What's the most Democratic, all-inclusive, we-stand-united of pop songs? If you were on the same DNC opening night party route around Philadelphia I was on Monday, you might have to say Sly & the Family Stone's "Everyday People."
The first time I heard it was at the World Cafe Live, from an unlikely source: Joe Walsh, the James Gang and Eagles guitarist who was playing a private gig presented by the Distilled Spirits Council. (In other words, the liquor lobby.)
This was a newsworthy event in part because Walsh was scheduled to play another such party last week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but when the "Life's Been Good" guitarist realized that the tour date was in fact associated with the RNC, he cancelled the gig.
At the WCL, Walsh was opened for by ace Americana songwriter Jason Isbell and his fiddle playing wife Amanda Shires. They were fabulously focused and good natured in the face of the chattering crowd in business attire.
Jason isbell and Amanda Shires / Credit: Dan DeLuca
Along with surveying songs from his superb 2015 album Something More Than Free and later joining Walsh, along with Shires, for a raucous "Rocky Mountain Way," Isbell also made a not-mean-spirited quip about Father John Misty's already legendary super-short appearance t the Xponential Festival in Camden this past weekend. "Some people don't play songs when they come to Philadelphia," he remarked, cracking a smile. "They just rant."
Walsh was introduced by Illinois Senator Richard Durbin - once a mentor to a Prairie State junior Senator named Barack Obama - and thanked for his longtime fundraising work in Democratic Party politics. (Who knew?)
After opening with the 1971 James Gang hit "Walk Away," the silver suited 68 year old Walsh, who is sporting an almost Trumpian blonde hairdo these days, led his formidable band - which included California session ace and Keith Richards chum Waddy Wachtel - into "Everyday People."
Walsh didn't sing at all on the Sly song, instead letting the vocal duties be spread around to members of his turned-up-loud interracial backing band, which included his wife Marjorie (sister to Ringo Starr's wife Barbara Bach, for you rock gossipers). "I am no better and neither are you," went Sly's enduring ecumenical message in a year of harsh division, within each political party and the country at large. "We are the same, whatever we do."
That tune was still bouncing around in my head when I walked in the door at the 990 Spring Garden Street headquarters of Truth To Power, the Rock The Vote presented art, music, activism and panel discussion pop up space where deejay Andre Power of Soulection was on the wheels of steel. (I got there too late to see Philadelphia rapper Freeway rhyme with DJ and event organizer Cosmo Baker. Sad!)
And what song was Power playing at Truth To Power, in a remixed version suitable for the getting the much younger, more casually dressed bodies moving on the dance floor? Why "Everyday People," with its accepting "different strokes, for different folks" lyric, of course. The old hopeful, socially conscious standards never die, as demonstrated by Power's closing call-to-arms song selection, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes' "Wake Up Everybody," featuring Teddy Pendergrass.
Admission to the Truth To Power space is free and highly recommended. The walls are filled with provocative street art.
Highlights include: David Freeman's life size pinatas; an American Civics series of collaborative works Sheperd Fairey and the late rock photographer Jim Marshall; and 'Gun Country' a sculpture by Brooklyn artist Michael Murphy, which employs 150 toy guns suspended from the ceiling in such a way that it looks like a map of the U.S. from one angle and a giant handgun from another. Political celebrity spotting on Monday night: Philadelphia DA Seth Williams.
Earlier in the evening, I checked out the POLITICO Hub, the west Market Street gathering spot for discussion and brand affiliated lounging for the D.C. politics website, because Alicia Keys was scheduled to perform. Which she did, after sitting on a panel with CNN commentator Van Jones and other on criminal justice reform. After the talking was done, Keys stood at an electric piano and sang a heartfelt, affecting version of "Hallelujah," a single from her as yet untitled still in the works 2016 album.
Andra Day / Credit: Dan DeLuca
A more lengthy and thorough impressive display of soul singing was delivered as the closing grace note at Truth To Power in the person of rising R&B songstress Andra Day. Her set, backed by a sympathetic jazzy combo included skilled and startling interpretations of Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddamn" and Kendrick Lamar's "Make Up." Day warmly exuded old school charisma that evokes Billie Holiday and Eartha Kitt, along with thoroughly modern street smarts, and she sang like an angel both on her thoughtfully reworked songs by her heroes and her own hortatory "Rise Up."