One of the most valuable players during the Shockers’ NCAA Tournament run has a funky beat, catchy lyrics, cowbell to spare and a bass line fueled by a trifecta of tubas.
“You Don’t Want to Go to War,” the song that inspired head coach Gregg Marshall to launch an on-court dance party following the Shockers’ 76-70 win over Gonzaga in Salt Lake City last week, is a scrappy little song that – much like the Shockers themselves – fought hard all season to land in the spotlight.
It’s a song that the Shocker Sound pep band director Matt Esau saves for the second half of the games, when the team needs an extra burst of that signature anger.
It’s a song that Esau co-opted last season after admiring the gusto with which it was performed by the Virginia Commonwealth University pep band (who coincidentally ejected the Shockers from last year’s NCAA Tournament).
“You Don’t Want to Go to War” is a song originally recorded by the Rebirth Brass Band, a New Orleans-based group that actually performed in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the same night the Shockers pulled into town. The original lyrics: “You don’t want to go to war with the Rebirth.”
The song has been borrowed by several college pep bands over the past few years, who sub in their sports teams’ mascot names and perform it at games. Esau, a WSU graduate student in music education, was blown away when he saw VCU perform it.
He decided the Shockers must have it.
“That song was what the band needed to take things up to the next level,” he said.
The band introduced the song at home games earlier this year. Fans would turn to watch, wondering what they were hearing.
Esau got the university to begin flashing the lyrics to the song on the big screens when the band played it, and it gained a little more traction.
Then, at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament this year, the cheerleading staff helped the band teach the lyrics to fans at a pep rally.
A hit was born.
When the game against Gonzaga ended on Saturday, Shocker emotions were surging.
Suddenly, Esau heard someone shout, “Play ‘War!’ Play ‘War!’ ”
“I fired up the band,” Esau said, “and the rest is history.”
The tubas started the groove. The horn section joined in. Suddenly, Marshall was in full boogie mode.
Moments later, all the Shocker players, fans and staff on the court were standing directly in front of the pep band, facing it. They danced and danced as the band played on, a moment that was caught on national television and seared into the memories of fans who were there.
The next morning, Esau said, Marshall boarded the team plane headed home for Wichita.
He walked to the back of the plane where the 29 members of the band were sitting and started to chant.
The band sang along, then the whole plane joined in.
Esau said it feels good to have played a role in what he hopes will become a Shocker tradition.
“I think the song is catching on because it epitomizes this underdog mentality we have,” he said.” Everyone says we wouldn’t make it through the first round, but we did, and we just keep overcoming obstacles.”