To Preach His Own: Reverend Billy at Joe’s Pub


The Information Age has something it won’t say/Climate change kills the poor every day.” Thus begins one of the bluesy hymns in Monsanto Is the Devil, a musical revue now at Joe’s Pub, led by the singular Reverend Billy (Bill Talen). Boosted by the Stop Shopping Choir (decked out as queer pilgrims in holiday spirit) and backed by the Not Buying It Band, the activist-performer preaches and croons with eccentric flair. Today, he tells us, the sins of a global capitalist state have spread far and wide, so “there are any number of devils to choose from.” Among the scourges: Mindless
consumerism. The destruction of the planet. Bankers’ greed. Police brutality. Duane Reade. Blighted, forgotten communities. And, of course, GMO food and a certain multinational giant.

When our white-suited pastor — recently returned from protests in Ferguson and Detroit — gives us the gospel truth, calling on America to get radical again, it’s hard not to feel that this is one essential act. But it’s not a great choice for the soulless Joe’s Pub, where patrons are served drinks and gaze at these rollicking activists as if they’re merely a diversion. Despite rousing calls to action (“Joe Papp–ellujah!”), the room and its hovering waiters position us in the very
consumer spirit the choir warns against. Our sin-sick nation needs Reverend Billy and his flock more than ever right now — but on the front lines, not in a cabaret.