I’ve never used this forum to review a concert before; however, this seemed an opportune time to start.
Yesterday was Veterans Day. In celebration of the holiday, HBO and Starbucks – along with a bunch of major musicians and celebrities – put on a celebration to veterans on the Mall in DC. Organizers planned for approximately 800,000 people to show up and enjoy the show.
Several people I know elected not to attend, fearing the size of the crowd and the logistics of getting in and out of DC. Not to mention the fact that the show was being telecast live on HBO!
I, on the other hand, was motivated to see Bruce Springsteen live – something I’ve never done before – as well as many of the other acts perform. I also used the rationale that when people take the time to say thanks to our veterans, you actually have to show up, otherwise, the whole thing rings hollow.
So here’s how I saw the show: the good and the bad.
The line-up of musicians was amazing! The fact they “donated” their time to support the event speak volumes about them as people and not just artists.
The crowd! According to the local news, only 3 people were arrested last night (for fence jumping!?). We met several, nice, single-serving friends that saved our spot when we needed to stretch our legs and wander around the pen we were enclosed in – which is a decent segue…
It was a free show – so everything that follows is simply a critique, not a complaint. Had I shelled out bucks to attend, it would be a different story…
With 800,000 planned for attendance, I didn’t have high hopes for a decent view. We arrived on the Mall around 3:30pm, made our way through security, and found our way to the pen we would stay in for the rest of the evening. However, the pen nearest the stage — a vast area that could easily hold about 100,000 people was as vacant as a megachurch parking lot on a Tuesday!
We had to ask, what was that area reserved for? Come to find out that HBO and Starbucks (and the National Park Service) preselected people to fill in this area. As organizers of the event, I guess that was their prerogative – and we heard they made sure that a good number of the tickets were distributed to military units so active duty soldiers, zoomies, squids and jarheads could attend (forgive my service bias…). Couldn’t, and won’t, argue with that. The folks that made the first pen saw a decent show — everyone else, not so much.
The stage was so low to the ground it was impossible to see even the outline of a performer on stage. Fortunately, there were big screens lining both sides of the mall for the “props” in attendance. Unfortunately, the sound system was so poor that you could have a conversation with the person next to you, in a hushed voice, that carried over the music.
The show started promptly at 7:00pm — after all, HBO had a schedule to keep. They opened the grounds at 10:00am for people to fill in (sans the VIP pen), so for nine hours, people did – well, not much of anything but camp out. The organizers really failed on this — they could have had local music acts playing throughout the day.
But when you get down to it, this concert was not about those in attendance — it was tailor made for those watching at home on HBO – the vast majority of the crowd was nothing more than a prop for the event.
Many of you may have watched the show on HBO, so no need to provide a setlist – though if you’re interested, you can find it here.
Just my observations – I’m a Dave Grohl fan. Love the Foo Fighters and can’t wait to see them on the 4th of July at RFK Stadium in DC! That said, Dave did acoustic versions of My Hero and Everlong (and I love both!). As I mentioned, the sound system was really poor and the crowd lacked any energy – maybe everyone was trying to be as quiet as a church mouse to hear the music – but the set fell flat.
The Black Keys and Zac Brown Band were both great sets! Not sure if the organizers did anything to fix the audio – probably not – I just think both bands kicked it up a couple notches and got the crowd in to the show. Highlight of the night was watching Zac with Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen play Credence Clearwater’s Fortunate Son.
Speaking of Bruce – he went the Dave Grohl route – played three songs that barely registered with the crowd. While I loved the melodic take on Born in the USA – a song that was so overplayed in the 80’s that I can barely listen to today without putting the Canadian Bacon twist on it – in front of 800,000 it put about half the crowd to sleep.
Hit of the night was without a doubt Metallica. When we got home, HBO was repeating the show and it was right at the point of Metallica’s set. Watching it on TV was much flatter than being there – not sure I could say that about many of the other acts. Raw, driving performance that was able to get the crowd engaged and head banging. I was hoping Zac Brown would join them on Enter Sandman (his cover is amazing!), but that wasn’t to be…
We left the show with Rhianna on the stage and only Eminem to follow. I still can’t figure out why the organizers felt that Eminem was the best act to close the show out — we watched his set on DVR when we got home and wow! So happy we left when we did and avoided the crowd on the Metro. I wouldn’t say he was awful – but less than stellar is as kind as I can get.
All in all, for a free concert, it’s hard to complain. The show did exactly what it was intended to do — give HBO subscribers a fun show to watch from home and hopefully get people to donate their time and/or money to Veteran’s causes. Speaking of which, while their are plenty of worthy causes – please check the administrative fees for any charity you donate to. The higher the percentage, the less money you donate actually goes to those the charity is designed to support.
So I’ll make a shameless plug: If you want to help soldiers and veterans, please consider donating to The Fisher House. Only about 5% of your donation goes to administrative and fundraising costs, meaning that 95 cents of every dollar donated goes to homes the foundation has near military and VA hospitals so families can be near their loved ones while recovering from surgeries without shelling out hundreds if not thousands in bills. Please read more about them and give generously! Thanks!