Live: Bill Clinton’s ‘Decade of Difference’ party at Hollywood Bowl
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Saturday was likely the first time in pop music history that a performer made a pass at a former president and his secretary of State spouse at a live concert.
“I just love you and your hot wife,” Lady Gaga said, writhing like a breathy, smitten Marilyn Monroe on the Hollywood Bowl stage mere feet from Bill Clinton, his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea. Gaga described her life as a screwy embodiment of the American dream in eyebrow-raising language, and she praised the Clintons by promising that “tonight, I thought we’d all get caught up in a little Bill romance.”
And with that she bucked into a Clinton-specific take on “Bad Romance” that left the full house at the Bowl wondering whether this concert celebrating 10 years of the Clinton Foundation’s work to fight disease, poverty and violence had just been scandalized.
The concert, “A Decade of Difference,” doubled as Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday party and brought out a group of activism-inclined singers to fete the initiative and a former president currently on an unexpected tide of nostalgia, based largely on the foundation’s work abroad on a variety of economic and political justice issues and its efforts at combating disease.
Stevie Wonder, Kenny Chesney, the Somali singer K’Naan, Colombian rocker Juanes, Usher and U2’s Bono and the Edge joined Gaga for a four-hour show that felt a bit like a pop music Davos -- a reminder that the big players of geopolitics still look to musicians for a certain vitality and influence.
The ever-luminous Wonder started the night with such soul-funk staples as “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” the latter of which was embraced as President Obama’s ad hoc theme song in the 2008 campaign. Laura Ling, one of two Current TV reporters that Clinton rescued from a North Korean jail in 2009, gave an introductory speech before Chesney’s easygoing acoustic set.
Chesney, one the most low-key guys in country, felt like the exotic one on a stage full of Somalis, Colombians, Irish and globe-hopping politicians (though Clinton did thank him later for not making him the only guy onstage with a Southern accent).
K’Naan, a very likable singer-songwriter who pulls from reggae, East African jazz and rock balladry, had a rough time onstage, with sound problems that led to a couple of false starts and a clear discomfort in performing (even when Bono came out to duet on a new tune). But his story of turning from child soldier in a war–ravaged country to international pop star still carried the night -- his redemptive single “Wavin’ Flag” won over a Bowl crowd already inclined to uplift.
Juanes had an easier go of it, with the bluesy, dub-infused rock of “La Camisa Negra” lending a bit of muscle to a night full of an earnest global pop. Colombia is a success story of post-Clinton-era economic revival, and Juanes -- a major star throughout the Americas -- is an excellent ambassador for it.
There are few pleasures in concert-going like watching a sitting secretary of State get low to Usher’s tag-team crunk smash “Yeah.” The R&B star’s quick set fulfilled one reviewer’s private hope that Hillary Clinton listened to Lil Jon before planning sanctions on Iran. (And a goofy short film about the Clinton Foundation’s “Celebrity Division” with Ben Stiller, Ted Danson and others planning failed ventures got widespread chuckles).
Bono and the Edge closed out the night with a congenial acoustic set of hits they described as -- “you (shelling) out a million quid for a couple Irish buskers.”As a member of a group known for multimillion-dollar stage rigs, the Edge got laughs for cuing up a few wrong drum loops on his onstage laptop, but ‘Man and a Woman’ had what Bono called ‘red-eyed soul’ in spades. U2 is perhaps the most activism-oriented band going today, and it acknowledged the particular Irish affection for the Clintons’ help in resolving the north-south Troubles, leading to a more peaceable Ireland.
But the night was Gaga’s, even if her kittenish and bawdy set might have made for an interesting ride home from the Bowl in the Clinton caravan. Playing atop what looked like a Nordic tree fort, she dedicated “You & I” to Hillary with some eyebrow-cocking overtones. Even Bill had to admit in a later speech, “I thought I was going to have a heart attack from Gaga on my birthday.”
Where does that lie in the color-coded chart of homeland security threats?
[For the record: 7:40 p.m., Oct. 16: Earlier, this post incorrectly referred to lyrics as being from a new song by U2.]
-- August Brown
Bottom photo: Usher performs his rendition of the Beatles’ song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ during a benefit concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Clinton Global Initiative at the Hollywood Bowl.