk laden and solidarity-generating performance, and he is a surprisingly hilarious storyteller as well. Morello opened with “One Man Revolution,” which he definitely is by spearing Axis of Justice, a nonprofit organization he and Serj Tankian of System Of A Down created, and lobbying with his guitar at the G8 conference, as he reported from the stage that evening. The Harvard graduate also chose a few mission-appropriate covers, like Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War” and the real, uncensored version of “This Land Is Your Land.” But it was Tom Morello’s, oh, I mean the Nightwatchman’s, own creations off of his One Man Revolution CD, like “The Road That I Must Travel,” “House Gone Up In Flames” and “Union Song” that proved this natural resource is our best defense for our national security. The Nightwatchman’s song “Alone Without You” can also be heard in Michael Moore’s Sicko documentary during the closing credits.