by AARON MEGAR
On Tuesday night, the nation’s capital held witness to three hours of American pride and awesome music as a crowd stretched from the Capitol building to the Washington Monument to see the Starbucks and HBO sponsored “Concert for Valor.” The crowd, which was estimated to be of at least 800,000 people, came for free to watch performances by Eminem, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Carrie Underwood, Dave Grohl, the Black Keys, Zac Brown Band, and Jessie J, all of who played in honor of our nation’s troops to celebrate this year’s Veterans Day.
As a Veterans Day tribute, the concert was a massive success, sharing the stories of different Afghanistan and Iraq War vets between each performance with introductions by celebrities varying from Tom Hanks to Oprah Winfrey. With “U.S.A.” chants erupting every ten minutes, the night could have not felt more patriotic, and the Capitol standing behind the massive, illuminated stage gave the crowd a sense of American pride that simply could not be matched anywhere else in the world.
In an effort to gain support for the nation’s veterans, celebrities continued to come on stage and offer different ways to donate money, which seemed to be the overall cause behind the concert as it was aired for free on HBO across the country in order to further spread the message.
In terms of music, the night was full of stars, but not entirely of awesome performances. I stood right in the middle of the crowd, equidistant from the Capitol and the Monument, and while the audience was loud and proud for Jessie J’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” most of the night they remained fairly quiet for what you’d expect out of 800,000+ people.
The unanimous favorite song of the night was “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, which closed the show with more energy and passion than I had scene throughout the entire evening. The lyrics roared through the air as every fan who knew the words rapped along, and eventually a couple of fences were knocked over in effort for eager viewers (like myself) to get closer to the self proclaimed “Rap God.” The song was preceded by “Not Afraid,” which for me was the second best performance of the night, though Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” and the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” were undoubtedly awesome as well.
Metallica’s music shook the mall with screaming guitar and blasting drums, and their fan base was clearly identifiable, jumping and rocking along with all of their songs. Among them, “Enter Sandman” seemed to get the crowd fired up with adrenaline that would only be matched that night with “Lose Yourself,” as almost every other performance was slow and acoustic, including Bruce Springsteen’s which to me was a massive disappoint.
Being about as American as a one can get, my friends and I had massive expectations for “The Boss.” I have always been a major Springsteen fan, and especially after seeing him on his Radio Nowhere tour when I was a little kid, my appreciation for his talent and long catalogue of music has been matched by few artists to this day. His performance, however, was both controversial and dissatisfactory. First off, it was an acoustic set, which didn’t mesh with crowd-favorites “Born in the USA” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Both songs are meant for loud drum beats and passionate vocals, but as Springsteen sat quietly with his acoustic 6-string, the emotion simply wasn’t there.
On top of that, Springsteen had the audacity to play not one, but two anti-war songs at a concert that was honoring veterans. While “Born in the USA”‘s chorus may sound just as red, white, and blue as the Pledge of Allegiance, the lyrics aren’t quite as patriotic, criticizing the Vietnam War draft and the treatment that veterans received when returning home.
Though the song is in fact speaking out about the struggles faced by post-war veterans in the United States, the song’s anti-war nature was still heavily criticized by the media on Wednesday as an inappropriate song for the evening. I think that Bruce really did mean well, hoping to appeal to and spread the message of how our nation’s veterans deserve a lot more than they are given upon their return, but in an evening meant to celebrate the troops, the song did not give off that vibe.
Another issue emerged from Springsteen’s performance of the Creedence Clearwater Revival track, “Fortunate Son,” where he was accompanied on stage by Dave Grohl and Zac Brown for a song that consisted of a similar anti-war theme. There is a time and a place for such music, and again, I believe Springsteen chose the wrong crowd.
One of the biggest stars to take the stage Tuesday night was Rihanna, who sang “Diamonds” and “Stay” before going on to join Eminem for their collaborative track, “The Monster.” The first two worked well next to each other, both carrying a slow and relaxed tone that allowed for the 26-year-old superstar to showcase her phenomenal vocals to the massive crowd. “Stay” was packed tight with emotion and seemed to have clearly captivated the crowd, all in all coming together as one of the night’s top sets.
Dave Grohl’s set was surprisingly slow paced for the former Nirvana member and current Foo Fighters frontman. Like Springsteen, Grohl went acoustic, but his performance did not disappoint, as songs like “Everlong” and “My Hero” sounded beautiful and poetic in recognition of the country’s veterans. Like Rihanna, his full set would be at the top of my list with Eminem’s, though nobody could reach the level that Slim Shady did on the National Mall on Tuesday night.
For somebody who’s only been to the mall four times now, the entire show, regardless of the acts, was a spectacle in and of itself. The music was, at the end of the day, incredible, and their truly was a sense of American patriotism in the air throughout the night. The respect for our nation’s veterans was clear and dignified, and it was without a doubt that made me feel proud to be an American.