A unique night that promised to be strange and unpredictable turned out to be exactly that. The premise was to build a concert around a screening of the documentary Body of War in support of that film’s centerpiece Tomas Young. Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman was due to perform live at the event and any details beyond that were sketchy making for an air of uncertainty around the event.
The evening would start off pretty casually with typical pre-movie shorts on screen before Tom Morello would come and address the crowd. He would explain the cause and give a basic rundown of the evening. The first thing would be the highlight of the show for me: Ike Reilly would perform. The Chicago area singer flew from a show in Maryland the previous night to play this show in Kansas City. He would perform all of one song before he would retire from the stage after playing the very relevant song “Broken Parakeet Blues.” Morello would announce Reilly flew thousands of miles to play just the one song and introduce the next act, Jacob George. George is a veteran who travels the country playing war protest songs on his banjo. He would play two songs, one of them in the style of a military cadence. All of this taking place on the stage foreshadowing the events to come with Morello’s guitars proudly on display sporting the slogans “Arm The Homeless” “Black Spartacus” and “Whatever It Takes.”
The documentary would then play and change the tone of the evening dramatically. The narrative follows Tomas Young’s life after being permanently paralyzed by a bullet on his fifth day of deployment in Iraq. Since that time Young has fought to get better care for disabled war veterans and has relentlessly fought against sending soldiers to unnecessary wars.The documentary produced by Phil Donahue, who was also in attendance also profiled “The Immortal 23” that voted against giving then President Bush the power to declare war against Iraq without needing approval of other governing bodies. The measure passed in the Senate 77 to 23. The struggles of Tomas Young were an exclamation point of this story and a five minute update on Young’s condition was shown right after the movie.
Morello would take the stage immediately after for a well scripted set of war songs from The Nightwatchman’s catalog. He would start with “Battle Hymns” and “Flesh Shapes The Day” and continue a slow, brooding tone for most of the night. He would invite his bandmate from The Nightwatchman’s Freedom Fighter’s Orchestra, Carl Restivo, to help him with the duet “Save The Hammer For The Man” and Restivo would remain on stage helping him for much of the 11 song set. Morello would sing a song he wrote especially for Tomas Young with “Stray Bullets” retelling Young’s exact story.
The bigger reaction would come near the end of the politically charged set when the audience’s intensity would build from Morello’s energy. “The Road I Must Travel” got the attendees stirring and singing along then Morello would say “I brought my electric guitar; perhaps I should play it.” and really getting the audience going. He would do some of his signature guitar playing during “The Ghost of Tom Joad” which even included him playing the guitar with his mouth. The Bruce Springsteen cover would work as a lead in for a sing-along version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Morello would then invite everyone to get out of their seats and come down to the stage area to join him. As the audience gathered around it became more intimate than the 197 seat capacity theater had started at the beginning of the night. It was quickly apparent that this was the way the entire show should have been. A big sing-along to “Worldwide Rebel Songs” would then ensue as a seemingly fitting closing moment. The Nightwatchman thankfully felt compelled to do one more song and performed an emotional version of his song “Until The End” that thanks to the audience and Tomas Young joining in from his home on the computer left Morello in tears as he finished the final lines of the song.
Morello would quickly regain focus and lead a Q&A session between the audience and Young. Young would announce to the filled theater including his mother and brother that he plans to stay alive as long as he can stand the pain in contrary to his recent announcement he made that he would end his life. The event would conclude with an emotionally drained audience trying to take in the special events they had just witnessed as Morello posed for pictures and talked to the crowd near the stage.
Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman’s setlist from the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Kansas City, Missouri 5/19/13:
- Battle Hymns
- Flesh Shapes The Day
- No One Left
- Save The Hammer For The Man
- Stray Bullets
- “Obama signed with a rubber stamp”
- The Road I Must Travel
- Ghost of Tom Joad (Bruce Springsteen cover)
- This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie cover)
- Worldwide Rebel Songs
- Until The End