When Tom Morello took the stage at the Swan Dive in Austin on Friday night, he chose to convert what otherwise would’ve been just another SXSW-only showcase into a true Occupy gathering – an event which he described as “Occupy SXSW,” and which he organized in conjunction with Occupy Austin. Morello informed the crowd – which primarily consisted of SXSW badge holders – that, just outside the bar, a “people’s stage” had been erected to broadcast the show on the street for Occupy protestors and the general public at large.
Inside the Swan Dive, Morello initially performed by himself, armed with his acoustic guitar. “I’m the Nightwatchman and this is a one man revolution!” he said, performing solo before inviting his new band, the Freedom Fighter Orchestra, to join him for a set of heavy burners and protest songs.
He played “Save the Hammer for the Man,” “The Garden of Gethsemane,” and “Union Town” from the Nightwatchman’s catalog, eliciting cheers from crowds both inside and outside the tiny venue. “I’m going to dedicate this next one to a friend of mine who some of my anarchist friends describe as the only boss worth listening to,” Morello said, launching into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – which he had performed with Springsteen as a special guest the previous night. Morello then brought up a guest of his own, guitarist and MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer, for a cover of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.”
As last call came around, Morello instructed the audience as to what would happen next: “I’m the pied piper of folk rock,” he said. “I’m going to walk outside … follow my guitar.” Sure enough, a large crowd was already gathered outside, many members of which were Occupy Austin protestors who had been watching the show on a screen above the venue’s marquee, along with others who had been shut out of the Swan Dive because they didn’t have SXSW credentials. “Now we’re all one!” Morello proclaimed. He then honored what would’ve been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday by performing a cover of “This Land is Your Land” with Kramer and random delegates from the general assembly. He implored the crowd to sing along, as loudly as they could.
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“I’ve heard the police are going to pull the plug any minute,” he said. “That doesn’t matter to me.” When the police did, in fact, shut down the PA system, Morello stood in the center of the crowd and addressed them using the Occupy “mic check” method, having the people in the front repeat his message to those in the back. Teaching the crowd the chorus to his “World Wide Rebel Songs,” Morello performed acoustic without a mic, but with a mic check instead.
“Frankly, I play a lot of shows like that, that are very unscripted,” Morello told Rolling Stone after the cops shut down the gathering. “Whether it’s with the Occupy movement or with different activist-oriented events. There’s very little planning, there’s often no PA, and the cops often pull the plug. It was a very inspiring night.”
On his way out of the venue after load-out, he said that even though it’s been a crazy week for him with lots of SXSW activities – and with a daytime set planned at Rolling Stone‘s Rock Room on Saturday – he still wasn’t heading home for the night just yet. Instead, he had an Irish Car Bomb (the drink) in his immediate future, as he planned to celebrate the start of St. Patrick’s Day. Excusing himself to kick off the festivities, he said, “It’s my favorite holiday.”