Battle Of The Bands

If I mentioned that I was about to see the recently reunited band Rage Against the Machine play a show that featured the legendary Wayne Kramer (MC5) on guitar, you'd likely wonder what music festival I would soon be attending. We've gotten used to expecting stellar and surprising line-ups at any number of summer music events, who up the ante each year by bringing back My Bloody Valentine or Slint, or who get Sonic Youth to play Daydream Nation in its entirety.

But those fans lucky enough to see Kramer shred, Motor City-style, along with the agitprop rock of Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha's Rage won't be at a music festival. No, they'll be playing during the week of the upcoming political conventions. With Cold War Kids, Silversun Pickups, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Moby and Death Cab for Cutie, the conventions sound as if they could be Coachella or Lollapalooza.

It might have something to do with Barack Obama. It's no secret that Obama has great taste in music, liking everyone from Kanye West to Wilco, and artists have made playing his rallies and benefits comparable in importance to, say, performing on Letterman — or, in this day and age, getting a lot of hits on YouTube. So it's no surprise that the Democratic National Convention is chock full of eager and earnest acts, each there to lend support not just musically, but also politically, because they actually believe in the candidate.

So, you're probably wondering, who's playing the Republican National Convention? Well, brace yourself: It's The Beach Boys and The Charlie Daniels Band. Okay, there are some younger acts, too: Leann Rimes and Smash Mouth. Remember their song "All Star"? And, if you're lucky, you might catch Mike Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense, also playing that week.

Alas, I guess I wasn't expecting the Republican convention or John McCain, ABBA enthusiast that he is, to magically wrangle the indie bands Arcade Fire or Fleet Foxes. But still, he could have tried to get ABBA to reunite; that would have generated some excitement and garnered McCain some respect among drag queens, my parents and other ABBA fans.

But then I remembered that ABBA themselves are actually upset at McCain for using their songs at his rallies. If the RNC and DNC were a talent show, the DNC would be kicking proverbial butt. The problem is that a lot of hip young artists just aren't lining up behind McCain, unless you count American Idol alumnus Kim Caldwell. Who? Something tells me that her loyalty to McCain may not be the driving force behind her decision to play. Hey, you take exposure where you can get it.

I want this battle of the bands to be more evenly matched, so I'm going to dole out some advice: There is a golden opportunity here for a new, up-and-coming band composed of young Republicans. Form today, call the McCain campaign tomorrow and use the Republican National Convention as your launch pad to success. Your main competition, as it stands right now, is the song "Kokomo" and the former Arkansas governor on bass. No contest. You'll have a record deal by the end of the week.

Right now, the difference between the acts at the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention are as different as, well, the candidates themselves. And maybe that's the intention.

So I think I have to root for the underdog on this one. The RNC is the sparsely attended local festival — the band at the farmers market — while the DNC is Bonnaroo or Central Park Summer Stage. Unstoppable. I might have to go to St. Paul to help The Beach Boys out. So go ahead and have fun at that other, cooler music festival in Denver. I'll be Surfin USA at the RNC in St. Paul.



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You know what Woody Guthrie had written on his guitar? I'm pretty sure a lot of those RNCers would keel over if you unloaded on them, CB.

Sent by piggy | 6:57 PM | 8-20-2008

Call me shallow, but it's just hard to work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for Wayne Kramer after finding out he's taken up scoring Will Ferrell comedies.

And isn't it kind of assumed that good music, barring some exceptions (country), is almost always of the left?

I've gotten to the point where finding out members of bands identify as right-wing is this surreal, almost shocking experience. I once read an interview with Billy Zoom where he said he was a Bush supporter and it completely blew my mind. Not like it necessarily matters.

Sent by Kaleb H. | 7:28 PM | 8-20-2008

hmmm....have fun with that. I would join you but that many conservatives in one room would make me irritable. Sigh...but it would be good to hear Kokomo live.

Sent by ryan | 7:34 PM | 8-20-2008

To the previous poster-no offense intended, but don't knock Kramer for scoring comedies. There's very little money around the music industry right now (at least on a non-crappy-popstar level), and scoring something isn't necessarily selling out, it's using your skill to pay bills. I know plenty of talented artists who pay their mortgage working as graphic designers, but still do their art, their way, on their own time. Is that selling out as well? People need to make a living, and when art can't do it, well, at least it's better than whoring doritos, right?

Sent by todd | 9:10 PM | 8-20-2008

RATM are playing a protest along with Public Enemy .They are not their to support Obama but to protest a corrupt two party system and the convention that will elect a criminal form either column A or column B and yes your beloved Obama will surely be one as Mcain will as was Kenedy or Nixon. and will continue American colonialism and state terrorism abroad.

Sent by Salvadore | 9:25 PM | 8-20-2008

Sadly, I think the bands are probably much more different than the candidates...though I take Obama over McCain by a factor of about a thousand.

Sent by David C | 10:53 PM | 8-20-2008

All the bands playing at the DNC are the hip young bands, but they are the bands the general populace has never heard of. Clear Channel isn't exactly married to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (and neither am I anymore; they fell off the horse on their last album; it's true, admit it). Smash Mouth sucks, but they have enough nostalgic value to win over the easily duped middle American undecided voter. Nobody looks for substance, be it music or politics. They just want what they're used to. Anything else scares them, and then they learn to hate, and they vote according to their hate. To me, Tom Morello and Wayne Kramer playing on the same stage at the f***ing DNC is like the second coming of Christ. The only problem is Rage Against the Machine have enough political power in their lyrics to scare away too many people. I'd love to see Zack de la Rocha belting out "Bullet In Your Head" on national television, or "Killing In the Name Of." It's going to scare too many people away. The Democrats might be shooting themselves in the foot again. They dropped the stigma of the boring brainy intellectual who you just want to beat to death with a large piece of concrete in favor of the crazy Marxist on the street corner handing out 9/11 conspiracy theory flyers. They went from 0-60 in the blink of an eye, and it will probably be the end of us.

I think I'm saying this because I saw a poll where McCain is leading. All those undecided voters are making up their minds.

Sent by Nick L. | 1:24 AM | 8-21-2008

Maybe I'm a bit of a heretic, but if the Charlie Daniels Band were in ass-kickin' 1975-or-thereabouts form, and the Beach Boys were doing their Sunflower-era thing, I'd almost have to change party affiliation. Almost.

But they aren't, and the Democrats have the far more hip-on-paper lineup, even though the bands are far from unknown, and not particularly cutting-edge - perfect for an event and a party that are about change, but only so much change. Nevertheless, I'm thrilled that we're getting something a little more interesting than Bill Clinton's warmed-over sax interpretations of Buckingham-Nicks-period Fleetwood Mac, and who knows - maybe we'll see an all-star version of "Kick Out the Jams," complete with questionable vocabulary and audience participation....

Sent by Darren | 2:21 AM | 8-21-2008

Obama likes Wilco and Death Cab
....but is he ready to lead?

(in reference to McCain's lame anti-obama ad)

Sent by hmd1987 | 3:09 AM | 8-21-2008

Am I the only left-wing supporter offended by the crassness of RATM's lyrics and stance - and the "show-offiness" of Tom Morello's guitar playing? And the only one to have noticed that "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" - which Kramer, indeed, scored - is one the most vicious satires of the American way of life to have hit the screens in the last decade? Being an Obama supporter is no excuse for not using one's bullshit detector or conform to any kind of conformity. Oh, and Carrie, thank you for always rooting for the underdog and your sense of humour. Not that Kokomo is such a shitty song, BTW - just listen to Adam Green & Ben Kweller's cover version on the former's "Jessica" EP...

Sent by Thierry | 8:20 AM | 8-21-2008

I too share the same anxieties that a few of the previous comments speak to. Nick L., the very idea that McCain could even conceivably be ahead shakes me to my very core. I saw that yesterday at work and I became so angry, I had to take a long walk around the building in silence to try to get my mind off of it.

More to Carrie's point, or, rather, the thoughts I have after reading this anyone surprised at the live music available at each convention? I mean, really? Sure, maybe the Beach Boys had a bit of a youthful edge to them once (and no one would argue that they didn't accomplish some beautiful, groundbreaking things in their time), but they're old men now. Also, they never really were "rock" the same way that The Doors, The Clash, and Rage Against the Machine are ("Two Girls for Every Boy!" vs. "F*** You I Won't Do What You Tell Me!" anyone?). Still, their presence is quite impressive next to the likes of Smash Mouth (GAG!), who represent that kind of music that's been white-washed, bleached, high-fructosed, breaded and deep fried for the masses to choke on.

I also am a bit concerned about Rage being at the convention...while I admire their steadfast anti-establishment beliefs, they did in fact play at either the 2000 or 2004 DNC and caused quite a ruckus (though admittedly they did it somewhat impromptu and with out permits, which kind of irritated the cops). That memory, in this light, leaves me feeling soured on American politics; is this what we've been reduced to? Deep-fried, empty Republicans on one side, angry, absolutist Democrats on the other? Im quite sure the divide has always been there, but have the terrible root causes and awful indicators of it ever been so blatant and vulgar?

As a final note, we who want Obama elected should be given pause by the wonderful line up at the Denver convention. Being elected to the highest office in our country tends to be based on at least the appearance of moderation and broad appeal. Rage Against the Machine is anything but that; they're anger, burning bright.

Sent by Ryan | 9:55 AM | 8-21-2008

Wait. Did Carrie just say that she's playing the RNC? I'm confused.

Sent by comoprozac | 9:56 AM | 8-21-2008

"They dropped the stigma of the boring brainy intellectual who you just want to beat to death with a large piece of concrete in favor of the crazy Marxist on the street corner handing out 9/11 conspiracy theory flyers."

Hate to break it to you buddy, but RATM will be there in protest - not as a DNC sponsored act. Similarly: "Rage Against The Machine are currently touring under a blanket policy which forbids any of their performances to be broadcast on television." So you won't be seeing them on TV.

Good thing you bothered to check your facts before spouting off on the high horse, yeah?

Sent by Leigh Cutler | 10:01 AM | 8-21-2008

RATM are playing a protest for the RNC at the Target Center in Minneapolis during the St. Paul convention.

But yes, this country is definitely lacking a hipster Republican band.

Sent by ljc | 10:41 AM | 8-21-2008

"Nobody looks for substance, be it music or politics. They just want what they're used to. Anything else scares them, and then they learn to hate, and they vote according to their hate."

- nick l

Sent by merdoc | 12:49 PM | 8-21-2008

What's striking about most of that lineup is that it appeals to a somewhat narrow band of voters. Angsty, young and green. Imagine if they did try to assemble a lineup of bands that cross demographic lines. Say, if they could somehow convince (shudder) Lynyrd Skynyrd or the (wince) Doobie Brothers to play in this lineup. It would almost certainly attract more of the rural vote who assign gun rights and the traditional marraige as the utmost importance to the future of the country, as opposed to looking at it from an economic perspective and voting with their pocket book the way most of the more well-off conservatives do. Maybe if they felt like they had a reason to tune in (say, to see a southern rock band), some of them may hear the economic message from someone other than a talking head on FOX, and entertain the possibility that the Democrats might not be the socialists the right-wing portray them to be.

Monkey scribles, but I tried.

Sent by Chad - Hungary for Turkey | 2:01 PM | 8-21-2008

The fact that I learned that Toby "Boot up Your Ass" Keith is supporting Obama has thrown every assumption about the politics of musicians I have ever had out the window

Sent by Sean | 2:23 PM | 8-21-2008

So wait, ... Vampire Weekend isn't playing the RNC?

Rage is so awful.. I've been suspect of them since day one. Major label protest band .. what a bunch of shills.

True that Chad. Steely Dan should play DNC or something..

Sent by daniel | 4:19 PM | 8-21-2008

Say it ain't so, Carrie! Jackson Browne is suing McCain too, over the use of "Running on Empty"... which is a particularly horrible choice for a campaign song.

Sent by joe | 5:25 PM | 8-21-2008

Reading your post I got this image in my head of McCain rocking out to Health or Abe Vigoda at the RNC. Priceless....

I think MC Rove is available for a headliner spot.

Sent by Joel from Charm City | 5:30 PM | 8-21-2008

One of the interesting ironies about the Beach Boys playing the RNC Con (don't count on them doing "Student Demonstration Time", by the way) is that, when the BBs played at the White House during the Carter administration, Republicans lambasted the Dems because of the band's history of drug use. And this is when they had already become a pandering(mostly pre-Pet Sounds) oldies act!

Sent by Michael | 6:00 PM | 8-21-2008

I was lucky enough to meet Wayne Kramer several years ago at SXSW. We both showed up to hear the folks on the Creem panel talk.
Wayne was cool about taking a picture with me and I was surprised when he grabbed me and kissed my cheek as the flash went off. I'm beat red in the picture.
It was the best SXSW because later I met two guys in Hanson.

Sent by Gina V. | 7:24 PM | 8-21-2008

I'm sure Johnny Cash would have played the Republican National Convention if he was still around.

Sent by John McCain | 7:32 PM | 8-21-2008

"What's striking about most of that lineup is that it appeals to a somewhat narrow band of voters. Angsty, young and green. Imagine if they did try to assemble a lineup of bands that cross demographic lines."

That's exactly what I mean. Why not go for someone like Willie Nelson, who enough people can embrace and who is a die-hard liberal up and down? John Mellencamp campaigned for Kerry four years ago. What's Tom Petty up to, or Bruce Springsteen? There are plenty of acts out there who appeal to the masses. They may not necessarily appeal to the Vampire Weekend crowd, but they will appeal to everyone else. Keep the "hip," "young" bands, but include a few older ones to draw the right viewers. As it is the Democrats are focusing all of their efforts on an age demographic they've already won. We're looking too far ahead. What matters is right now.

Sent by Nick L. | 8:49 PM | 8-21-2008

So I was watching CNN while I was at work today, and they were discussing what bands would be playing the conventions, and I pretty much had the exact same thoughts. I mean, the Beach Boys & the Charlie Daniels band? Can McCain please try to sound a little bit more ancient?

Sent by ccz | 9:45 PM | 8-21-2008

Johnny Ramone loved Reagan.

Sent by Erik | 10:07 PM | 8-21-2008

Yo Brownstein, dig this blog. I'd like to add: their is also the factor that in this current political/culture war climate, perhaps some musicians with right-leaning perspectives may not be putting their necks out promulgating their political views, lest they risk some commercial capital in this precarious file sharing world. Would really like to see some young neocons, with conservative principles and solid taste for indie music. Beachboys Pet Sounds was pure magic, but need someone contemporary. Used to think Cold War Kids were to the right-of-center, Bible college, pro life guys. My kinda band, raw, indie, bluesy, fresh sound, original.

But as i re-read my post, maybe political persuasion should not be a factor that restricts the joy of good music.

Rooting for Sen Obama...then more power to them. Go CWK!

Sent by Decline to State | 3:25 AM | 8-22-2008

One other thought--at what point did the conventions become Bumbershoot? Shouldn't they be about, you know, policy and stuff?

As for RAtM, I've never been a fan (and completely agree with the "protest band shilling for corporate media" post), but they do have a history of playing protests OUTSIDE conventions. They did in 2000 at the DNC in LA (where we were all shot at by the cops with rubber bullets and bean bags). They're about as artistically credible as Chumbawamba, but they do stick to their guns on certain things...

Sent by todd | 6:00 AM | 8-22-2008

Wait, hold the phone-- is "Capitol Offense" really the name of Mike Huckabee's band? There's probably a hardcore band (or ten) out there with that name. Now I have the bizarre mental image of a sweaty Huckabee wearing a Negative Approach t-shirt and screaming curse words at the establishment or something...

Sent by nikki | 8:45 AM | 8-22-2008

librarian alert
carrie, please cite your sources. i love you but this dnc lineup is very hard to believe--especially ratm. are these bands part of the official dnc events? o don't see it listed on the website. perhaps they are just in town the same weekend or there is some type of support concert around the convention dates.

Sent by chuck spencer | 10:42 AM | 8-22-2008



info also available at

so it's not as though the Dems or the Obama camp called ratm's people and said "hey, we're really big fans..."
it's a concert protesting the war in iraq capitalizing on the liberal crowd that should be in the city for the dnc convention. a great idea but not an official dnc event.

Sent by chuck spencer | 1:10 PM | 8-22-2008

Carrie, it isn't that hard to figure out why the DNC and RNC conventions have such different music lineups. There are two reasons, and they have nothing to do with Obama's music tastes. (Do you really think he takes the time to choose the bands?) The pop music industry (much like other entertainment industries) is narrow-mindedly liberal. If you are a conservative, you need not apply for a pop record deal (although you may be able to get a deal in the country music industry). Period. As such, most new bands are liberal, and those that aren't don't talk about politics. The Beach Boys probably don't talk about politics, and Charlie Daniels is conservative. The other reason is that as liberals, most new bands incorporate liberal values and talking points into their lyrics. Republicans don't really want to listen to a band echoing Rev. Wright's "G-D America" mindset in all their songs. It doesn't match their values. They don't actually think America sucks. As for matching the Democrat values, well, maybe you can comment on that. It is sad for me, as a young conservative, that I can't listen to many of the new bands because I can't stand to listen to the garbage lyrics, no matter how interesting the music is.

Sent by Julie | 3:24 PM | 8-22-2008

I just want to reinforce that RATM is not playing inside the DNC, they're playing outside in protest, similar to 2000. Except I guess this time they're being a bit more legal about it.

And more about RATM: At one point they were easily one of my top 3 bands. I still like them, but now I see their whole political thing as kind of ironic considering how much money their music has certainly made for their major label, MTV, the sponsors of the festivals they play, etc. It's cool that they got back together and started making radical statements again, but most of the fans going out to see them play are meatheads that want to rock out to a band they discovered on their local modern rock station.

Sent by Adam | 3:30 PM | 8-22-2008

The author has this story wrong.

Rage Against the Machine is not playing at the Democratic National Convention. They are playing a free anti-war concert in Denver in opposition to the Democratic Party's failure to stand for anything left of the Democratic Leadership Council and the trash heap of liberal crap that Democrats stand for (since FDR, anyway). Rage Against the Machine is not (nor would they ever) play a DNC.

Ditto to the commenter who said they played in 2000/2004. They played an illegal show protesting the conventions, and got shut down by riot police for doing so.

Does anybody not reference or research comments before posting, including the author of the original NPR story?

Sent by Stephen K. | 8:39 PM | 8-22-2008

Well I guess Meghan McCain probably wish she was going to the Democratic National Convention instead of the one for her dad, since she seems to have indie music taste as shown on her blog.

Sent by David | 6:37 AM | 8-23-2008

Interestingly, Chumbawamba has actually been much more deeply involved in grassroots politics far longer than RAtM. Their roots are probably much closer to the Mekons than the ever-popular "Tubthumoing".

Sent by Erik | 12:49 AM | 8-24-2008

Uh, actually Carrie never said that RATM was playing at the DNC. Her post says they're playing the week of the convention. I'm also in agreement that they're a bunch of shills. If you want real protest music, listen to XTRMNTR from Primal Scream - that should have been the soundtrack to the 2000 campaign.

Sent by mb | 7:39 PM | 8-24-2008

In regards to the last post. "what the fuck have you done"? (Minor Threat, In My Eyes)

Sent by Salvadore | 9:58 PM | 8-26-2008