Republican presidencies have a way of galvanizing the musical underground. Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Ramones rose to prominence during the mid-'70s Nixon/Ford regime. Reaganomics birthed college-rock luminaries like R.E.M., the Replacements, and Hüsker Dü. Flannel gods Nirvana and Pearl Jam emerged during the tail end of George Bush I's reign. And Dubya's bumbling helped create the ideal climate to nudge such below-the-radar darlings as Death Cab for Cutie and the White Stripes into the spotlight. Now, fear of his reelection has stirred fervent liberals out of any complacency they had cultivated in the 1990s.
In fact, the mainstream musical groundswell against four more years of Dubya is just as loud and raucous as its underground counterpart. The Vote for Change tour is stopping in states whose electoral votes may well be the golden ticket to the presidency, with Bruce Springsteen -- the voice of America's working-class heroes -- as its headliner. He may have seemed like the poster child for patriotism with 1984's Born in the U.S.A. , but his rich storytelling on 1982's Nebraska and 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad encapsulate his championing of the downtrodden.
As passionate about the politics in its home state of Georgia as it is with broader social issues, R.E.M. is along in part as a warm-up for its fall tour in support of its absorbing new album, Around the Sun, which includes the proud and folksy protest song "Final Straw."
Indie darlings Bright Eyes -- the vehicle for folk troubadour Conor Oberst -- have been busy prepping two new discs for next year: I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, a rootsy affair featuring Emmylou Harris on several tracks, and the poppier Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.
The Dixie Chicks are one of the few country acts -- not to mention Texans -- to rail against Dubya. Although the comely trio's outspokenness led to radio boycotts and a sharp backlash, their nimble fiddling and harmonies soundly survived the criticism. Strumming alongside them at the State Theatre is James Taylor, whose laid-back soft rock belies the activism running through his songs -- a remnant of the introspective music scene that propelled him to superstardom in the early 1970s.