No Context: Speak Up! With Lou Reed, Moby, Antony, and More


photo by Noelle D’Arrigo

No Context

Speak Up!: A Benefit Concert for Peace in Iraq and Justice at Home
St. Ann’s Warehouse
Tuesday, March 18

Hats off to the famed American pop star Moby, whose Iraq War as Venus Flytrap, or “shark’s mouth,” was the most tortured of literally hundreds of tortured analogies tossed from press-conference folding tables and a St Ann’s stage during Speak Up!: A Benefit Concert for Peace in Iraq and Justice at Home. Prize to Antony Hegarty for overall incoherence—“4,000 brave American countrymen dead… I’m just an artist, not a politician…let’s make a pile of dead bodies so we feel better”—and to Damien Rice, for a nifty parable involving giving a small child millions of dollars to squander, a metaphor for waste and profligacy that I assumed would touch down somewhere near the Iraq War budget, and which instead landed a few hundred miles away: “We get a million sperm delivered to our testicles every day.”

Someday, Antony predicted last night, each and every one us will have to account for our actions. The putative Allies we once were will land on American soil with questions as to our whereabouts during the first five years of Iraq war, and “like the Germans in World War II,” we will have to look the rest of the world in the eye and answer. It will be at this moment that I offer up my seventy-five dollars in campaign contributions to Barack Obama and, after some fumbling through the ol’ wallet, my comped ticket stub to Speak Up!, featuring Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Antony, David Byrne, Norah Jones, Moby, Rice, and the Scissor Sisters, plus Bill T. Jones, Richard Belzer, and half of DUMBO’s more affluent supporters of great causes throughout the planet.

I expect zero mercy.

Oh, but line ahead of me will be long: Judith Miller (“tarred and feathered,” according to Moby); George W. Bush (“Hermann Göring,” quoth Belzer); Alito, Roberts, Gonzalez, and Ashcroft; not to mention every other stooge—McCain, Clinton, and Obama not excepted—who fiddled while Basra burned. With luck, the woman whose Bob Marley ring-tone interrupted Lou Reed mid-sentence during the press conference beforehand will be let off with a warning. As for the DJ duo MEN, who chose “Paper Planes” to soundtrack a slideshow of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders photographs of injured soldiers out in the lobby: good luck ladies.

For those whose go-to caricature of an over-rich, sanctimonious, loft-dwelling liberal involves Starbucks, NPR, and homosexuality, let me instead propose an alternative. Imagine, for a change, your chosen Birkenstock-clad, latte-sipping nemesis on a cavernous stage, a guitar slung round his or her neck. With eyes squeezed tight, fingers even now reaching out across the instrument’s many frets, he or she takes a deep breath, and with a mighty downstroke, summons forth the “Star Spangled Banner,” Hendrix version.

What? Not enough? Add, as the first notes swell, a disturbance in the curtain: here come famous liberals Moby, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Antony Hegarty! At St. Ann’s, this tableau comes to life posthaste, first thing, Reed taking liberties with the lyrics, all four stars wailing into their mics as if soon, perhaps by the very hand of Hendrix himself, a cleansing fire might sweep across the stage and change the world forever. Instead, up next: Norah Jones.

According to the furious woman next to me, this is the exact moment I stopped paying attention, but let me share some of my notes, to round this thing out. Jones covering Randy Newman; Air America’s Laura Flanders name-checking George Orwell and Thomas Paine; David Byrne!; Laurie Anderson doing her George S. W. Trow–homage “Only an Expert”; global warming; WMDs; Al Gore; torture; illegal invasion; “Maybe If I Fall”; habeas corpus; deportations; Belzer telling a heckler, “I work alone, pal”; Blonde Redhead; Scissor Sisters, who appear to have an Aladdin genie refugee behind the bongos, and who eventually cover “I Love a Man in Uniform”; Moby, in particular Moby doing “Honey,” the live-scatting of which I leave to you to imagine at home; Damien Rice; and Belzer again, this time threatening to shoot a dog.

I left during Hegarty: Back in February, he said, he’d started to cry in the voting booth, the tears brought on “by the weight of the future.” Heavy indeed.

Iraq Veterans Against the War here; NYC United for Peace and Justice here.