The second annual benefits concert for Jail Guitar Doors promised guest artists, and last night at the scenic John Anson Ford Theatre, Rock Out 2! delivered. From Ben Harper playing slide with mom Ellen at his side, to Jackson Browne and Tim Robbins bashing out Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law” (smart thematic choice for the evening), to show organizer Wayne Kramer and Tom Morello kicking out the jams, it was an evening of surprising and surprisingly tasty collaborations.
The concert took a while to find its groove. But when Jill Sobule sang her funny sweet song “Jetpack,” well, the music got air. The plucky songster also traded electric barbs in an ax faceoff with Kramer, the former MC5 guitarist and JGD main man. The Harpers plucked and twanged a protest lament about Monsanto. I have to admit I’ve been lukewarm on the son in the past but am now smitten by this charming man. Ditto Jackson Browne: The Big Rock Star of the evening was humble and musicianly, duetting beautifully with Harper. “Running on Empty” was maybe unnecessary — isn’t he sick of playing it? — but still, I now want to see him again at Way Over Yonder.
Former Rage Against the Machine guitar god Morello finished the evening with a blistering set with his band the Freedom Fighters Orchestra. He unveiled a timely new song, “Marching on Ferguson,” and did his usual de/reconstruction of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” I can never see him play that enough times, with or without Bruce. (Natch, I’d prefer with.)
Then it was time for the obligatory all-star finale. Harper failed to answer Morello’s calls for a historic jam — wisely, since instead of playing “Bulls on Parade” WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN THE PERFECT SONG FOR A NIGHT ABOUT JUSTICE IN THE AGE OF FERGUSON (sorry, got overheated there), they played — OMG — Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Sigh. Maybe rock really is dead.
Fortunately the eclectic ensemble closed with the MC5 classic “Kick Out the Jams.” Typical LA overload: There were so many talents on stage — including pioneering punk siren Adele Bertei, and singers Harper Simon and Cody Marks — that some of them didn’t even get their moment to shine.
I went into Twin Towers Correctional Facility with Jail Guitar Doors in May. They played a great show and Wayne gave a rousing speech before a couple hundred inmates. The nonprofit, founded by Billy Bragg in England, goes into prisons, giving residents guitars and teaching them in songwriting workshops. So not only was it a night of generous, rousing music in a gorgeous venue under a clear sky, it was all for a good cause.