National Anthem Concert - Washington, DC - October 11, 2004
The Vote For Change tour rolled through the nation's Capitol last night and was billed as "The National Anthem" concert by the Sundance Channel which was broadcasting the show.
The five plus hour concert will probably rank right up there with some of the other great multi-artist concerts I've witnessed like Bridge 1996, Farm Aid 2000, and Free Tibet 1999.
Outside the venue, it was anything but a scene of America Coming Together. Anti-concert protesters were vocal and none too happy with concert goers. One banner even read "Bruce Springsteen: SaddamFest 2004".
Once inside, everyone was much more pleasant and upbeat.
To open the concert, all of the major artists assembled on stage and made short remarks. Michael Stipe said:
"We are all Americans, and we have all been U.S. citizens longer than we have been singers, songwriters, pop stars, public figures, celebrities with a public voice. We are each of us placing our yardsigns in our front yards. Our front yard just happens to be a stage. And tonight it is this stage; thank you all for listening."
Otherwise, political remarks were kept to a minimum throughout the evening.
John Mellencamp opened the show and got the crowd going on their feet where they would be for most of the evening. Performing the appropriate "I Am a Patriot" and closing with "Pink Houses", the lyrics would echo the theme of the common man throughout the concert.
Our seats were behind the stage, but all in all not bad considering the price of floor seats of $178. The sound was excellent and we had a good view of a video screen. It was actually interesting sitting off to the side because we could watch the roadies revolve the stage and switch out band equipment. The roadies were definitely hustling and had most acts on & off in less than 15 minutes. We could also see the media interviews going on between sets and the VIP area.
As usual, I'm quite disappointed in my photos. Unless I'm in the first couple of rows with decent light, I get either blurry or dark -- or both. I'll probably just go back to film unless I get a better digital camera someday.
Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and bluesman Keb' Mo' shared the stage for a great cover of Buffalo Springfield's Vietnam era "For What It's Worth" with Keb on lead. Browne was wearing a "No Nukes" t-shirt.
Next up came R.E.M. with excitable boy Stipe jumping about on "The One I Love" and "Losing My Religion". Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder joined in on "Begin the Begin" the first of many wonderful drop-ins.
photo by Tracy A. Woodward
And no sooner did Vedder leave than Stipe brought out Bruce Springsteen for "Man on the Moon." Bruce was having a great time as he traded jams with Peter Buck. Very awesome.
Pearl Jam came on and delivered a brief - but intense - set. Maybe the biggest surprise of the evening was actor Tim Robbins joining Vedder on "Grievance". Hard to believe. Robbins' vocals weren't too bad and he sang for all he's worth. Tim and Eddie - literally singing back to back - dramatically sank to the stage at the song's conclusion -- something that had to have been rehearsed (although it did seem pretty spontaneous).
But the highlight of Pearl Jam's setlist was definitely their cover of Bob Dylan's antiwar song "Masters of War."
Up next was James Taylor with his acoustic ready to go. Taylor said: "I hate it when they say, 'You shouldn't changes horses midstream.' He the added something about horses that can't swim. After "Never Die Young" out came the Dixie Chicks to back up Taylor on his hit "Sweet Baby James". Definitely a nice combo.
Taylor then left the stage to the Chicks who promptly made one of the funnier lines of the evening. Natalie Maines remarked about not taking back her well publicized comments about being from Texas -- she doesn't want to be labeled a "flip-flopper."
The Dixie Chicks covered another Dylan tune called "Mississippi" and countrified it with some smart fiddle playing.
Next up -- Dave Matthews Band with a high speed set of their jam hits like "Don't Drink the Water" and "Ants Marching".
Last up came Bruce and the E Street Band. Bruce opened with an acoustic rendition of the national anthem and moved right into a sober "Born in the U.S.A.". No flag waving on this one. A few classic hits like "Badlands" and "No Surrender" before bring out Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty.
A real highlight -- in a night filled with highlights -- was Bruce & Fogerty on "Fortunate Son." As Fogerty sang about not being a "fortunate guy" with a silver spoon it all took on a new meaning 30 years later.
Then out comes Stipe again for "Because the Night" with Stipe dropping to his knees at one point as the Boss soloed passionately.
Then Bruce the Preacher did some faith healing on "Mary's Place" invoking the TV audience to take off their clothes and cleanse themselves by screaming Halliburton three times. Pretty funny. We even got a classic Bruce knee slide along the front stage.
The E St. Band closed out with "Born to Run" around midnight with the house still packed and on their feet.
Everyone came out for "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?", with everyone singing a line. And just when you thought it couldn't go on much longer there was one final song.
An extended version of Patti Smith's "People Have the Power" concluded with an audience sing along. And I think everyone did really feel that maybe we regular folks do have the power. Let us hope.