Tom Morello gave an early Christmas present to the 100-plus fans packed into Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe last night. As a send-off for his final gig of the year as the Nightwatchman, the Rage Against the Machine guitarist assembled an eclectic group of music legends that jammed on inspired covers and collaborations for more than four hours.
Morello’s weekly appearances at the cozy venue serve as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for his social-action foundation Axis of Justice, which provides aid to the homeless and hungry. The evening began in the normal fashion with Morello playing a handful of acoustic songs. His small set complete, Morello recounted a story about a man with a great voice at a Woody Guthrie tribute. The man turned out to be Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins, who then climbed onstage and proved he was worthy of Morello’s praise with a solid, albeit lyrically altered rendition of Phil Ochs’ classic protest tune”State of Mississippi” and the Christmas staple “Silent Night.”
Serj Tankian, who along with Morello co-founded Axis of Justice, next appeared at the piano for two songs, then Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, rising songwriter Elijah Forrest and Richard Patrick of Filter. It didn’t seem realistic when Morello took the microphone at this point and joked that the evening was just getting started, but two and half hours later it was clear he had been dead serious.
Moments later Perry Farrell brought his Satellite Party onstage with Morello accompanying on electric guitar to play two songs before closing with a spot-on version of “Jane Says.” The evening then slipped into high gear when Morello introduced Alice in Chains which entailed Jerry Cantrell and new singer Will DuVall. The two played a brilliant version of “Nutshell” that was a deft replication of their MTV Unplugged performance and followed with a cover of the Who’s “Squeeze Box.”
Most of the crowd, already stoked about the incredible lineup, had assumed the Alice in Chains duo was the finale, until Mick Mars of M#246;tley Crüe slowly emerged to join Morello and the assembled house band for “Dr. Feelgood” and “Girls, Girls, Girls.” It was borderline excessive when Slash appeared onstage to help Morello and Cantrell rip through the Thin Lizzy classic “Jailbreak.” The evening pressed on with more jamming and a late appearance by Wayne Kramer of MC5who led the now-supersized group in a spirited version of “Kick Out the Jams.”
Almost an hour past midnight Morello called the entire night’s lineup back to the stage and introduced Woody Guthrie’s definitive American anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” Morello, ever articulate and thoughtful, implored the audience to heed Guthrie’s poignant lyrics and “grab the wheel of history to reclaim your land.” Each verse was sung by a different star with Tim Robbins and Farrell leading and Slash providing intermittent hillbilly-inspired solos. The ensemble rocked out to the revised ballad for more than ten minutes before Morello thanked his gracious guests and the adoring audience for providing an unforgettable night of music.