For the past six years, guitar god Tom Morello would be on tour with Rage Against the Machine or Bruce Springsteen, and afterward he would wander into a local rock bar and wonder where all the rock music was.
“I would find myself,” Morello told me, “tapping the DJ on the shoulder and saying, ‘I’d like to hear some Dio, please. And I don’t want to wait for you to play it, so step aside, son.'”
That’s how one of our living guitar legends started DJing. Last month, the Hard Rock Hotel hired him to DJ at the new Center Bar.
Morello will return to the Center Bar booth this Saturday about 11 p.m., with longtime music collaborator Carl Restivo, under their DJ moniker Comandante.
Morello told me he will play “no Ibiza BS,” meaning he won’t be spinning any electronic dance music by producers such as Calvin Harris (calculating sellout) and Deadmau5 (Twitter crank).
“It is unapologetic rock music,” Morello said of his DJing.
The Morello booking is an ode to the huge number of Las Vegans and tourists that self-identify as rock people who can’t wait for electronic dance music to go the way of ’70s disco.
When the Electric Daisy Carnival moved to Las Vegas several years ago, that uncorking of dance music (which had been wrongly stifled for two decades in Las Vegas and America) overshadowed everything from rock to hip-hop, pop and country.
However, producers watered EDM into untenable pop drivel (for short-term payouts), so EDM has waned (threatening DJs’ long-term payouts and the genre itself). Now if you move up and down the Strip, you hear the renewal of traditional pop, hip-hop and country again. But real rock still struggles.
So the 51-year-old New Yorker and the Hard Rock are doing their part to resurrect rock music. Morello will select songs on the fly to fit the room, possibly including his own songs from Rage, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club.
“I grew up on metal, and hard rock music, and that’s what I like to hear on a Saturday night,” Morello said. “There’s some hip-hop jams that rock just as hard as Black Sabbath, so I may play them as well.”
He won’t break out a guitar.
“There will be plenty of air guitar, though,” he joked.
His most influential band, Rage Against the Machine, has entertained millions, earning the band fame and fortune, while raging against the kinds of authority structures that hire the band.
So how does this original Rage Against the Machine hero contemplate performing in the authority machinery?
“I don’t look at it as being particularly complicated. A venue is a venue. People are people. And music is music. That’s what connects us,” Morello said.
“It wasn’t like during the career of Rage Against the Machine, we were only playing in organic farmer fields,” he joked, laughing at that visual. “You play in a place with a great (sound system) where people show up, and I’m happy to do that.
“My job is to rock you senseless,” he added.
Rage is so good, it has attracted right-wing fans who don’t like Rage’s lyrics.
In 2012, Morello wrote a fearless op-ed for Rolling Stone, blasting conservative Rage fan Paul Ryan for being “the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.”
“I wonder what Ryan’s favorite Rage song is?” Morello wrote. “Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of ‘(Expletive) the Police?’ Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!”
But he didn’t ask Ryan to stop listening. That means he’s not like, say, Kurt Cobain, who famously wrote in liner notes, “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the (expletive) alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
“I don’t think a band should try to curate its fan base, especially a band like Rage Against the Machine,” Morello said. “There’s a lot of raw power that’s going to draw people of different political persuasions, and that’s great! That’s not a bad thing at all.
“When someone like Paul Ryan, in particular, was trying to use Rage Against the Machine to bolster his hipster credibility, then I felt it was my duty to use my First Amendment rights to share my opinion about him and his love of our music.
“But all shades of the political rainbow are welcomed. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone who began to listen to Rage, or my Nightwatchmen stuff, because they were a fan of the guitar playing, or a fan of the aggression,” he said.
“They come away with different points of view,” he said, “and it ends up changing their minds.
“It did not change Paul Ryan’s mind, but he still got a good P90X workout out of it.”
Doug Elfman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman. On Twitter: @VegasAnonymous.