Vote For Change

I love going to festivals and other concerts with a lot of artists, because there’s always a possibility of a once in a lifetime collaboration. Often, the shows aren’t that memorable, partly because of the long breaks between sets. Last night was different; I never thought I’d see a show to equal Saturday night of Woodstock ’94, when it wrapped up with Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and Aerosmith – each at career highs.

The show was announced and tickets went on sale while we were on our honeymoon, and I didn’t get near a computer that week. Still, I was determined to go, and I figured my bad luck scalping for the Prince show was bound to change. Looking on Craigslist in the last week showed me I could get a ticket for less than face value. I tried going for $50 on Craigslist, but I had no takers. I headed out of work at 6PM, figuring I could make the 7PM start since it was Columbus Day. Apparently no one got the memo, as the toll road spur was backed up nearly to 123. I got to East Falls Church just before 7, and got to the MCI Center quickly. I was quickly accosted by two scalpers – they both had tickets in the 200s. I offered $60 and they snapped it up, and I was in my seat by 7:30.

I’d missed most of John Mellencamp, he was just finishing up, and he left his band so Babyface could take over. I was glad I’d brought Jill’s binoculars, because even though the seat was only halfway back, everyone on stage was pretty small. The stage rotated in the center and the roadies worked fast, so Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt & Keb’ Mo’ were up soon. First time I’d seen Jackson Browne or Bonnie Raitt, and they were fine. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t play any of their hits. In a festival type show like this, not everyone’s there to see the artist who’s performing, at it’s easy to lose momentum if you’re doing songs most people don’t know. Much to my surprise, R.E.M. didn’t fall into this trap.

After a short set by Jurassic Five, R.E.M. brought it hard (“We’re R.E.M. and we approve of this concert.”). They went right into “The One I Love” with Michael Stipe flailing around the stage in his crisp white suit, then brought Eddie Vedder up for “Begin the Begin”. Their one new song, “Leaving New York” could have come off “Out Of Time”, and the crowd went nuts for “Losing My Religion”. They managed to top that by bringing up Bruce Springsteen for “Man On the Moon”. As I overheard in the bathroom afterwards, “that was worth the ticket price right there”.

Pearl Jam, on the other hand, managed to kill the pace. “Grievance” and “Save You” are newer songs that the crowd didn’t know. They brought up Tim Robbins to sing X’s “The New World” with Eddie, which was cool (Robbins sang songs in “Bob Roberts”, where Robbins plays a Republican who sings right wing folk songs to get elected, but never released the soundtrack because he didn’t want them used by Republicans) but again the crowd wasn’t familiar with it. “Bu$hleaguer” fit the theme of the night, but only the lyrics got a response. The redeeming part of the set was “Masters Of War”, the Dylan song Eddie and Mike McCready had done for the Dylan tribute back in 1994. I loved their performance then, and was thrilled with hearing it live.

James Taylor was up next, “I hate it when they say, ‘You shouldn’t change horses midstream.’ I hate it ’cause if your horse can’t swim . . .”. He sang “Secret O’ Life” and “Never Die Young” before bringing up the Dixie Chicks. Natalie sang lead on “Sweet Baby James”, then James was back on “Shower the People” and “Some Days You Gotta Dance” (a Chicks song). James left (although not before he said when people ask him who to vote for, he said “look at the issues and candidates, then vote for the smart one”) and the Chicks took over for “Truth No. 2” (great Patty Griffin song) and “Mississippi” (good Dylan song). Funniest line from Natalie: “After the incident, people asked me if I wanted to take back what I said. Well, no, ’cause after that Bush would just call me a flip-flopper.”

I could tell Dave Matthews Band was next (Carter’s set, Leroi’s saxes) and I was pumped. These guys understand the power of a short set, and I wasn’t disappointed. They started off slow with an extended intro into “Don’t Drink the Water” (appropriate for Columbus Day), then “One Sweet World”. One new song, “Joy Ride” (my favorite new one), then they slowed down, only for my favorite snare crack, and straight into “Ants Marching”. I never get tired of hearing it, and was bummed they played it last at Nissan this year, after we left. I had been dancing like crazy, definitely one of my favorite performances of theirs in the last couple years, but the show was running late (supposed to over at 11, and it was after 10:30), so I figured that was it. Nope – “So Much to Say” into “Anyone Seen The Bridge?” into “Too Much”. Amazing set.

Last was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Clearly a uniter, not a divider, he strode on stage to a rafter raising cry of “Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuce”. Wasting no time, he went straight into a fiery solo acoustic take on the “Star Spangled Banner”, then the band kicked right into “Born In The U.S.A.”. With no waiting for applause, they steamrolled right through “Badlands” and “No Surrender”. He let everyone catch their breath by bringing up John Fogerty to sing his new “Déjà Vu” and CCR classic “Fortunate Son”. Another guest next: Michael Stipe to duet with Bruce on “Because The Night” (you may think it’s by 10,000 Maniacs, but Bruce cowrote it with Patti Smith). The only recent song was “Mary’s Place”. It’s not my favorite song from “The Rising”, but in concert he can preach powerfully in the middle, and tonight was no different: “All this fuss about ‘the swing voter’. I got a question – what is a swing voter? All you who are swinging, swaying, all I wanna say is, it’s October 11, what the hell are you waiting for? You mislead the nation to war, you lose your job. It ain’t rocket science! I want you to take off all your clothes, and put one hand on the television screen, then repeat after me: Halliburton! Halliburton! Halliburton!” I don’t think the words alone can convey the passion and truth he conveyed, though.

He finished up the regular set by bringing up R.E.M.’s Mike Mills & Peter Buck to play on a crowd pleasing “Born To Run”, then the stagfe went dark. It was after midnight by now, and I decided to break my long standing rule of not staying until the last song to avoid the crowds. Luckily I could see keybardist Roy Bitten’s setlist well enough through the binoculars to see there were two songs left, and I vowed to leave while the last song was fading out. Bruce came to the mic, and told everyone to come up, and out came Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo’, R.E.M., Eddie Vedder, John Fogerty, Dave Matthews, and the Dixie Chicks to sing Elvis Costello’s classic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, & Understanding”. Messy but fun. Finally, John Mellencamp, Babyface, Jurassic Five and James Taylor joined the group on stage for “People Have The Power”.

As they finished I ducked out and was part of the first big rush hitting the Metro at 12:30. There was already a big crowd on the platform, but I managed to get down to the far side by the time a train came. A Blue line train was at Metro Center, and I just had to wait at Rosslyn for an Orange one. It was nearly 2 by the time I got home. I was bummed because I’d set the VCR to record the show of Sirius, but Jill had changed the channel, so I had 6 hours of Toon Disney. I’m sure someone’s recorded it, and they also broadcast the video on the Sundance Channel, so it’s just a matter of time before I get copies of this amazing show (I have CDs of the Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and Aerosmith performances from Woodstock ’94). I’m dragging today, but it was worth it.

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