Highlights of the Vote for Change Tour finale
Can a concert instantly become a ”documentary” if it’s broadcast live? Sure, if the Sundance Channel really, really wants to convince itself that the all-star finale of the anti-Bush Vote for Change Tour, which took place Monday night in Washington, D.C., fits into its movies-only format. And, to be fair, in between sets by acts including the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and John Mellencamp, there were some actual documentary clips, courtesy of director D.A. Pennebaker (of the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back). We sat through the five-hour-plus broadcast (which marked the official end of a 10-day blitz that hit multiple venues per night in swing states) and picked out some moments worth remembering:
BEST OPENING PUNCH Ignoring Dave Matthews’ botched introduction —”Please welcome Bruce Springstreet” — Springsteen and the E Street Band came out breathing fire. After Springsteen’s solo-acoustic-guitar instrumental version of ”The Star-spangled Banner,” they burst into ”Born in the U.S.A.,” which was finally recognizable as a furious protest song. They moved straight into two other rockers, ”Badlands” and ”No Surrender,” played at a reckless clip, with none of the careful pacing that’s marked Springsteen’s recent three-hour shows.
MOST LIKELY TO MAKE NEW FANS The Dixie Chicks charmed when they joined James Taylor on stage and brought his usually dull ”Sweet Baby James” to life with sweet countrified harmonies; they also worked wonders with their sassy version of Dylan’s ”Mississippi.” And frontwoman Natalie Maines came up with a priceless explanation for her refusal to take back her infamous comment about being ashamed that President Bush is from Texas: ”He’d just call me a flip-flopper, and I know he doesn’t like flip-floppers.”
LEAST LIKELY TO MAKE NEW FANS Pearl Jam has spent many years trying to shrink its audience, and Monday was no exception. The band’s odd, hit-free set was highlighted by a straight-faced duet with actor Tim Robbins on a cover of the punk band X’s ”New World” — a song that no one who wasn’t on stage seemed to recognize. And while concluding with an impassioned version of Dylan’s ”Masters of War” was appropriate, it wasn’t exactly crowd-pleasing.
MOST TEPID RENDITION John Mellencamp kicked off the show with a curiously tame, mostly acoustic set that largely found him perched on a stool. The low point came with a wimped-out, over-orchestrated version of his once rebellious ”Authority Song” that made its chorus (”When I fight authority/Authority always wins”) sound resigned instead of defiant.
QUICKEST SET Kenneth ”Babyface” Edmonds knew the rock-oriented audience wasn’t his crowd, so he wisely came out and played one song: Eric Clapton’s thematically appropriate ”Change the World.” Then he left the stage. Smart guy.
MOST TEPID RENDITION (RUNNER-UP) The adult-contemporary supergroup of Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and folk-blues singer Keb Mo’ played a sleepy, pointlessly bluesy version of Buffalo Springfield’s ’60s tune ”For What It’s Worth.” In the process, they effectively changed its refrain from ”there’s something happening here” to ”take a nap, nothing’s happening here.”
BEST MICHAEL STIPE IMITATORS Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder sounded surprisingly at home duetting with Stipe on an amped-up version of R.E.M.’s ”Begin the Begin,” his baritone roar blending in almost perfectly with Stipe’s. Bruce Springsteen’s voice was far more incongruous as he sang verses of ”Man on the Moon” with R.E.M., but his energy — and squalling guitar solos — somehow made him a near-perfect fit.
BEST DOCUMENTARY Many of the between-set documentaries were snoozy political blab-fests. But R.E.M.’s clip showed us the band giddily learning to play ”Born to Run” in preparation for a guest spot with Springsteen. It also offered the strangely fascinating sight of Michael Stipe brushing his teeth.
MOST OVERUSED INSTRUMENT The violin is usually a rare instrument in rock. But not Monday night, with Mellencamp, the Dixie Chicks, the Dave Matthews Band, and the E Street Band all fiddling about. Enough already — how about a cello or something?
BEST ”WE ARE THE WORLD” IMITATION Everybody came out for a version of Patti Smith’s ”People Have the Power” that wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as most all-star finales are at these things. Even the rap group Jurassic 5 sang a verse without sounding silly. But Stipe (who had just sung an impressive ”Because the Night” with the E Street Band) might have been better off standing at a microphone instead of running around the arena showing people his Kerry T-shirt.
What did you think? Did they rock your vote? Was the tour too political or not political enough?