Walden Concert, festive, heartfelt...
Organizers of the Walden Woods Project have had their ups and downs in preserving Henry David Thoreau's stomping grounds, but they sure know how to put on a concert.
Last night's six-hour benefit show, which netted $1 million from a capacity crowd of 48,000 fans, was a smooth-running affair that seemed more like an intimate, small theater show than a cavernous stadium event.
"The easy part is playing. It's leading up to the concert that's hard. That's why I've lost my voice," rock singer/Walden Woods head Don Henley said before the late afternoon show began.
Henley rallied, however. He climaxed the show on an upsweep ("It's an unwritten rule that whoever puts a benefit show on must close it," he said). He sang with a noticeable rasp, but with an emotional urgency that mirrored his concern for Thoreau's endangered woods. Henley mixed Eagles songs (Hotel California, Desperado) with familiar solo hits (Sunset Grille, Dirty Laundry) and a sarcastic new version of Well, Well, Well (written by Bob Dylan and Danny O'Keefe) which he dedicated "to developers everywhere."
The lyrics lambasted human greed.
Joining Henley midway was Key West pied piper Jimmy Buffett, seeking to add "a little tropicalism," he said. And it was little, since Buffett did just a two-song cameo, gliding through 'Margaritaville' and 'Volcano' with Henley's band. But his last-minute addition to the lineup was widely credited with selling the show out.
The concert got off to a rocking start with Melissa Etheridge, the former Berklee College of Music student who set the day's tempo with the forceful 'Ain't It Heavy'. After belting the song out to the shirt-sleeved multitudes (who threw beach balls and celebrated the Labor Day holiday in party-hearty fashion), she said, "I know you're here for this awesome lineup of music, but I know somewhere in there you also care."
Wailing like a female Bob Seger, she raced through her new single, I'm the Only One, and wove in a song befitting the day's "love-in" vibes: Marvin Gaye's enduring 'Let's Get It On'.
Elton John, going on early because he had a plane to catch, then pushed the energy level into overdrive. The sun hadn't gone down, but John steamed ahead like a midnight rambler, pounding out classic hits such as 'Philadelphia Freedom', 'Take Me to the Pilot' and 'Bitch is Back', which was repopularized by Tina Turner a few years back. Dressed in a white knit shirt and leather pants (all his band wore leather), John was fired up.
"I support anything that's as well-organized and as passionate as this," John said earlier in the press tent, where 300 media types (from all over New England and from Rolling Stone, MTV and VH-1) hung on his every word as he sat beside Henley, Sting and Etheridge, touting their environmental concerns.
One hopes that the day's radio broadcast - carried by 200 stations on the Westwood One syndicate, including Boston's WBCN and WBOS - had as good a sound mix as fans heard inside the stadium. The quality sound was another plus for the Walden Woods organizers. Sting, the night's most charismatic performer, kept the momentum high with a bevy of hits from his days with the Police ('Synchronicity', 'King of Pain', 'Roxanne' and 'Everything She Does is Magic').
All were instant crowd-pleasers and evoked memories of the 1983 concert which the Police sold out this same stadium. Sting also caught the crowd off-guard with a wrenching, over-the-top treatment of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'. It made perfect sense that John Lennon would be remembered on this benefit occasion.
Delivering the hard-rock knockout punch was Boston's own Aerosmith, who followed Sting with a solid half-hour of vintage tracks (Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way) and newer solo hits such as 'Livin' on the Edge' and 'Crying'.
Steven Tyler's screeching falsetto sent shock waves through the crowd, helping peak a festive, well-balanced show that did Walden Woods justice.
(c) The Boston Globe by Steve Morse