PICA describes Protest Songs, Morgan Bassichis' TBA performance as "an evening of protest songs to soothe your despair and stoke your outrage." While those intentions were on display at last night's performance, I couldn't help but wonder whether Bassichis could have predicted how much soothing was needed. Especially for the average Oregonian—in the last few weeks, we have seen our state set ablaze while much of the country is flooded. We continue to bemoan the fact that a reality TV star sits in the most powerful seat in our nation, and we are also trying to process the local atrocity of May 26, even as recent events in Charlottesville stir up embers of rage again.
So Bassichis had an uphill battle. While he and his talented backing band, Senior Energy, did their best to engage the crowd through a bit of stand-up, some cabaret improvisation, attempts at crowd participation, and sing-a-longs, there was also a pervading sense of hopelessness.
It didn't help matters that Bassichis lacked some specificity as to what he was wanting th protest songs to accomplish. He stated more than once that the audience could use the songs how we wanted... or not... or do "whatever." But weren't these songs written to make a statement? Were they written to protest injustice? Hate? A specific law or politician? I understand the desire for open interpretation when it comes to art, but in this context, the audience could have used, well... some context. I wonder how much more powerful some lyrics such as "we cast you out, we send you away" could have been if he’d taken some time to name our collective baggage.
Bassichis should be commended for his showmanship and Senior Energy's simple, dropped-in musical performance was at many moments hypnotizing. Many of the songs played out as mantras, and as a few swim around my brain this morning, I can see why the group suggested that the audience make them our own. But to quote Bassichis quoting Pete Seger last night, "a singing movement is a winning movement," and I found myself wishing for a more specific rally cry.