BROOKLYN, New York — This week marks the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. And in Moby’s opinion, the “fireworks show” that rained down on Baghdad five years ago should have never happened in the first place.
“I remember watching it on television and thinking, ‘Oh f—, it’s begun — and we’re gonna be here forever,’ ” he said at a press conference on Tuesday night prior to “Speak Up: A Benefit Concert for Peace in Iraq and Justice at Home,” an anti-war concert that featured short sets from an eclectic lineup including Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Norah Jones, Antony Hegarty, the Scissor Sisters, Blonde Redhead and Damien Rice. “Iraq is the equivalent of a Venus flytrap or shark’s mouth — very easy to get in, but not so easy to get out.”
His voice was one of many at this sold-out concert at St. Ann’s Warehouse, a benefit for Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice, an anti-war coalition that is organizing nationwide demonstrations this week. The show alternated between musical performances and speakers, and even featured a piece from noted choreographer Bill T. Jones, who used ballet and poetry to tell a story about the hardships of warfare to the somber accompaniment of a solo violinist.
The mood of the concert, which began with a feedback-drenched guitar rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” from Reed, Anderson, Hegarty and Moby, alternated between anger and melancholy.
Recently back from Texas, where he performed at the South by Southwest Conference , Moby told a story about meeting a couple of soldiers there who were spending the weekend on leave.
“They asked me to play this song in memory of their [soldier] friends who just killed themselves,” he said somewhat cryptically before launching into “Slipping Away,” from his 2005 LP, Hotel.
Earlier in the evening, Norah Jones, seated at a piano on the corner of the stage, played “My Dear Country.” “I wrote this song in November of 2004,” she told the audience. “Hopefully this year in November I’ll feel a little differently.”
Laurie Anderson offered up her techno-flavored protest song “Only an Expert,” the lyrics of which address the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. She later accompanied Hegarty on violin.
David Byrne, accompanied by Jones, Rice and two Scissor Sisters, played a set of uptempo new material, and also announced that he is once again collaborating with Brian Eno, who co-produced some of Byrne’s seminal work with his former band, Talking Heads.
The Scissor Sisters announced they were adopting a new name for the evening — “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Dressed in a dayglow yellow suit jacket, lead singer Jake Shears sang the disco-inspired “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing.”
The speakers, many of them journalists (including author/Air America personality Laura Flanders and Nation writer Naomi Klein), talked about a variety of agendas, from anti-globalization to denouncing the Patriot Act to the evils of war profiteering. Many of those who appeared onstage placed as much blame on the media as they did on the Bush administration, although there was little acknowledgement of the role that the blogosphere has played in war coverage.
Antony Hegarty, leader of Antony and the Johnsons, also called out the media, but in a less abrasive tone. He pointed out that while many Americans know that more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the war, no one knows for sure just how many Iraqi civilians have lost their lives.
“You could Google ‘Iraqi casualties’ for hours and never come up with a number,” Hegarty said. “It’s become the job of artists and people on the outside to collect information on what exactly is going on.”
The two-hour-plus concert ended with a show of unity, as Reed led the assembled performers in a rendition of “Voices of Freedom.” And while no performer had explicitly endorsed a candidate, many alluded to the importance of voting.
“When I went to vote for the [New York] primary, I have to admit, I started to cry,” Johnson said earlier that evening. “I felt the weight of the future on my shoulder — and I think a lot of Americans are feeling that way too.”