If you were looking for a great place to signify a fresh start, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood would be it. The new $ 5 billion home of Los Angeles NFL teams, the Rams and Chargers, was scheduled to open last July with two Taylor Swift concerts. After the pandemic put an end to these best-laid plans, the stadium finally opened for NFL games in September, but so far they have all been held behind closed doors. This made Vax Live’s guest audience of 27,000 key frontline workers – a fraction of the 70,000 capacity – the first crowd to enter the suitably futuristic stadium, which looks like a giant stainless steel cross section of a Internet router. As Letterman put it from the scene, “Honestly to God, I’ve never been in a spaceport before. You could play soccer here!
Upon arrival, members of the public – many of whom wore hospital scrubs – were asked to provide proof that they had already been fully vaccinated. Inner masks were universally worn by everyone except the performers on stage, and social distancing was maintained with pairs of empty seats separating each family group. Not quite a return to pre-pandemic normalcy yet, then, but when Sean Penn introduced Eddie Vedder for the night’s first performance, the atmosphere immediately started to feel a little more familiar. Vedder blasted full-scale renditions of his band Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” and a cover of Little Steven’s “I Am a Patriot”, assisted by former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. “Holy shit! It’s a feeling we haven’t had in a while, ”Vedder told the crowd. “You look good, and it’s not just your uniforms.”
Vedder went on to speak directly to world leaders and pharmaceutical companies: “If you are a government and you have vaccines, please don’t stock them.” To pharmaceutical companies, he added, “If you really want to be heroes, it would be great if you could distribute this vaccine at no cost.” His speech set the tone for a night with three stated intentions: to thank essential workers for their service during the pandemic, to quell Americans’ reluctance to vaccines, and to call on those in power to ensure that vaccines are deployed in a comprehensive and equitable manner.
This message was repeated not only by those in the stadium, but also by roll call of high profile video messages. Pope Francis has appeared on the big screen to encourage vaccination, after contemptuously confessing to the night’s performers that he “doesn’t sing and dance like you”. President Joe Biden has also appeared on screen alongside his wife, Dr Jill Biden, repeatedly emphasizing that the vaccine is safe. “Every person who gets vaccinated gives us back those moments we missed,” said Dr Biden, whose opening speech was almost drowned out by roars of support from the public.
The biggest spontaneous standing ovation, however, was reserved for Prince Harry’s in-person appearance on the Vax Live stage. He addressed the audience twice – first calling on people to stand up for their “shared humanity” and stressing: “The vaccine must be distributed to everyone everywhere.” In his second speech, he aimed at spreading false information that dissuades some Americans from getting vaccinated. He called disinformation online a “global humanitarian crisis” and added that vaccination slows the spread of the virus: “Misinformation does not just harm those who believe it, but also those who do not believe it. “
While much of the night had the stop-and-go feel of an event primarily designed for the eventual TV audience, it was left to Foo Fighters to raise the hi-tech roof of the SoFi stadium. Their six-song set was the longest and loudest of the night, with singer Dave Grohl visibly moved to return to perform to a live audience for the first time in over a year. He dedicated the band’s 1997 single “My Hero” to the reunited frontline workers, while the climax of their set came with the surprise appearance of AC / DC frontman Brian Johnson who joined the band for. perform “Back in Black”. It is difficult to imagine an event in the history of music that would not have been improved by Brian Johnson coming to sing “Back in Black”.
Every other night it would have been the highlight, but it was Jennifer Lopez who provided the most surreal and memorable moment in Vax Live. On a stage surrounded by flowers, reeds and rushes, Lopez explained to the crowd that the pandemic had meant that she had missed Christmas with her mother for the first time in her life. To celebrate her reunion – and the two are now vaccinated – she chose to cover a song her mother Lupe had once used as a lullaby: “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. It was an unexpected decision, but one that was moving and touching, one of those unique moments that only live music can produce. In the middle of the song, Lopez brought her mother on stage to join her, changing the lyrics to ones she remembered from her childhood.
Whether Vax Live lives up to its presentation of ‘The Concert To Reunite the World’ remains to be seen, but after 14 months of no live music it was enough to hear Lopez gather the thousands of people inside the SoFi Stadium. ‘one voice, singing: “Sweet Jennifer… Bom, bom, bom”.