The straight ticket

Sep 29, 2004 at 12:00 am

We’re a swing state that can go either way, so in order to seize on our indecisiveness, the Vote for Change concerts have booked three Sunday shows in the greater Detroit area to ensnare you from the heinous hands of Bush-Cheney. (Vote for Change is brought to us by MoveOn, an organization basically bent on bringing people back into politics.) True, you shouldn’t judge your president by who he’ll likely book at the inaugural ball, but the fact that the GOP convention adopted as their unofficial anthem “R.O.C.K in the USA” by outspoken Bush-basher John Mellencamp proves that even Republicans are aware that they are on the losing side, at least artistically. You can just hear the convention planners behind the scenes moaning, “Aww, it’s either that or listen to Michael W. Smith and that damned Toby Keith all week.” If nothing else, these concerts prove that people of all diverse musical tastes and cultural backgrounds can get together and rally behind a cause — good old-fashioned hatred for one’s frosty commander in chief — and not be shut down, even by pro-Bush conglomerates like Clear Channel. Ain’t that America?


Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Jurassic 5 and My Morning Jacket

Three out of four of these bands reached national prominence during Clinton’s first term of office, long before the phrases “adult alternative” and “I did not have sex with that woman” ever curled anyone’s lips. So there’s a little ’90s nostalgia going on here without a lot of political rhetoric to get in the way of the, uh, jamming. Fresh from dumping 800 pounds of human waste from their tour bus onto a cruise ship in the Chicago River and giving new meaning to the word “poop deck,” everyone’s favorite toxic avengers the Dave Matthews Band will use their heady mix of worldbeat rhythms, acoustic introspection and Blues Traveler impersonations to get you into the Kerry state of mind. To date, Matthews’ most vigilant activism has been working with the federal government to quash foreign bootleggers of his live shows! Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals match Matthews for playing funky blues on an acoustic guitar and giving Phish fans something to do on a Sunday. Harper and band are now touring behind the just-released There Will Be Light album, his collaboration with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. But don’t take the non-appearance of the gospel group on tonight’s show as having anything to do with Bush leading Kerry in Alabama, 56 percent to 34 percent. Jurassic 5 are the lone rap constituents on the Vote for Change ticket, leaving one to believe that most of today’s rappers are Militant Conservatives looking for bling bling tax breaks. Not the J5, whose beat was political from the start, having been formed from two outreach groups, Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee — nothing GOP-sounding about that. Lastly there’s My Morning Jacket, a slice of Americana to remind us that it’s every band’s God-given right to plaster the vocals with reverb.

Sunday, Oct. 3, at the Palace Of Auburn Hills (3 Championship Dr., Auburn Hills; 248-377-0100).


Dixie Chicks, James Taylor

With such an opportunity for musical genres to come together, it’s surprising the Dixie Chicks — whose outspoken wish that Bush wasn’t a Texan jumpstarted the long-overdue yapping out against the president last fall — have not been paired up with a bona fide rock act. Bruce Springsteen, the first singer to publicly support the Dixies, would’ve been the ideological match but his fans are not as utopian as all that — just ask the disgruntled cops who used to buy his records. Nope, instead the controversy-courtin’ Dixies are being teamed with the most soft-spoken singer-songwriter of all time. What’s the biggest scandal you could ever attach to James Taylor? That he became a heroin poster boy for thousands of Martha’s Vineyard residents? That he rendered somnambulant some of the liveliest Motown hits of all time and made Jimmy Jones’ “Handy Man” seem coma-coma-coma-coma-tose-tose? I’m sure the Vote for Change people will argue Taylor’s long history of supporting Democratic and liberal presidential candidates — he campaigned hard for George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and John Anderson. And unlike his Vote for Change pals Crosby, Stills & Nash, old Sweet Baby James managed to get through all the No Nukes concerts without once singing about “mutant sponges.” While you ponder what Natalie Maines might say next that will get the Dixie Chicks railroaded off all cheap ham radio frequencies, remember that her elders in the band are no strangers to contention either. Before joining the youthful Maines, they kicked out the other two founding members for not being energetic and sexy enough, causing the Dallas Observer to brand them “the Menudo of country music.”

Sunday at the Fox Theatre (2211 Woodward, Detroit; 313-983-6611).


Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes

Remember when The Boss first played those Amnesty International concerts with Sting, there seemed to be a rubbing off between the two new pals, with the latter suddenly given to telling rambling stories between songs and the former firing his backing band? One wonders what could happen here when four artists from four generations of rock intermingle. Will R.E.M. suddenly work baseball metaphors into songs? Will Springsteen, invigorated by Bright Eyes’ proclamation that “The City Has Sex With Itself,” forget his everyman stance and start writing obtuse phallic songs about the Chrysler Building? One suspects Bright Eyes are on the bill because someone’s got to play the 8 o’clock hour and it might as well be a melancholy, quavering former indie child prodigy from Omaha. But Conor Oberst’s emotional missives provide a nice segue into R.E.M., who raised lyrical obscurity to quadruple platinum status in the ’90s. Stipe and company lost more than a little cred when claiming they’d pack it in when the century ended yet continued to make listless records with a drum machine as Bill Berry’s replacement. Playing before Springsteen will likely kick them up the ass to perchance rock once more and Bruce could start with some of his more obtuse early word salads like “Spirits in the Night” so that the transition from Stipeland might not be so traumatic. Somewhere during the E Street Band’s set, Bruce will call out John Fogerty, whom he personally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And, mister, I ain’t a bettin’ man, so my guess is they won’t be performing “Vanz Kant Danz” unless they want to make fun of Steven Van Zandt’s two left feet.

Sunday at Cobo Arena (301 Civic Center Dr., Detroit; 313-983-6616).


For more info on MoveOn or the Vote for Change tour go to

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Contact him at [email protected]