*Bono, The Edge, Lady Gaga, Usher, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Chesney, Juanes, K'naan
*A Decade of Difference: A Concert Celebrating 10 Years of the William J. Clinton Foundation.
*October 15, 2011
Bill Clinton loves two things. (Besides those.) He loves doing good deeds, and he loves being praised for those good deeds. Last night at the Bowl the Hollywood elite came out in full force -- including right-baiting Hollywood boogiepeople like Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Barbra Streisand -- for a concert that was, at times, as thrilling as it was politically correct.
Ellen DeGeneres called Clinton a "hero," Usher told him he loved him and, in celebration of his 65th birthday, Lady Gaga attempted to seduce him, Marilyn Monroe style. At times you got the feeling that some of this may have been unscripted.
After long lines but no actionable friskings, the crowd settled in, some of them having paid $10k for a box or more. And then, out of nowhere -- Stevie Wonder -- sitting behind a piano singing "Sir Duke," you know, the one about how you can feel it all over.
The last time Wonder came to the Bowl there were murmurings that he hadn't given it his all; some have begun to question if Wonder is even his real last name. But last night he brought it, even if he did lazily request the audience to sing the beginning of "Superstition" for him. Once he started playing that sweet Stevie Wonder harmonica in that very-identifiable register everyone likes, you began to feel the almost-entirely-white crowd viscerally appreciate their expensive entertainment. It helped that "Superstition" resembled a Phish jam, at least in length.
Before that was an intro video featuring footage from Clinton's last day in office, which was already more than ten years ago now. Folks like Tony Blair and Elton John sung his praises in the piece, along with Jay-Z, who dropped the "first black president" line. Only, hadn't we agreed to retire that one, now that we have an actual first black president?
Journalist Laura Ling -- whom Clinton rescued from North Korea, the story goes -- came out and thanked him, at which time the camera cut to him in the crowd for the first time. He was sitting next to Hillary Clinton, of all people, with Chelsea on his other side. They had amazing seats.
Kenny Chesney's appearance was the evening's clearest bit of affirmative action, a country-western quota to try to win red state converts. (By the way, what is western music, exactly?) Around the time he started talking about hanging out with Sammy Hagar in Cabo -- and then sang about having another beer in Mexico -- we hit the facilities. That and the popcorn stand, which has the longest line at the Bowl.
Next up was K'naan, a 33 year old singer-songwriter in the NPR vein, not without his charms. "I come from a country called Somalia," he imparted, at which time audience members began nervously whispering to each other about this strange land, of which they'd never heard.
He recalled Wyclef Jean in his tunefulness, as well as his awkward rapport with the crowd. "When Clinton took office in 1992, my country was in the middle of a terrible war," he said, maybe 15 minutes into his set, before pausing. "Oh, they're telling me to wrap it up." Bono came out to perform a track with him, in any case, and by the end K'naan had the audience lapping him up.
Up next was a guy from Colombia with a guitar called Juanes, who looked like someone super famous with a lot of followers, both male and female. He rocked en Espanol, and Clinton appeared to really dig it. Bubba looked pretty not-bad in his dark blue three piece suit, by the way, despite possessing that thin, slightly-unsettling look of someone who has undergone heart surgery.
Meanwhile, Juanes kept playing; each of the initial acts got about four songs, which is a bit much for something like this. (The show stretched out for nearly four hours.) Fortunately, next up was the evening's highlight.
Sporting long hair (is nappy considered a pejorative, post-Imus, a simple descriptor, or something only applicable to rap groups from Kentucky?) Usher came onstage. He delivered "With A Little Help From My Friends" in the straight-up Joe Cocker, Wonder Years style, with the inflections, back-up singers and everything.
But the Bowl really came on board for "Yeah," or if you prefer, "Yeah!" Sadly, Lil Jon and Ludacris were nowhere to be seen -- unlike Jay and, oddly, Lil Wayne, neither has made the list of presidential-approved rap acts. But backed by light-up blocks spelling out Y-E-A-H, the track got the whole mass of folks up on their feet, despite the fact that, "on a 1 to 10, she's a certified 20" doesn't make any logical sense.
Somehow, though, Ursh hadn't peaked yet, which happened with "OMG," filling me suddenly with the strange desire to attend an actual Usher concert. Hillary loved it, too, like, clapping and swaying and everything. At one point while dancing he split his pants, which caused Ellen to later make fun of him.
Lady Gaga came out in this, like, enchanted forest tree house set, wearing a hat that looked like a giant mushroom. Her outfit? Let's just call it a lengthy, nude-colored piece of parchment. Perhaps in a nod to Clinton's veganism, she wasn't wearing a single piece of meat.
For "Born this Way" she played a piano atop the stylized tree house, a structure whose cost could have surely supported numerous Clinton Foundation initiatives for some time. (Alternate, poor-taste joke: It could have literally served as a substantial dwelling for some.)
But the ends probably justified the means, and she certainly made the affair worth Bill's while, wishing him happy birthday and strutting out directly in front of him on the catwalk. He looked hike he was going to have another heart attack, at this point, Hillary too. "I'm not going to take my clothes off, don't worry," Gaga assured everyone. Still -- and we could be wrong, but our box-mates concurred -- she seemed to be using a mic modeled after a flesh-colored dildo.
Clinton speech and Bono and The Edge review below.
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After the intermission Bill and Chelsea came out, and he joked about Gaga's "Marilyn moment." Oh, and then he made a crack about Ling, "a girl I picked up in North Korea," at which point Hillary made her "Oh, Bill," face. (She's good. Although, as Secretary of State, she's also on the clock, and isn't California about six hours by plane in the wrong direction from all the unstable international action?)
It's always fun to hear Clinton speak, especially in a time of low Obama poll numbers. "No one ever climbs a ladder alone," he said, talking about the importance of donating and mentoring and whatnot, although that statement also doesn't make any sense. Still, it was over too soon, and then Bono and The Edge came up to bore the shit out of everyone.
Seriously, when you've heard "Desire" on the radio upwards of 8,500 times, what would make you want to hear it in a live setting sans rhythm section? There were ten tons of celebrities present last night -- Bonnie Rait sat next to Hillary, and Ashton Kutcher, Maria Bello, and Jason Segel presented -- but there's no one I would have rather seen more than the other two members of U2. "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," wasn't too bad, but "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" acoustic made us want to start finding peace accords to unravel.
Which led Bono to his next Bubba compliment. He called him, "By far the most beloved American since JFK, to the Irish." Then he thanked Hillary for her work in the Middle East, and then they brought out a string section. During "One," a video montage of a buffalo running on the plains played in the background. Ah, liberalism.