- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

“Tell Us the Truth” is an odd name for a tour featuring musician-activists who purport to already know the truth — not the bill of goods the rest of us imagine is the truth, but the real truth, the truth that President Bush and Rupert Murdoch don’t want you to know.

How’d they manage to get their hands on it if it’s such a rationed commodity?

Oh, don’t ask.

Whatever their sources, it’s apparent that the truth has given a faction of the left a severe case of anger come unhinged.

Along with comedian Janeane Garofalo, left-rockers Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Mike Mills, Tom Morello and Lester Chambers; folk-pop singer Jill Sobule; and agit-rapper Boots Riley made their final stop of a three-week jaunt at the 9:30 Club on Monday night.

The TUTT-tutters linked arms for about 31/2 hours to spotlight a crunchy salad of issues, including the Iraq occupation, globalization and media consolidation.

Though it was at times constructive and even inspiring, the overall impression the genre-crossing show left me was one of hatred.

Mr. Riley, for example, rapped a despicable ditty called “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO.” Now, if that’s your idea of joke, fine; but what it certainly isn’t is a useful commentary on economic justice.

Mr. Bragg and R.E.M.’s Mr. Mills together performed “I Want to Destroy You,” laced with “we’re comin’!” taunts directed at President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

A lyrical snippet: “When I have destroyed you / I’ll come a-pickin’ on your bones.”

Hey, what happened to the “Hate is not a family value” sentiment?

In a later solo slot, Mr. Bragg, a radical Brit folkie, warned in “Help Save the Youth of America” that “Washington will burn.” I won’t presume to plumb the minds of 900-odd fans — an eclectic collection of earnest 20-somethings, professionals and a smattering of aging hippies — but the line drew a hearty cheer.

Gotta wonder: Do they wish it was ‘68 all over again?

Pointedly, Mr. Morello (aka “The Nightwatchman”), ex-member of Rage Against the Machine and current guitarist for Audioslave, gave props to all the “street-fighting men and women.”

What’s more, several TUTT-tutters recalled with pride their getting tear-gassed in Miami during the anti-globalization rally.

A superjam on the Neil Young-penned protest song “Ohio” replaced the “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” line with a new reference to President Bush, implying an equality of wickedness between the two.

To be fair, the TUTT show wasn’t all fire and brimstone. Apart from the onstage gibes, it was a well-organized liberal political rally, with reams of leaflets from groups such as Common Cause and the AFL-CIO floating around, as well as a Rock the Vote booth.

And there were plenty of yuks to be had, if not from the one whose job it was to supply them.

As the host, Miss Garofalo, wearing a garish platinum dye job, lobbed too many W-is-a-doofus cracks, which have become a tired cliche. For the most part, she was simply too unironically angry and partisan to score real laughs.

Judging from its lukewarm response, even Monday’s sympathetic audience found her humor leaden.

Miss Sobule was far funnier — and, unlike Miss Garofalo, she isn’t paid to be. The quirky singer who scored a hit years ago with “I Kissed a Girl,” Miss Sobule riffed hysterically, during and between songs, about homophobia (“under the disco ball / another child will fall”) and the romantic yearnings of a lonely war correspondent.

Only at the end of her set (“I forgot I had to say something,” she said), and only out of obligation, did Miss Sobule plug a cause — media monopolization. Earlier, she’d been focused on other issues, such as being dumped, for instance.

The highlight of the evening was Mr. Earle’s solo set.

The country-rocker came off thoughtful, nuanced and even a touch optimistic. “We need heroes now,” he said, suggesting all isn’t lost for his ilk.

His paean to Woody Guthrie, “Christmas Time in Washington,” was a thing of beauty, and his introductory homilies were funny and engrossing.

Mr. Earle’s historical musings seemed a little shallow, however, when he opined that “all wars are about money.” Remind me, what were the Crusades fought over?

Mr. Bragg played a penultimate solo set before a show-stopping “People Get Ready” ensemble, and he was nothing if not on message. He skewered multinational corporations and said global trade is the “front line” in a battle between “capitalism and accountability.”

It was near midnight before TUTT folded up its tents. Speaking of tents, hard-line-left liberals better get used to them.

Suffused with the kind of vitriol spewed Monday night, it’s a good bet they’re going to be left in the political wilderness.


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