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Review: Henry Rollins at the Somerville Theatre | March 17, 2010


Henry Rollins, live from Dublin in January 2010

There aren't too many people in this world that are both self-indulgent and opinionated enough to stand and talk for three straight hours -- Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, maybe the Pope if given something lean on.

Luckily for those out to get their money's worth, Henry Rollins held nothing back Wednesday night at the Somerville Theatre and earned his inclusion on that short list. His wholly engrossing live act has been tagged with various labels -- spoken word, stand-up, live rant -- but none of those are particularly worthwhile descriptors of the spectacle that is Rollins on stage for 180 unrelenting minutes, mic cord wrapped around clenched fist, frontal vein bulging, and not a even a sip of water to quench his surely parched vocal chords.

On stage, Rollins embraces the role of motivational speaker. In a call to arms of sorts, he urges protection of our basic Constitutional rights and the English language, while maintaining the edge that makes him the badass he is. He puts everyone from grade school bullies to Burmese dictator Than Shwe on notice, in a motion that would make Stephen Colbert proud.

And while it would be easy to scream and curse out everyone of his targets, it would not be nearly as entertaining. Instead, Rollins takes the high road, gracious in his insightful attacks, assuring us he doesn't "do vulgarity." He also manages to never contradict himself. A vocal champion for equal rights opportunities, he makes no bones about the fact that he loathes "Grand Doo-Dah of the Ku Klux Klan" David Duke. But if Duke chooses to write a book about how the Holocaust never happened, it's his right, because if there's a stance Rollins most steadfastly backs, it's free speech.

All the more captivating is how Rollins's act seems surprisingly unscripted -- at Wednesday's show, he talked about events that went down only last week. One anecdote that stood out involved Rollins's friend Ian MacKaye (from the seminal punk band Fugazi) and a day trip to the National Archive during a recent Virginia tour stop. Here, Rollins's attention to detail was engagingly vivid as he described the monstrous building, the eternal rows of filing cabinets, the documents penned centuries ago by the Founding Fathers.

As incredible as the show was, it would be unfair to call it a pitch-perfect performance because it was just so damn long. Rollins rambles. A tale about how he came to be a character on Sons of Anarchy took close to an hour, thanks to sidetrack stories about delivering a graduation speech at Sonoma State University and an encounter with a surprisingly provocative punk-rock "lady boy" on the set of RuPaul's Drag Race. For his part, Rollins was well aware of his run time, joking with the audience to stand up and feel the blood rush back into their butts after sitting on them for the elongated span.

If you are only familiar with Rollins from his musical ventures or as a talking head from one of the many VH1 80s metal tributes, make a point to seek out his spoken-word performances -- this utterly raw, stripped-down side of Rollins is not to be missed.

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