Watching The Coup's funktastic Wednesday night set at The State Room led to much pondering of what other musicians have managed to deliver potent lefty political commentary wrapped in such winning ear candy.
Bob Dylan used a traditional folk format to do such a thing back in the '60s. Punk bands like The Minutemen delved into Central American politics via short blasts of lo-fi rock in the '80s. More recently ,Rage Against the Machine attracted a mainstream hard-rock audience to songs about Native American activists and Wall Street chicanery.
The Oakland-based Coup, led by writer/activist Boots Riley, drops anti-capitalist screeds and Occupy-minded lyrical salvos dressed up in some excellent funk and hip-hop, making their live shows part full-blown dance party, and part inspired political rally. In the capable hands of a consummate frontman like Riley--with a fine band of musicians backing him up and female vocalist Silk-E belting out some serious hooks--the combination made for a memorable Thanksgiving Eve in Salt Lake City.
The show featured several tunes from the band's latest album, the volcanic Sorry to Bother You. "Strange Arithmetic," one of the album's best, came up early in the show, and offered a skewering of the U.S. military via a fist-pumping anthem that had the crowd fully engaged. Later in the show, new songs like "The Magic Clap" erupted into singalong choruses through insistent hooks and a pro-revolution message that Riley delivered with the kind of assured swagger that makes him a perfect band leader and charismatic voice for political change. Later, "The Guillotine" offered a succinct blast of energy, and an urgent chorus aimed at the 1 % repeated throughout: "We got the guillotine, you better run!"
Older songs hit hard as well. "We Are the Ones" from Pick a Bigger Weapon was a killer follow-up to "Strange Arithmetic." "ShoYoAss" and "Ass-Breath Killers" both injected a hearty dose of humor into the proceedings. "Ride the Fence" during the encore was another highlight.
While Riley's between-song banter held plenty of messages, from supporting striking Walmart workers to supporting the Occupy movement, he also spoke about music's power with incredible passion.
"Music makes you be emotionally with the moment happening right then," Riley said before calling on the dancing fans in front of the stage to help change the world. In The Coup's hands, you realize how much music can inspire people to do just that.
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.