A deliberately frothy take on an under-documented moment in US politics
A beautiful night: let's pray the parties in four years time are just as euphoric. Washington DC (January 19)
I remember growing up as an English teenager in the mid-’90s and revelling in the excitement of the supposed change in the air. After years of grinding Tory rule that had left the country politically and culturally stagnant, Britpop was blooming and the progressive aura of Tony Blair suggested the UK was finally about to climb
out of the massive rut that was everyday life. In particular, it’s the 1996 Brit Awards that remain ingrained in the memory; I was glued to the telly, watching Oasis sweep the board and Noel Gallagher rewrite the Cocky Bastard Book Of Acceptance Speeches. “There are seven people in this room who are giving hope to young people in this country,” he beamed on a king-size high of champagne and ecstasy. After listing each member of Oasis and throwing in Alan McGee, he then namechecked Tony Blair. “If you’ve got anything about you, you’ll shake Tony Blair’s hand, man. He’s the man! Power to the people!”
His earliest days as Prime Minister saw peace achieved in Northern Ireland and Kosovo, but Blair had so much smoke blown up his arse he would have needed to find a cure for cancer to live up to his messianic pre-election status.In 2009 as a relocated New Yorker, I can see that same sky-high expectancy being placed in Barack Obama by a similar contingent of iconic musicians and it’s a scenario that seems destined to end in another anti-climax. In a way, you can’t blame Americans for wanting to celebrate after the last eight years and revelling in the knowledge that, by electing their first black president, their country is undoubtedly moving in the right direction. It’s a need that certainly contributes heavily to the carnival atmosphere in Washington DC’s Warner Theatre tonight. Everyone’s in their glad rags for what is undoubtedly the most exclusive and most expensive party of inauguration week: Jay-Z’s intimate Eve Of Change concert the night before Barack Obama is sworn in. Not only is Jigga in the form of his life onstage, tonight you can see him feed off the energy of an already excited crowd to create something close to a definitive Jay-Z gig.
The second the curtain goes up to reveal him and his dapper 10-piece band the place erupts; as he rips through
a ferocious ‘Say Hello To The Bad Guy’ barely breaking a sweat, it’s clearer than ever nobody can touch him when he has a mic in his hand. There’s an airing of ‘Brooklyn (Go Hard)’ from his forthcoming opus ‘Blueprint 3’, and the giant screens beam out everything from images of Tiananmen Square to Nirvana destroying their gear, but these are sideshows to Jay-Z’s awesome vocal and lyrical prowess.
Of course, it’s not long before the Obama references filter through and, at first, it’s stirring stuff. Jay and Jeezy trade off on the latter’s ‘My President Is Black’ before tailing off into a special a cappella rap during which Jay decrees “Obama ran so that our children could fly”. But over the course of the night, these vignettes of hope for the future seem to slowly transform into the unrealistic sense that Obama is a silver bullet for America’s (if not the entire world’s) ills. From out of nowhere, Mary J Blige arrives onstage looking stunning and whips the room up even further by doing a swift medley of songs including ‘Real Love’ and ‘You Bring Me Joy’. But her entire contribution is spoiled when she starts wittering on about Obama’s election being the end of segregation and how the world is now starting to work in unity. She makes it sound as if all racism and inequality is going to end at 5pm on inauguration day and the unbearably sappy version of U2’s ‘One’ is a real low point of the night.
Jay thankfully returns and blows the stage up with ‘99 Problems’ before his other half dances over the rubble while peforming an all-too-brief ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’. Her appearance alone is enough to leave people crying, but this frenzied peak is again brought down by a conclusion during which Jay passes out champagne to the front row and toasts the four “beautiful” years that are about to begin. Wishful thinking to say the least. The change Obama promised will come – if only because it absolutely has to – but on the strength of tonight, the expectancy and euphoria still being stoked up by Jay-Z and the rest of the celebrity soapbox liberals is disproportionate to the diffculties that lie ahead and will inevitably result in some Blair-sized disappointments unless there’s a short sharp reality check. The real parties to go to will be the ones that follow the closure of Guantanamo Bay, or a serious turn in financial fortunes, or even the implementation of vaguely affordable healthcare. Let’s just hope Jay-Z will be on hand to celebrate those red-letter days in American history sooner rather than later.
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