RE: Stewart/Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Coming it at about 2.5 times the size of Glenn Beck’s Aug 28 event, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s much buzzed-about Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, held last Saturday at the National Mall here in D.C., was by most accounts a smashing success. Luckily for this blog, the most memorable moments of the three-plus hour stage show were all musical in nature. (Although overall Most Memorable honors would probably have to go to some of the hilarious signs and spot-on Lincoln bears I saw in the crowd!)

The Roots came to the stage first and stayed for the duration of the show as a kind of house band. With help from the soulful piano and vocals of John Legend, they played a wonderful set of songs from this year’s How I Got Over, as well as a few 70’s protest covers from the even newer Roots-Legend disc Wake Up.

Shortly after Stewart and Colbert made their entrances, Stewart introduced a performer none of us could have dreamed we’d see: Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens! (Sidebar: I suppose it’s not that rare to see Yusuf these days. After swearing off all instrumental music for about 25 years, the Muslim convert has released two albums of new folk-pop tunes since 2006. My theory is that the amazement of seeing him now comes more from the fact that Yusuf was out of the picture back in the early 90’s, an era when most hippie-era singers were portly, balding, overly reminiscent 40-somethings who were forever shilling some kind of new CD box set on Bob Costas’ talk-show. In other words, we’re not already sick of Yusuf Islam. Quite the contrary: Tea for the Tillerman is insane!)

Anyway, as I’m sure you know about by now, Yusuf’s performance of “Peace Train” was interrupted by Colbert (“I’m not getting on that train!”), who then led Ozzy Osbourne to the stage to perform his signature “Crazy Train”. Some hilarious back-and-forthing, and the conflict was eventually resolved by the O’Jay’s, who came out to sing the always-agreeable “Love Train.”

Other musical highlights included Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy’s understated performance of this year’s “You’re Not Alone”, as well as Tony Bennett’s acappella take on “America the Beautiful”. Least Essential Performance definitely goes to Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow who, after an embarrassingly glowing intro by Stewart, gave a phoned-in performance of a phoned-in song of phoned-in emotion. (But really, what should we have expected?)

The show closed with a twelve-minute monologue by Stewart. Some people out there claim this moment was a wasted as an opportunity Stewart could have used to remind rallygoers to vote three days later on Election Day (Hey! That’s today!!). Although I’m still processing my official take on the event, my gut reaction is to agree here. While it’s true that Stewart and Colbert ultimately derive their credibility by being equal-opportunity lampooners (i.e., by making fun of CNN right alongside making fun of FOX), a simple, non-partisan “rock the vote!” message would have put a humble and ultimately satisfying stamp on an otherwise lightweight, ironic gathering. You have more than 200,000 people hanging on your every word: Why not close by encouraging them to participate in democracy?


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