Last Thursday, May 24, the group Outernational concluded their recent two-month tour of the United States with a pretty damn sonically and visually engaging show at Dominion NYC. Never having heard them before, the entire live package they’ve managed to put together — lights, trumpets, effects — was actually quite impressive.
The group started out with some solid Latino-tinged rock, which along with their message of compassion for the plight of the undocumented, sat well with the couple hundred people there to welcome Outernational back to New York. It was good to hear a band be overtly political for a change, and at the same time have some idea of how to do it without making people a little embarrassed at either the clumsiness of the lyrics or the music’s inability to make a direct message more palatable. For effective protest music, this is key.
Suddenly they launched into the song “The Beginning is Here”, making me think I’d been transported to the club for a second, which in and of itself was pretty impressive. Any time a live rock band successfully mimics dance music, you’ve got to give them props. To be quite honest, the band doesn’t not bring to mind The Clash. They’ve got the political thing down, and the way they embrace Latin music is definitely reminiscent of the fondness The Clash always seemed to have for reggae and dub. In much the same way a punk rock band could come out with something like “Rock The Casbah” — eventually reaching #8 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco Club Play charts — one can’t help but draw a correlation.
The five gentlemen on stage continued in a similar vein, wending their way through jams that effectively showcased the tight-knit sound that comes from spending two months in a van, playing a similar set of songs every night. Next at catching my attention was a guitar solo that sounded like something out of Machine Head-era Deep Purple, and then a rather engaging antiwar jam, “Sir No Sir” — released in 2009 after Obama announced the troop surge in Afghanistan, and produced by Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello — a fact which comes through loud and clear on the music beneath the refrain, “Something’s got to give, something’s got to give!”
By the time they brought out their special guest for the evening, the place had been primed. The band’s new album, Todos Somos Ilegales (We Are All Illegals), features Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith on the title track, along with Tom Morello and René Pérez from Calle 13. About three-quarters of the way through their set, the personnel adjustment came as another pleasant surprise as Mr. Smith proceeded to take the stage. His ebullience was matched only by his intensity, and as they made it through the next five or six songs, it quickly became clear that this wasn’t the first time they had played together, especially since he seemed to know all the right backup vocals to sing.
For someone like me, who’s spent the last 20 years listening to Chad Smith “beat the skins, spank the fucking… calf, hurt kids,” this was about as cool as it gets, though I did end up feeling kind of bad for the crash cymbal — which sounded like a toy compared to how hard he was hitting the rest of the kit.
Outernational’s ability to get such distinguished musicians literally behind them I think speaks to the band’s potential in the ever-developing genre of protest music. They really are quite good, and Mr. Smith made sure everyone knew that the honor was all his to be able to play with these guys. From a recent interview with the band’s guitarist, I understand he’s even the drummer on their upcoming album Welcome To The Revolution, slated to be released later this year. To close, I’ll let Chad Smith sum it up:
Seeing is believing. They are down for the cause. They live it; it is no bullshit. It’s awesome and humbling and inspiring all at the same time. The new grassroots movement has Outernational for soil.