Sweat-soaked and spent: I was, the crowd was, and Outernational were, after the genre-bending Brooklyn quintet finished the capstone concert of a two-month residency at the Knitting Factory. Somebody once called Outernational the “new Rage Against the Machine”—they might be, if RATM had mixed rock, ska, punk, reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, bhangra, Afrobeat, and a little bit of qawwali, or if they had featured a bongo-banging, dhol-playing, trumpeter-singer (Sonny Suchdev) whose infectious vocal hooks were born in gurdwaras (Sikh temples) he attended as a kid. In fact, what the two groups mainly share is the politicized ferocity of their frontmen. But even if the righteous rage of lead vocalist Miles Solay’s lyrics don’t put your soul through the ringer, his furious delivery and frenetic stage presence will get you. Plus, when did RATM ever sing love songs?
Beginning with a primal scream, charismatic, fedora-wearing Solay, with Suchdev, guitarist Leo Mintek, bassist Jesse Williams, and drummer “Turbo” Garcia, charscalex100 quickly got the diverse teens-to-thirties crowd—a rich mix of blacks, whites, South and East Asians, plus an especially hardcore Hispanic contingent—moving with blistering numbers like “Arise” and “Blood on the Streets, the mellower “Ojos Abiertos,” and the hypnotic “Her Word on Me,” the latter featuring a signature Suchdev hook that the entire crowd sang along to even though, he confesses, its verses aren’t even words. Contrasted with the bland, by-the-books Bush-bashing banter of so many “political” bands today, Outernational’s expansive worldview, crooned this night in at least three languages by my count, bespeaks a solidarity with Franz Fanon’s wretched of the earth—referencing not just the devastation of Falluja by U.S. forces (“Ricochet”) but the psychology of this summer’s Paris riots (“Riviera Uproar”). Coupled with dynamic rhythms that somehow flow together like streams of water, their ripped-from-the-headlines lyrics of liberation struggle had the audience literally—at least in the case of one wild fan in a Mexican wrestling mask—hanging from the rafters.