The New Woody Guthries

Photo by James Bunoan BOOTS RILEY, TOM MORELLO, LILA DOWNS, SLOWRIDER
ACROSS THE STREET FROM TACO BELL WORLD HEADQUARTERS, IRVINE
FRIDAY, MARCH 5

The atmosphere was ripe for a riot last Friday afternoon in the mad, bad streets of Irvine. A maze of barricades. Twenty or so beasts in blue. Phalanxes of bored security guards, their billowy windbreakers vainly trying to hide incipient obesity. And about 800 sweaty, angry activists, many whom earlier in the day completed an epic march that began three days before in East Los Angeles to commemorate a two-years-and-running boycott against Taco Bell in protest of the fast-food behemoth's exploitation of Florida tomato pickers.

But the only rancor this day came from the stage-on-wheels, where a slew of politically conscious acts performed a free concert in honor of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the event's organizers. Los Angeles jazz shamans Slowrider started the mid-afternoon fest with their thwacking jams, lead singer MC Olmeca roaming the stage while launching tongue-twisting tirades against Bush, bombs, and the Bell. Diminutive chanteuse Lila Downs followed, she of the seraphim larynx. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, Downs plucked out a particularly melancholic version of the ranchera standard "Paloma Negra"—it was so quiet you could hear only her caressing plucks and the hacking of the black helicopter above—and took us back to the Dust Bowl with her cumbia medley of "Pastures of Plenty" and "This Land is Your Land."

But Woody Guthrie made his most prominent séance via ex-Rage Against the Machine/current Audioslaver Tom Morello, who similarly followed Downs with simplicity—an acoustic guitar and harmonica on his part. Billing himself as the Night Watchman, Morello proved that Audioslave is really just a bad anomaly—his subsequent 12-bar odes to Ohio steelworkers, West Virginia miners and Guatemalan sweatshop workers "who got your job" could've been played for the Wobblies. Morello dedicated his final song to the uniformed security forces eyeballing him, "with hope that one day they realize that they have more in common with the people [in the crowd] than the corporate leeches who pay them to protect them." Afterwards, Morello acted as an acoustic turntable for Boots Riley of the Coup, whose radical rhymes would've given Fox News fuck and notorious rap-hater Bill O'Reilly a coronary.

Local faves Cuauhtémoc and Son del Centro concluded the afternoon with their respective punk snarls and soul-strumming charm. And that was it—no overturned cars, no police clubbing, just pure heart and inspiring song. Somewhere in heaven, an Okie bard was smiling. (Gustavo Arellano)

SAVES THE DAY, GRANDADDY, THE FIRE THEFT, DIOS
HOUSE OF BLUES, ANAHEIM
SATURDAY, MARCH 6

Yet another House of Blues headlining show for a band of Chain Reaction graduates. Not that we were terribly interested in seeing Saves the Day, who cursed themselves with one of the more unintentionally humorous acronyms in rock & roll, if anyone ever notices. But also, STD—now you'll notice!—has long been heralded as "the band that could break emo," at least back when emo was happening. So what do they do? They've since transformed themselves from a whiny emo act into a whiny pop/rock one, but unfortunately, they kept the nasally lead singer. We once heard buzz about STD being the new Smiths, but we sure didn't see it this night—Smiths fans would've been appalled; we were merely unmoved. STD were just a blasé, ordinary band, nothing distinctive other than an occasional catchy guitar riff, and while some bands can eke by on riffs alone, this one can't—too much empty space. Next trend, please!

Which ought to be the glorious Grandaddy (the new Beach Boys!), who fired off their stock arrangements of Modesto-filtered psychedelic calliope songs—transcendent/beautiful/ethereal music that's both remote and welcoming, an aural contradiction, or, to use adjectives they've used on themselves, a pretty mess. And you can dance to 'em now more than ever, and singer Jason Lytle even talks to the audience, which he never used to do! Though we could do without the pretentious video images they lug around with them these days—really bad, C-student-in-film-school stuff like still shots of green rolling hills, traffic-choked-streets, and their cheeky-bordering-precariously-on-lame video for "El Caminos in the West," where a gaggle of 9-year-olds put on fake Grandaddy facial hair. Not needed: those amazing songs are the only ammo they truly need, and the kids in the crowd seemed to agree.

The Fire Theft—the new Sunny Day Real Estate!—were also really good, filled with tender, melodic anthems about Jeremy Enigk's triumphs and frustrations with matters of romance and spirituality. The music is sweet and passionate, a worthy successor to SDRE, if they should ever formally fall apart (unless they have and we just weren't paying attention), and Enigk can still nail a song with that soothing, airy voice of his. And their album is better than we ever thought it would be, too.

Openers Dios—the new Grandaddy!—were also about atmosphere, bleating out assorted hoots and chirps from an allotment of battered keyboards and guitars. Joel, the singer (and assumed lyricist), is one confused cat—how else to describe verse that slips from "I'll love you till the end" into "I don't know why I put up with you?" Yet a pretty intoxicating combo, sort of the missing link between Grandaddy and modern Wilco, and they won over a lot of the Saves the Day kids, too, even though some of them clapped obnoxiously when they announced their final song, which turned out to be a Pixies cover. Even the sarcastic should've been happy with that. (Rich Kane)

 
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