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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION / CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Ultimately, it was virtually perfect pitch

The huge rock-style gathering is a gamble that pays off.

August 29, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

For its final and by definition historic night the Democrats moved their convention to Denver's Invesco Field -- a move meant to express the party's oneness with the people, but a choice not without pitfalls. There was the danger of seeming too pretentious on the one hand, too rock 'n' roll on the other, but also of diffusing the ricocheting energy one can generate in a contained meeting hall in a huge open space built for sports. And it invited ridicule from an opposition that earlier mocked Barack Obama's Berlin love parade, that cast him as a celebrity without substance.

With a day's program that included music from Jennifer Hudson, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder ("a personal highlight for me," CNN's Wolf Blitzer said), it was a bit of an Obamapalooza. Joe Biden showed up unannounced -- to jam, as it were. Perhaps he just wanted to feel what it was like to address a crowd of 84,000.

It was the close of a week that could not have served the Democrats any better, notwithstanding the pundits' narrative of party discord and absurd speculation on whether the Clintons would step up to the plate or publicly stew. As it turned out, that endlessly insisted-upon drama was also a gift, because it amplified the moment for both Clintons. (The cable news coverage was universally long on unenlightening hot air and short on reporting, the self-love of the talking heads perfectly epitomized by Blitzer's rumination on the historic nature of the day -- that people would one day remember, "I was here and I remember Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper talking about it that night.")

The week, which reached its climax on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, made winners even of the party's losers. Defeated 2004 candidate John F. Kerry had a strong showing Wednesday night. Thursday it was Al Gore, who has become a kind of rock star himself in the eight years since he folded his cards and let Bush take the pot. He took the stage to the Aquarian Age strains of "Let the Sunshine In" to tell his inconvenient truths.

In the end, the stadium was a gamble that worked. The size of the venue brought out the bigness in the speakers, rather than dwarfing them. And it looked great, and better as the evening wore on, the flat light of the afternoon giving way to the glow of dusk and finally a twinkling sea of flashbulbs and the sweeping colored spotlights as night came down. It was rock-festival timing.

As speechcraft, Obama's address was a perfectly tuned alternation of peaks and valleys, of quiet passages and brilliant crescendos. After some reserved opening measures, his "Enough!" hit like a power chord, and it was a rock show from then on. "All across America, something is stirring," he said. It was in Denver.

And then there were fireworks -- couldn't have shot those off inside.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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