MANSFIELD, Massachusetts The closing stretch of Saturday's Kiss Concert 2002 seemed more like an episode of "Divas Live" than your average radio show, though "average" isn't a term one hears around Boston station Kiss 108's annual bashes.
"I have never seen one this big," India.Arie said after her short Tweeter Center set, which was preceded by Alicia Keys and followed by No Doubt, Vanessa Carlton, Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige and Shakira (the last three of whom had indeed just taped "Divas Las Vegas" for VH1). "It seems like everybody's here!"
And that was only the second half of an 11-hour concert, the 23rd annual show of its kind for Kiss 108, raising more than $200,000 for the Genesis Fund to treat birth defects. Other performers included Alanis Morissette, the Goo Goo Dolls, Marc Anthony, Craig David, the Calling and Aaron Carter.
"This is the original radio show," said fan Regan McKendry, 21, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, attending for the third year and claiming no ties to the station. "It can't be duplicated. Others try, but this is the biggest and best."
His sister Katie, 15, sported a Goo Goo Dolls T-shirt, while her friends favored Morissette and No Doubt. "It kicks ass every year," she said of the show.
The marathon began just after noontime with divas-in-training Soluna, Jade Anderson, Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch, but kicked in with Morissette's late-afternoon set.
Wearing jeans in keeping with a fashion trend that stretched from Dion to Anthony (whose casual denim ensemble suggested a truck driver more than a suave Latin star), plus a touch of hair glitter, Morissette paced the stage and stirred the young, largely female crowd with "You Oughta Know." Then the singer accepted a cake and serenade from her crew for her 28th birthday, aptly followed by her meditation "Thank U."
Following in the footsteps of past Kiss Concert acts Britney Spears, 'NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, Aaron Carter served a teen-pop set high on bouncy steps with a crew of dancers plus a cameo on "Baby It's You" from Backstreet brother Nick, looking dapper in a stylish cap.
A few performers relied on backing tracks, but most of the headliners either used large bands (Anthony rocked "I Need to Know" with lots of horns, singers and percussion) or took an organic turn. Alex Band and Aaron Kamin of the Calling performed such favorites as "Wherever You Will Go" as an acoustic duo after playing earlier with their full band. Craig David traded soulful singing and nimble raps over acoustic guitar. Vanessa Carlton charmed on piano with "A Thousand Miles." And India.Arie began with a folk-jazz cover of "Summertime," her band also working in a stripped-down acoustic setting.
In contrast, while Grammy-soaked star Keys played a Kurzweil keyboard rather than a grand piano and had a DJ in her band instead of a drummer, there was nothing stripped down about her presentation. While she levitated fans with the cycling gospel overtones of "Fallin' " at the keys, the singer showed that she also wanted to rock the mic, prancing about the stage with her bulldog-like cheerleader, MC Freak Nasty.
"I don't want to ever feel like people will see me and say, 'Well, I know what she's going to do,' " Keys said backstage. "You never know what I'm going to do." As she prepares to launch the second half of her U.S. tour in July, the singer said, "To do these kinds of shows where it's so much fun, you can experiment, and try little things different. Like today, I tried something different. Just me on the keys and my DJ, going back [and forth] with records and me playing."
The Goo Goo Dolls delivered a solid rock set, from opener "Slide" to chart-topping hit "Iris." But it was No Doubt who practically stole the show, their stage act honed from a current tour, boosted by auxiliary keyboard/horn players. Like a non-stop bundle of energy in tartan pants, vocalist Gwen Stefani was a commanding focal point for the colorful crew, doing push-ups in fan favorite "Just a Girl" and slow-dancing with ex-beau bassist Tony Kanal in "Don't Speak."
The "Divas"-style home stretch was all about the vocal pipes. Dion played with dynamics more on "A New Day Has Come," but obliged the crowd with a powerhouse rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." Blige never let up in her short set, aided by backup singers and occasional dancers, peaking with a soul-shaking version of "No More Drama" that nodded to our post-Sept. 11 world. And Colombian dynamo Shakira shook both the rafters and her lithe body, while taking a breather with an acoustic, partial-band version of "Underneath Your Clothes," adding some harmonica.
It was simply another memorable Kiss Concert for Ann Saulnier, 39, of Gilford, New Hampshire, who attended with her older sisters. "We don't miss it," said Saulnier, costumed in a tinsel tiara and orange boa. "If anyone dies in the family, they have to be cold until after the Kiss Concert is over."
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