On June 16th, after opening for the successful NIN/JA (Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction) tour, the gang known as Street Sweeper Social Club [ MySpace] struck out on their own. For those of you not familiar with the band, Street Sweeper Social Club is a new group featuring Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and former Coup MC Boots Riley. Not only did they play their first headlining concert, they also released their self-titled debut album this week.
Befitting their image as a “social club”, which Boots frequently reminded the audience of, the band picked a much smaller venue than expected for their NYC jaunt, The Blender Theater. This presented an opportunity for fans to not only to rock out to some power-packed revolutionary jams but to see these two musical heroes up close and personal, making for an eclectic mix of fans – there were the old school Rage fans, hip hop heads, general rock and roll fans and because it was a record release show – label and radio personnel. Speaking of which, former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield stood next to me for half the concert, which is not really important but I just figured you should know.
First on the bill was up and coming Brooklyn-based hip-hop/rock band, Shinobi Ninja [MySpace]. To put it simply, they are a walking, breathing and screaming cartoon: Loud, colorful and full of enough energy to put nearly any another band to shame. Watching bassist Adriano (who happens to bare a passing resemblance to Rex from the movie Airheads) repeatedly jump from his amp with bass flying in the air, was about as much hilarious as it was awesome. The band is lead by singer/rapper, DA, who looks and sounds exactly like a young Ad Rock from from the Beastie Boys. Normally I don’t like to make comparisons, but anyone who was there has to agree with me.
Shinobi flew through their set of block rocking party beats, packing a huge punch with each and every joint, rarely taking a break. In between dropping some rapid fire rhymes, the band also turned up the tempo even higher with songs like, “Stop”, which showed a clear Bad Brains influence. Like any good party, at the end of Shinobi Ninja’s set, they led us through a few sped up versions of classic jams like Montell Jordan‘s “This is How We Do It” and A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Scenario”. Shinobi may have walked into this gig an unknown but by the end of their performance they had everyone rushing over to the merch table for a free CD.
Street Sweeper Social Club made an epic stage entrance to the “Imperial March” from Star Wars and right from the moment the lights hit them, the Social Club was out for blood. After years of taking a back seat to Chris Cornell’s theatrics, it was nice to see Morello really have a blast on stage once more. Even from the back of the packed venue you could see his eyes light up as the crowd reacted to these new songs. Especially after “The Oath”, where Morello jumped up and down with sheer glee after the song ended.
For those of you that are ardent fans of Morello’s work, especially his time in Rage Against The Machine, the bulk of the music is not really much of a surprise – lots of funky, wa-wa guitar from backed with some steady, yet explosive hip-hop beats. It was interesting to see this music fronted by Boots Riley. Although he captured all of the rage the songs demanded, his flow stayed dynamic and in control. Boots stage prescence projected the perfect mix of Public Enemy‘s Chuck D’s command of the mic and James Brown‘s flair for the dramatic, as he darted, skanked and jumped all over the stage.
According to Boots Riley, the idea behind the group’s songs (if I may paraphrase) is to “drop some knowledge on the audience in the verse and give them something to shout during the chorus.” Despite the album only being out for a couple of hours, the fans in attendance sang along loudly to every chorus. Either these were super fans or they simply grabbed hold of the basic lines like “Let’s Fight! Let’s Smash! Let’s Win!” and “Alright, Motherf***ers” among others Hilariously though the audience was a little off rhythm-wise when it came to “Clap for the Killers”, which got a sly smile from Boots.
Instead of taking a break to chat with the crowd, the band focused on the rock, however, when they did speak they did so very loudly. Tom Morello took a second at the start of the gig to implore those sitting down to “Get up! This isn’t a Knicks game; it is a Rock and Roll Show”. In a surprising move, Boots Riley took one of these rare opportunities to be critical of the corporate bailout and the Obama administration. This move, although unusual from a group known for their left leaning philosophies, was embraced by the bulk of the audience.
Over the course of the evening Street Sweeper Social Club played every song off their debut album and their cover of MIA‘s “Paper Planes”. According to Morello at the end of the gig, “This is going to be our last song, because well…we only know so many.” It was this type of honesty from a huge rock star that made this evening so fun. Everyone in the Street Sweeper Social Club, including us new members in the audience, had a fantastic time with the music, the party and that good old revolutionary energy.