If you could say one thing about Tom Morello is that he's never been afraid to try something new. From his roots in Rage Against The Machine, to the supergroup Audioslave, to his solo project The Nightwatchman, to the hip-hop collaboration Street Sweeper Social Club, to his second supergroup, Prophets of Rage, this is a man that really has DONE IT ALL. And tried it all...
Which brings us to the latest Morello venture, the solo effort The Atlas Underground. In anticipation of the new self-titled debut release on October 12th, Morello is making his way through major North American cities, spreading the word and connecting with his fanbase in a whole new way. 'The Atlas Underground Experience' touched down in Toronto on October 5th at the most intimate of intimate venues, The Harbourfront Centre Theatre. The decision to attend was rather last minute for me. I had only heard about the show two days prior and since The Atlas Underground (Pre-order the album RIGHT HERE) is an album made up of guest vocalists, I wondered what exactly I was going to see. Let's just say I was very, very pleasantly surprised.
Watch the music video for “We Don't Need You,” featuring rap artist Vic Mensa.
Rather than the traditional concert format (opening act, standing and waiting, headliner, encore, goodnight), this was an immersive look into not only the music but the man behind the music. For nearly three hours, I connected with a musician that I nearly idolize in a way I never thought possible. Instead of a concert, this was a career retrospective and a look at how it all came to be. Hosted by well-known Canadian personality George Stroumboulopoulos, Morello offered the few hundred in attendance a look inside how he got started as a musician, through to his days in Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, to his solo work, to now. Included along the way were some behind the scenes photos of Morello as a young man and a few instances where he picked up an electric guitar to explain how he came up with some classic riffs we all now know and love, such as Audioslave's "Like A Stone." It was particularly fascinating to get such an up close and personal look into the story behind the music and the person who has made that music and gather some insight on how music could shape someone's life to such an extent.
After about 80 minutes, Stroumboulopoulos exited the stage and Morello was left on his own to connect directly with the audience. We were then treated to an exclusive listening party of The Atlas Underground album, where Morello came out to introduce and provide some insight into the making of each song. What a way to be introduced to a record before I'd ever heard it before. It was such a welcome departure from listening to an album for the first time through earphones on an iPhone to essentially attending a listening party with a few hundred interested observers. The sound was absolutely blistering and believe it or not, Morello has created some of the most scorching guitar riffs of his entire career. I was thoroughly impressed with how well-mixed his guitar parts are with the album's vocals and overall electronic vibe which made for not only the most unique but also the most fun first listening experience I've ever had.
To top off the night, Morello performed a Springsteen-like rendition of the Rage cover track "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (also by Springsteen) and of course, a performance of Rage's signature song "Killing in the Name" which Morello invited the entire crowd down to the stage for. With him providing the guitar parts, it was up to the fans to sing, and as I got as close as I could to the stage, I "sang" (or screamed) my lungs out with my left fist raised high in the air. As I found out, that is a song that's not nearly as easy to sing as I thought it was.
Here's a shot of Morello riffing on stage, and another of the final the crowd joining for a classic rendition of “Killing In The Name.”
All I can say is, this was your ultimate departure from the confines of the traditional rock concert. Morello introduced a concept that we need much more of. For one night, the "concert" seemed so dated and dull. And it made me think, "why aren't other musicians connecting with their fans in this way?" Even though there were some songs and some passages of others, it almost felt like music would have just gotten in the way. In an age where we have become so connected, yet so disconnected with the people around us, it was extremely refreshing to bond with one of your favorite musicians with him only several feet away from you. If 2018 has taught us anything, it's that it's not only time for a change, but it's time to shake things up. Let's escape the confines of the typical general practices and traditions and try something new. Tom Morello always has and has done so again, so why can't we? It's not just about "the music." It's also about the man behind the music and the bond that you form. If I learned anything on this night, it's that music can be about so much more than just the music.