- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

REVIEW:

No meeting of the political and pop elite would be complete without the participation of the President and Vice President of the Beatified States of Self-Anointment — Bono and Bruce Springsteen.

The balding pair happily participated in Sunday’s star-studded “We Are One” inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, but the stealer of the show turned out not to be Barack Obama or Joseph R. Biden Jr., but retired country singer Garth Brooks.

Departing from a carefully carpentered script that featured granite-like recitations of quotes from dead white guys and musical selections with some relevance to the day’s theme — unity, or love, or something — the Large-Hatted One played to the lowest common denominator of wedding-reception rock with abridged covers of Don McLean’s “American Pie” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout!”

The tens of thousands gathered around the frozen Reflecting Pool ate it up — finally, if briefly, coming alive amid two hours of portentous speech-making that petrified (as in, turned to stone) even the comedians Jack Black, Steve Carrell and “Harold and Kumar” star Kal Penn.

Is this a great country or what?

After a military-band’s snippet of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Mr. Springsteen emerged with acoustic guitar to perform a not-quite-rousing “The Rising.” His voice sounded like the giant marble Abraham Lincoln behind him was sitting on his chest, and he was all too happy to share vocals with one of the afternoon’s many black gospel choir groups.

Afternoon temperatures that inched toward 40 degrees were a merciful reprieve from the area’s recent cold snap, but it was chilly enough for the celebs to show off some fab outerwear. (That was fake fur, wasn’t it, Queen Latifah?)

On James Taylor’s head: a Russian ushanka hat.

With neo-soul great John Legend and country singer Jennifer Nettles at his side, Mr. Taylor broke out the lovey-dovey “Shower the People.” So it was a bit incongruous that he looked like a soldier in the Red Army.

The color of John Mellencamp’s air-chilled face, impossible to mask in the light of HBO’s high-definition signal: pink.

Perfect for “Pink Houses.”

One of the coolest features, production-wise, of the rally was a pair of sliding faux-marble walls behind which the stage was reset for each act. Between each performance, actors including Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Hanks read passages from past presidential inaugurals, and Martin Luther King III drew an appropriate parallel to the moment of his father’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech on the very same ground.

Queen Latifah recalled another glorious moment at the Lincoln: black opera singer Marian Anderson’s performance on Easter Sunday, 1939. That nugget of history was followed by an appropriate segue into an emotional rendering of the traditional “America” (better known by its opening line, “My country, ‘tis of thee”) by pop-classical singer Josh Groban and R&B songstress Heather Headley.

Since the incoming administration is all about sharing and stuff, the entertainment came in double- and triple-packaging. Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi were terrific as duet partners on the must-do Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Less than the sum of their parts were Sheryl Crow, will i. am and Herbie Hancock assaying Bob Marley’s “One Love.”

Obama fave Stevie Wonder had to share “Higher Ground” with upstarts Usher and Shakira. The youngsters were like lead weights in Mr. Wonder’s saddle.

Bono, who’d been touted alone in the pre-rally literature, was joined by his U2 bandmates for the obligatory, MLK-themed “Pride (In the Name of Love),” plus the Obama campaign mainstay “City of Blinding Lights.”

The singer’s pipes were shot, and his broaching of the conflict in Gaza was awkward and ill-advised.

The most thrilling moment of the afternoon, a friend on site reported to me, was its least planned: a flock of geese flying in V formation directly over the memorial during the crescendo of Mr. Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses.”

They only thing nature’s Air Force was missing — cowboy hats.

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