The inaugural concert telecast Sunday on HBO from the Lincoln Memorial had a sense of history and seriousness of purpose — sprinkled with a little frat party.
The latter came when Garth Brooks, backed by a youthful chorus, sang the rock staple "Shout." Thousands of spectators raised their hands in the time-honored dance.
What was "Shout" doing there? What, for that matter, was Garth Brooks? The crowd didn't seem to care, perhaps grateful for a little goofiness and a chance to move in the chilly weather.
HBO paid a production company $2.5 million for the rights to show the event, which it made available for free to all cable and satellite customers. It was a near-flawless production with multiple camera angles and a majestic backdrop in the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln.
Through the cast, song selections and readings, the "We Are One" theme was driven home almost to the point of cliche. But it may have felt most real in what seemed like an offhand comment by comic George Lopez.
"I've got one question," he said. "Anyone here from out of town? Well, you're at home now."
Praise for Washington, Hanks, BeyonceActors from Steve Carell to Forrest Whitaker gave readings that served to tie President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration to American history. Remarks by presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were used. The speakers recalled Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at the same Lincoln Memorial, and Marian Anderson singing there after being barred from Constitution Hall.
The best were Denzel Washington, given the job of first outlining the themes, and Tom Hanks. Hanks quoted from Lincoln's speeches as a band played Aaron Copeland's "A Lincoln Portrait."
The musicians did the real inspiring. Bruce Springsteen, backed by dozens of chorale singers, performed "The Rising," the title cut of his album that helped the healing process after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Stevie Wonder joined Usher and Shakira for a hip-shakin' version of Wonder's "Higher Ground." Another strong collaboration was Herbie Hancock, Sheryl Crow and will.i.am doing Bob Marley's "One Love," with will.i.am doing an impromptu rap on racial harmony. James Taylor, John Legend and Jennifer Nettles did a reassuring "Shower the People," although our favorite of that song may have been Taylor's unbilled male backing singer.
And is there any doubt that Beyonce is now the queen of all she surveys? Not only did she get a finale singing "America the Beautiful" on Sunday, she will serenade Obama and his wife Michelle at their first inaugural ball on Tuesday night.
Mary J. Blige did an energetic "Lean on Me" that got the Obamas smiling, although her voice didn't quite have their range for it. Having Josh Groban sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" coming out of a clip of Anderson's Lincoln Memorial version was unfair to both of them. U2 didn't soar quite like you'd expect and Bono did a little too much politicking, trying to draw the Gaza conflict into the day.
At least he knew how to use a microphone. Couldn't someone have told Joe Biden that he didn't have to shout as if he didn't have one?
Kids being kids, Sasha and Malia Obama were polite but didn't have the enthusiasm they will no doubt show when the Jonas Brothers perform for them Monday. Producers were also cursed by a little girl who sat behind the president-elect and several times could be seen sound sleep when the camera cut to him.
Her snooze was no reflection on a show that set a strong standard for three days of inaugural events on TV.