CAMBRIDGE -- Who knew the revolution could be so much fun?
Wednesday night at the oven also known as T.T. the Bear's Place, Tom Morello raised a call to arms with music both tender and raucous under the guise of his alter ego, the Nightwatchman.
The former Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist is deadly serious about his ultra-left-wing political beliefs -- he opined that President Bush should be brought before a war crimes tribunal, for instance. But luckily for the clearly likeminded sold-out crowd, the solemnity he brings to his solo debut, "One Man Revolution," doesn't extend to himself.
One minute he was channeling Woody Guthrie as he attempted to kill fascists with his acoustic guitar, and offering biting criticisms of a system that often leaves hard-working people behind. The next he was whimsically referring to himself in the third person -- "Could someone please turn that fan so it's facing the Nightwatchman?" -- in a way that never approached irritating.
That grave/playful equation added up to a 70-minute set that was as galvanizing as it was amusing.
If Morello is not a great singer, he proved he's not a terrible one either. Whether barking out a blues-saturated take on Rage's "Guerrilla Radio" or crooning the gentle "The Garden of Gethsemane," he got the job done. His occasional tendency to mimic the voices of heroes -- Dylan, Springsteen, and even Leonard Cohen came to mind in his surging baritone cadences -- fit the mood and scope of the music. It didn't hurt the ambience or Morello's growing confidence that many in the audience chanted along with his rebel songs with raised fists, no more so than on a cover of "This Land Is Your Land."
Many of the same subjects that popped up in Rage's material -- union members, soldiers, blue - collar workers, politicians , and crooks -- appear in Nightwatchman songs, and his speak softly/big stick musical approach evoked them just as powerfully.
A smaller crowd packed the front for opener Dustin Kensrue. The shaggy and intense singer-songwriter took a decisive and pleasant step away from his day job fronting the screamo outfit Thrice with a set of acoustic tunes that matched Morello for hot-bloodedness but focused more on unions between lovers and friends. A closing cover of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" was suitably eerie yet impassioned.