Rock The Bells 2010 takes the cake for my personal live music disappointment this year. Despite elder statesmen tackling classic albums, the actual experience of it was under-baked with little thought or care given to sheer entertainment value, audible volume or other basic concerns by most of the main stage artists. Even with hip-hop’s cream like Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest dipping into their most beloved joints, from up on Shoreline Amphitheatre’s massive lawn it could have been almost anyone onstage most of the time, just another MC or two with a DJ spinning along with backing tracks. The side stage offered both greater intimacy and performers with genuine hunger to connect with the audience, far less drunk on their own mythology and offering gritty proof that hip-hop’s next generation is ready for the long haul. But still, it was mostly a DJ and some folks wrecking mics, until the absolute highlight of the entire day marched out in uniform to announce, “This is more than a band. This is a motherfuckin’ social club!”
Street Sweeper Social Club is the brainchild of The Coup’s Boots Riley and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello and the godchild of The Clash, Funkadelic, Jimi’s Band of Gypsies, Sly & The Family Stone, and even Public Enemy if they had a sicker sense of humor and much greater love of power chords. Decked out in revolutionary Sgt. Pepper gear, they stomped on the gas immediately and within a few minutes put every other act on this year’s bill to shame. Aggressive, wildly charming, funny and fierce, the Molotov cocktail of Morello and Boots strut like 80s hair metal gods while spouting a pro-proletariat litany that should make Wall Street thugs shiver reflexively simply because this is blowing in the breeze.
“Every broke motherfucker’s gonna form a gang, and when we come we’re takin’ everything!”
Too often anger – particularly justified, righteous anger – makes for stiff, lecturing music. Not so with Street Sweeper, who made a remarkably Caucasian crowd work their backfields like Soul Train superstars. This music fires off unknown hydraulics in one’s body and then pours precious knowledge into one’s skull. It don’t hurt that Boots is one of baddest rhyme masters and performers to ever emerge from the rap world. I assure you, no one else is pairing Intifada and Hiawatha, and he proves equally effective and charismatic in this more traditional frontman role, backed ably by a true guitar madman and a band of long hairs that’s all steely focus and ropey muscle. With a voice as black as onyx and verses so savvy you need footnotes and a copy of Entertainment Weekly to pick up on all the nuanced references, Boots is utterly amazing in this agit-rock beast.
“Revolution is the new fuck you!”
Most of the set was drawn from Street Sweeper’s bumpin’ new Ghetto Blaster EP (self-released on August 10), which shows their songwriting is tightening up and growing nastier claws. It also highlights the band’s killer instincts for cover material, namely M.I.A.’s ubiquitous Paper Planes and LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out. Violence sits right on the surface of SSSC’s music, and you’re a damn fool if you think they don’t intend to throw kicks against the empire if the black hearted jackals in charge keep punching down at most of us. Because this bloodline is so strong in them, they’re able to stir up the sincere, pissed off chemistry inside both covers. Morello’s tormented instrument stomps the “bang, bang, bang” in Paper Planes’ chorus, whose POV they alter from “I” to “They” to hint at who’s really doing the killing and stealing. During Mama Said a spontaneous mosh pit formed and the shirtless pranced and rebounded so joyously that it made one want to allow them a love tap or two just to show camaraderie.
At the end of their too brief set, Boots barked, “We are on a mission to feed the poor, fight the power and rock the fuck out!” Halle-fuckin-lu-jah, sirs. Where do I submit my membership form?
Photos: Scott Dudelson (click photos to embiggen)