Tom Morello Recruits His Army Of Love At The Electric Ballroom

Harlem, New York-born; Libertyville, Illinois-raised Tom Morello is as well known for his outspoken, left-leaning political views as he is for his awe-inspiring, finger-bleeding, sound-blending axe-shredding (ridiculously good guitar playing for the uninitiated). Perhaps known best for his work with 1990s breakthrough rap-metal outfit Rage Against The Machine, his body of work spans collaborations with an incredible array of artists but highlights include Audioslave (a Zack de la Rocha-less incarnation of Rage with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell taking up lead vocal duties and producing three superb LPs) and Prophets Of Rage (alongside Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Public Enemy man Chuck D among others).

Tom Morello @ Electric Ballroom

Tom Morello @ Electric Ballroom (Kalpesh Patel)
Tom Morello @ Electric Ballroom (Kalpesh Patel)

And so, ahead of an Opus Stage slot at the following weekend’s celebration of all things heavy – AKA Donnington Park’s Download Festival XXI – Morello and co. descended upon Camden’s 1,500-capacity Electric Ballroom venue to warm the cockles and get their points across. Tonight’s is the second show on Morello’s current European tour to promote his new single written with his son ahead of a forthcoming solo album due out in the autumn.

Opening up the music tonight, Alt Blk Era make a striking entrance with twin sisters Nyrobi and Chaya Beckett-Messam wearing white dresses and corsets and moving about the Camden stage like broken dolls. They launch into the twisted pop metal of Playtime’s Over as the duo’s accompanying guitarist and drummer trigger effects. They make clear early on that they are there for the weirdos and those that don’t fit in given they don’t sound as people perceive they might, as two young black women.

The song that got everyone going was Oggy that uses the call and response you expect and layers in lyrics about self-improvement and doing exactly what you want to with your life. The doll parts dancing increased as they told us My Heart Is Out Of Time, sounding as though they should tour with the likes of Bob Vylan or Skunk Anansie.

They ask as if we are all Misfits as they introduce Misfits Lunar, twisted guitars working against the angsty drill drums before we are left with the call to arms of I’m Normally Like This, a song that makes it clear they are like this 24-7 and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem.

A packed Electric Ballroom then welcomes Tom Morello and his current band, who open things up with the band’s mission statement: new single Soldier In The Army Of Love, as Morello lets loose on his guitar for the first time tonight, the band seemingly channelling the spirit of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Vigilante Nocturno is the first cut from 2018’s The Atlas Underground, explosive guitar accompanying the intense lyrics. The mosh pit gets going properly for the first Rage Against The Machine medley of the night. Morello doesn’t play his old bands’ songs in full, nor does he sing them, with vocal duties dispensed to those in his band, and so Testify is mashed-up with Take The Power Back and Freedom. And as the colossal riffs crush, the sense of joy in the crowd swells.

Coming out of left-field isn’t unusual for Morello, but he surprises the Electric Ballroom crowd next, introducing tonight’s special guest: the Eurovision Song Contest-winning guitarist from Italian rockers Måneskin, Thomas Raggi, who adds a third guitar to the band’s already full sound. They deliver a crunchy rendition of Måneskin ‘s 2023 single Gossip – the recorded version of which Morello featured on – before paying tribute to recently departed brother Wayne Kramer with a cover of his band MC5’s 1969 single Kick Out The Jams that gets a huge pit going.

More from Atlas Underground is aired next by way of the crucial message of Where It’s At Ain’t What It Is, Morello’s guitar getting angrier. The 60-year-old then encourages us all to join a union and to join him in chanting: “When I say Union, you say Power” he demands. And we do. A heartfelt tribute to Morello’s Audioslave bandmate Chris Cornell is paid before an airing of the iconic guitar riff of Audioslave classic Cochise gives way to a brief rendition of 2002’s Like A Stone, the band lead’s histrionic guitar flailing away as the crowd croon: “In your house, I long to be”.

Morello’s former solo moniker The Nightwatchmen was introduced as a political outlet for the guitarist during his time producing apolitical music with Audioslave and 2007’s House Gone Up In Flames from that period is shared next, incendiary guitars and nailed-on vocals hammering it home while Keep Goin’ is a message to never give up on trying to make the word a better place for everyone.

2021 single Let’s Get The Party Started (sans original release collaborators Bring Me The Horizon) sees the axe-man tuning and playing all over the fretboard that has enough of the rave within to get the place jumping once more. He insists that we should all be One Man Revolutions trying to do good by way of The Nightwatchmen tune, while 2011’s Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine has the band filling off stage, leaving Morello solo with an acoustic guitar, the trio returning towards the end adding to the great sense of angst.

From the first notes of 1993 Rage single Bombtrack the pit erupts, the audience singing along as it morphs into Know Your Enemy and mutates once more into Evil Empire tune Bulls On Parade. The Rage medley keeps giving with 1999’s Guerilla Radio and Sleep Now In The Fire from the group’s The Battle Of Los Angeles LP before the run is brought full-circle with an excerpt of 1993 single Bullet In The Head, this almost Rage Against The Machine on 45 treatment leaving most desperate to hear whole songs.

Tom’s folk singer side comes out clearly with his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost Of Tom Joad with its dustbowl Grapes Of Wrath imagery to the fore, albeit with delicious, warping, wah-filled guitars.

“For our last song we’re going to play an old English folk song, perhaps some of you learned at school” Morello offers, grinning out at his audience. “Bring the house lights up for this one” he requests. And from the opening notes of biggest Rage hit Killing In The Name Of, the whole place goes nuts. The night of music ends with a cover of John Lennon’s 1971 single Power To The People Morello’s fist raised aloft, making a triumphant exit.

It’s clear that Tom Morello continues to be driven by both his socialist political views and immersion in music, neither of which he seems to be letting up anytime soon, as it should be! And while tonight showcased yet another left-field musical collaboration, his biggest smile of the evening came as he shared the news with his audience that the direct action of band boycotts of music festivals with Barclays Bank as their corporate sponsors had resulted in those festivals dropping their sponsor. Political activism working as it should do, but more importantly highlighting the plight of those living in constant fear and absolute hell in Palestine.

Live review of Tom Morello at Electric Ballroom, London on 13th June 2024 by Simon Phillips. Additional commentary and photography by Kalpesh Patel.

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