Tom Morello paused for a moment as he tuned his guitar in front of the Occupy Wall Street masses this morning at New York's Liberty Plaza. "This is crazy out here," he said, smiling. The Rage Against the Machine guitarist went on to perform a four-song set for hundreds of onlookers, including a poignant, protester-fueled rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
Before the performance, however, Morello addressed the crowd – whom he called "friends." He introduced himself as the Nightwatchman, his folk alter-ego, and spoke directly to the attentive and excited members of the Occupy Wall Street movement: "First, they ignored you – then you got pepper-sprayed." But he didn't stop there. Morello led the crowd in a charged chant: "I know in my heart, all hell can't stop us now." And then, repeatedly, "All hell can't stop us now!"
Then the music started. Morello began with a rendition of "The Fabled City," the title track from his second Nightwatchman album. While encouraging the protesters to clap their hands, Morello crooned, "I've seen the fabled city, its streets are paved with gold. But an iron fence runs 'round it and its iron gate is closed." Then Carl Restivo, guitarist of the Nightwatchman's band The Freedom Fighters Orchestra, joined Morello for "Save the Hammer for the Man." The two sang together among the protesters, working off their energy. On "This Land Is Your Land," Morello told the crowd that despite the circumstances, they were "gonna have a good mother fuckin' time," and as he sang, he jumped – and so did everybody else. The entire mass of protesters bounced up and down, proclaiming, "This land was made for you and me."
To cap everything off, Morello taught his "World Wide Rebel Songs" to the crowd and together, among fists and American Flags raised by the hands of protestors, they sang: "World wide rebel songs, sing out loud all night long, hang on man it won't be long, world wide rebel songs." He then left the stage with one message to Occupy Wall Street: "Take it easy, but take it."
In a cab after his performance, a sweaty Morello – sporting a his own version of a Nike shirt that read "Class War, Just Do It" with a swoosh – told Rolling Stone, "The Nightwatchman was born for days like this. This is something people feel a part of. I don’t know why this is different. Cause certainly that discontent is always there, but this expresses it in a way that feels very inclusive in the 99 percent slogan is a great one and an accurate one. It’s the right one."
Videos by Matthew Murphy
Additional reporting by Patrick Doyle.