Red-hot concert warms a cold Earth Day crowd

April 23, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

They were trying to celebrate Earth Day last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, but to tell the truth, Mother Nature didn't seem much in the mood. It was cold, damp, and breezy -- hardly the ideal conditions for lawn seats.

Yet that didn't stop a near-capacity crowd from huddling there and enjoying themselves anyway.

Granted, the fact that they were doing it for a good cause seemed to lighten the discomfort a little.

But what really warmed the audience was the music -- red-hot performances by Midnight Oil, the Robert Cray Band, NRBQ and others.

"Earth Day is the day when the one who created the Earth shows us who's in charge," joked Peter Garrett early on in Midnight Oil's set, but the evening chill seemed to evaporate once the band got into gear.

The Oil started off strong with a brisk, impassioned performance of "God Knows" (from the band's newly-released "Earth and Sun and Moon" album) and built momentum from there.

"My Country," for example, was driving and assertive, while "King of the Mountain" was breathless and exciting.

Nor was the group's impact purely a matter of musical might, as the anti-development "Dream World" drove home an eco-conscious message as well.

Of course, one of the advantages of benefit concerts is that the good feelings associated with helping the cause easily translate into enthusiasm for the performers -- even when it isn't entirely deserved. Thus, though the Violent Femmes spent most of their short set pounding out minor variations on "Blister In the Sun," the trio's unfettered enthusiasm seemed compensation enough for its limited musical palette.

Robert Cray has always made a point of emphasizing the soulful side of the blues, but he outdid himself at Merriweather last night. Between the snap of his rhythm section and the sass of the horn arrangements, Cray's band effortlessly evoked the greasy wallop of a vintage R&B band. At times, I half-expected to hear Otis Redding's voice to erupt from Cray's lean frame.

Cray, of course, doesn't really sing like Redding, but that didn't get in the way when he launched into the Stax-style "Here Comes That Heartache."

Nor did it keep him from making the most of the sizzling "Reconsider," though his horn section did its best to steal the show during the solos.

NRBQ isn't exactly an arena-style act: its sound is too eclectic, its play too chaotic, its repertoire too wide-ranging. Yet the band went over like gangbusters with the Earth Day crowd.

Why? Chalk it up to the band's irrepressible good spirits, which greatly warmed the audience.

True, the 'Q brought along some of its most tuneful and appealing material, including "If I Don't Have You" and the raucous "Wild Weekend."

But the Oddities went over just as well, from their slow, bluesy rendering of "Bye Bye Love" to their authentically cacophonous treatment of Sun Ra's "Rocket Number Nine."

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