Concert Review

Henry Rollins Takes on Palin, Van Halen Fans at Marquee Show

Henry Rollins works the mic at the Marquee Theatre on Wednesday night. See more in our Henry Rollins slideshow

By Niki D’Andrea Photos by Benjamin Leatherman

Better than: The first two presidential debates.

Henry Rollins is a man of many words. The former singer of Black Flag and Rollins Band is currently out on his umpteenth spoken word tour (labeled “The Recountdown Tour”) and this time around, he’s got plenty to say about politics, his travels, and the more ridiculous aspects of American popular culture.

The audience at the Marquee Theatre for Rollins’ Tempe gig was large – a couple thousand people, all seated in chairs (thank God the venue put out some chairs), and listening with rapt attention when Rollins hit the stage at approximately 8 p.m.

He started out talking about the recent presidential debate, poking fun at McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin (“I think people just watch her because they’re waiting for her to drop another kid out on the podium”), and jabbing at George W. Bush’s “interesting” use of the English language. He urged everyone in the audience to vote, and then moved on to talking about his recent travels and experiences.

Of the many stories Rollins shared, one of the most interesting was his recounting of his “Christmas vacation” trip to Pakistan, and the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. Rollins says one of the reasons he travels to other countries is because he doesn’t take what the media and U.S. politicians say about them at face value; he has to go see for himself. The assassination of Bhutto happened when Rollins was in Pakistan, and his stories about walking the city and mingling with mourners gave me a new perspective on the country and its people.

Never short on humor, Rollins also related an experience he had at a U.S. airport, where a guy recognized him and asked for a picture. The guy’s wife was fumbling with the camera and couldn’t figure out how to use it, so Rollins and this guy were left waiting in an extended embrace. “It’s like when people blow pot smoke in the dog’s face, and put a hat and sunglasses on it, and dump out the water in the dog’s bowl and fill it with beer, and they’re like ‘The dog’s fucked up! Take a picture!’ That’s what I felt like,” Rollins said.

Rollins also talked about going to see Van Halen perform in Chicago on their recent reunion tour, and the experience of standing in line with a bunch of rowdy Van Halen fans. Rollins’ jabs and jokes about the obese, fast food-eating, barely intelligible Van Halen fans was similar to a story Rollins told on his A Rollins in the Wry tour in 2001, when he made fun of the KISS fans who were mobbing him in the will-call line at a KISS show in San Bernardino.

Though he veered from topic to topic and story to story, Rollins eventually came full circle and concluded by pointing out that every oppressive, tyrannic government starts out by trying to rid its society of scientists, teachers, homosexuals, artists, and free-thinkers. He said he’s starting to see that in America, and again urged the audience to vote.

Rollins was onstage talking for two and a half hours, and amazingly, in the crowd there was very little chatter and or wandering around. Everybody listened intently.

After the show, Henry Rollins did what he almost always does – he went outside the venue to talk with his fans, sign merchandise, and take photos. The couple dozen people who stuck around were rewarded with almost an hour of one-on-one chats with Rollins about everything from the evils of Wal-Mart to a Black Flag show in Tucson in the early ‘80s.

After the show, Henry Rollins stayed to sign autographs and talk to fans.

Random Detail: Favorite Rollins quote of the night: “Other countries don’t like it when America takes its big dick and stirs up the morning coffee of their economy.”

Personal Bias: Common sense.