WASHINGTON — There were maybe a couple hundred thousand people on your National Mall Saturday afternoon. The main draw at the “Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” was a mock battle of wits between Jon Stewart, who was hyping reason and civility, and Stephen Colbert, who was hyping … well, hype. The two Comedy Central stars brought onstage figures from the news who represented outstanding reasonableness or fear-mongering — but musical guest-stars were a good part of the 3-hour show, too. They did a lot of hand-offs and group singing—though that was balanced nicely at the end when Tony Bennett strode out under the clear blue sky in the perfect sweatshirt weather to offer a snazzy casual take on “God Bless America,” done a capella.
But the best performance of the afternoon amounted to a game of “Can You Top This?” with clever choices of guests. Stewart sent up Yusuf (nee Cat Stevens) to sing “Peace Train.” Two verses in, Colbert waved off the Muslim-convert folkie to say that he had a different train in mind—and then came the fast-chugging bass and Ozzy Osbourne leapt up from stage right to start everyone into “Crazy Train.” Gradually Yusuf wrested the mic and had his acoustic hippie dream lullaby started up again, then Ozzy charged back into his chugging metal anthem…until Stewart commanded the stage and said that this kind of wrangling had to stop. They all had to figure out which train they could agree on. Suddenly the back of the stage burst open and the O’Jays ran up to start “Love Train” and the crowd went wild at the triumph of musical cross-pollination and happy diversity.
At the other end of the musical spectrum? Jeff Tweedy overemphasizing a painful whisper without even a memorable chorus. It was out of place for an afternoon where the big tent stretched more in the direction of showing Kid Rock’s sincerity in a good light. —T.E. Lyons