"Mic check," declared Tom Morello, a.k.a. the Nightwatchman, at noon today (Oct. 13) in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, only he had no microphone.
"Mic check," echoed the crowd, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder and surrounding the guitarist on all sides beneath a grey sky. These dozens of people -- their voice -- would serve as Morello's amplifier for the next half-hour. They would, just as they've done since they first occupied Wall Street on Sept. 17, do the talking.
Five days after he appeared at Occupy Los Angeles, Morello arrived in New York City as a guest of those Occupy Wall Street organizers who have pursued him all week via Twitter to perform. The set would be an acoustic affair from the man best known for his effect-pedal wizardry with Rage Against the Machine. While the area near Liberty Plaza offered no proper stage for what Morello calls his "folk-music guerrilla warfare," the setting conveyed the movement's come-as-you-are tone, which has infiltrated the Financial District for almost five weeks.
Wearing a cap bearing the words "Solidarity Forever," Morello opened with "The Fabled City" from his 2008 Nightwatchman album of the same name. Guitarist Carl Restivo, Morello's bandmate from Street Sweeper Social Club, joined in the four-song set, which within minutes evolved into a peaceful hootenanny against the backdrop of big buildings and metal gates. Following a stripped-down version of "Save the Hammer for the Man," a duet he recorded with Ben Harper, Morello continued to engage the group in bursts of expression.
"This next one...," he announced.
"This next one...," they chanted.
"...was written by the great rebel Woody Guthrie!"
"...was written by the great Woody Guthrie!"
"And if he was alive today," Morello waited as the collective voice repeated his line, "he would be headlining this event!"
The Guthrie classic "This Land Is Your Land" came next, and Morello strapped on a harmonica for his Nightwatchman closer, "World Wide Rebel Songs," which got the crowd jumping.
"Together we sing," Morello instructed the crowd with a smile. "Loudly."
Most of the spectators wielded some form of camera or phone to capture this latest musician to appear on behalf of Occupy Wall Street.
"When you pick up a guitar, you don't put down your First Amendment rights," Morello told Billboard.com following his performance. "I don't think that you have to be a Harvard graduate in political science to comment on political matters, but I am a Harvard graduate in political science."
"Every successful movement has a great soundtrack," he added.
Known as one of the more politically outspoken activists of his generation, the singer-songwriter has participated in countless movements over the years. But Morello remarked on how the momentum of Occupy Wall Street has inspired some 1,300 cities to stage similar demonstrations.
"We'll see as it continues to grow and define itself," he said. "People at Occupy Wall Street are not waiting around for [President Obama] to change. This is a movement from the bottom-up. It's a movement that has to be reckoned with.
"People can no longer afford to keep their homes. That's a crime, while the Wall Street malfeasance that originally torpedoed the economy goes unaccounted for. Those are huge economic crimes which cause death and destruction to the poor and working-class families of the United States."
Tonight Morello will perform at New York Comic Con with his band, the Freedom Fighter Orchestra, to celebrate the debut of his comic book, "Orchid."