Thursday, December 13, 2012

Babblin’ about the rocking but exhausting 12.12.12 Concert

Whew! The six-hour 12.12.12 concert, which I watched last night on VH1 Classic, wore me out. The mammoth rock star-packed concert at Madison Square Garden to raise money for the Robin Hood Relief Fund benefiting victims of Hurricane Sandy started at 7:30 with a rollicking mini-set by Bruce Springsteen and ended a half hour after midnight with a concluding song by Alicia Keys, who at 31 was the youngest performer present.

After a opening montage of hurricane footage reminding us of all the devastating damage, the always-up-to-the task Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kicked off the show with “Land of Hope and Dreams,” giving it all their trademark energy and power. “Wrecking Ball” from his most recent record of the same name followed, then an also appropriate gospel-tinged “My City of Ruins” from Springsteen’s 2002 9/11-themed album “The Rising.” In the intro to the last song, Springsteen spoke about Asbury park, getting a big crowd response when thanking “the arts community and the gay community” for the town’s recent renaissance.

Bruce brought up Jon Bon Jovi to duet with him on “Born To Run” which brought on more applause, but Bon Jovi’s voice wasn’t well suited to the song – it was too clean, not enough of the grit the anthem needs. But then I’m not a fan of the man, when Springsteen said that Bon Jovi has done a lot of great things for New Jersey, I couldn’t help thinking ‘yeah, his brand of strip club rock music does a lot of good for the state’s image.

Billy Crystal, who’s on the promo circuit for his new awful-looking movie “Parental Guidance,” came on to make a few quips (like “you can feel the electricity in the building which means that Long Island Power was not involved”), do his impression of De Niro from “Raging Bull,” and make pleas for donations, something he’s very experienced at from all those Comic Relief telethons.

Susan Sarandon came on also asking for money, then introduced Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to do several songs from his tour production of “The Wall” (“In The Flesh,” “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2,”) which didn’t really seem to address the concert’s theme but the audience who largely sang along didn’t seem to care. It was great that he was joined by what I presume were the “Fear Builds Walls” dancers during “Another Brick.”

Then Waters said it was time for some “stuff from “Dark Side” and performed “Money,” and a way too long (but then it always was) “Us and Them,” he was aided in singing by session vocalist Robbie Wyckoff, who looked like a blend of Daryl Hall and Eddie Vedder. Vedder was there for real, as everyone knew in advance, to do the David Gilmore vocal on the set closer “Comfortably Numb.” Vedder was well suited for the job making it a stellar version of the FM radio staple.

Rolling Stone and Vibe writer Alan Light recently wrote a book about the legacy of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah” (“The Holy or the Broken”), but the song may not be powerful enough to withstand Adam Sandler’s lame but performed with gusto satire of the song, with lines like “Hallelujah, Sandy screw you.” Paul Shaffer provided the piano backing, and some back-up singing, and, as usual, pulled it off without any embarrassment.

NBC anchor Brian Williams, who wondered out loud if Cohen was asked permission of their “for the ages” version of “Hallelujah,” chatted with Ben Stiller at the phone bank, and then without any warning Kristen Stewart was on stage talking about Hurricane Sandy. Some mini-featurette with Bon Jovi shot like he’s in an infomercial talking up a storm about the storm is shown. 

This sets up Bon Jovi’s set in which the band performed “It’s My Life,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” and then thankfully brought Springsteen back up onstage to duet on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a song that despite that it was a huge hit, I’ve never heard before. Then the inevitable set closer “Living On A Prayer” did its best to stink up the place.

Boy, did this make Eric Clapton look like God in comparison! After some fun in the phone bank with Brian Williams (hey –there’s Tony Danza!), and some Jon Stewart silliness (“When Roger Waters was out here singing, how many of you remembered where you hid your pot in ninth grade?) onstage, Clapton came out and sat down with his trusty acoustic guitar to do a tender “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” He switched to Stratocaster to do “Got To Get Better In A Little While,” and finished up with “Crossroads.” 

Clapton’s never really been one of my guitar heroes, but he’s a solid presence at shows like this (though I thought he overplayed his solo on “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at the Garden back in ’92).

Chelsea Clinton, looking a little nervous, spoke for a bit about the benefit, they showed another bit of video with storm footage, and one of the evening’s most anticipated acts was introduced by the world’s biggest rock fanboy Jimmy Fallon (“I’ve got to tweet this, this is unbelievable”): The Rolling Stones, currently celebrating their 50th anniversary.

The Stones only did two songs “You Got Me Rocking,” (from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge) and their 1968 single “Jumping Jack Flash,” but they made the most of them. Still don’t think I’ll shell out $40 to watch their pay-per-view show on Saturday night though.

Stephen Colbert did his over-confident pitch for pledges, and brought out Kanye West who introduced Alicia Keys. Alone at a grand piano, Keys played “Brand New Me,” and “No One” which the audience seemed to really appreciate - with her prompting they held up their cell phones for a sea of lights effect. This surprisingly didn’t annoy me like when it does when I go to concerts in person.

After a great shot of cast members from The Sopranos manning the phone banks, it was time for one of my all-time favorite bands: The Who. Of all people, Steve Buscemi introduced them, and joked about the Stones cutting their set short and of course gabbed about Sandy and some more video was shown of Robin Hood Relief Fund folks.

It was a typical set for the Who, who I saw do Quadrophenia last month in Greensboro, but a fine one with by the numbers versions of “Who Are You,” “Bell Boy,” “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me Feel Me,” “Baba O’Riley,” the show-stopping “Love Reign O’er Me,” and the new, well from 2006, “Tea and Theatre,” which they also closed with when I saw them. 

Lead singer Roger Daltrey’s voice was pretty rough at times, and I wish he’d keep his shirt closed, but Pete Townshend did more damage to his hearing with blazing solos, and Ringo Starr’s kid Zak filled Keith Moon’s shoes with great pounding timing. Moon appeared via large video screens (from footage shot in ’74) to sing his part on “Bell Boy,” something that was cool to see again.

Dapper host Williams joked about Daltrey taking his shirt off back at the phone bank and we got a better look at all the Sopranos people (James Gandofini got the biggest crowd reaction). After this I kinda spaced out when Crystal came back and threw it to newscaster Della Crews, but Chris Rock got my attention back.

Rock introduced Kanye West who performed his set that came off like one long song in a leather skirt. With no breaks “Clique” went into “Mercy” which went into “Power” into “Jesus Walks” into “All Of The Lights” into “Run This Town” into “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” into “Diamonds.” I had to look those all up since I don’t know West’s catalog very well. More recognizable were the songs he ended his set with: “Touch The Sky,” “Gold Digger,” “Good Life,” “Runaway,” and “Stronger.” Kanye’s set didn’t make me any more of a fan, but I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining.

Back to Williams who talked with 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, and put up with some more tomfoolery from Fallon, then SNL’s Seth Myers and Bobby Moynihan doing his Drunk Uncle character. Drunk Uncle is usually pretty reliably funny on the show but here it kind of fell flat.

After Jake Gyllenhall did more pitching for pledges, Billy Joel was up to do a lengthy (or maybe it just felt that way) set that consisted of “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway),” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “New York State Of Mind,” “River Of Dreams,” and “You May Be Right, Only The Good Die Young.” Jesus, why did Joel get this many songs?

Next, after Blake Lively said some stuff, the surprise in Chris Martin of Coldplay’s set was that Michael Stipe of R.E.M. showed up to duet on “Losing My Religion.” The other songs in his short set – “Viva La Vida,” and “Us Against The World” were less interesting, of course, but still crowd pleasers, even if they weren’t me-pleasers.

More phone bank fun followed, and SNL’s Jason Sudekis and the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise Katie Holmes put in their two cents for why you should donate your two cents presented some more video (no disrespect, but yawn), and then Leonardo DiCaprio (not there but onscreen) introduced Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Fox, and Christoph Waltz, all from the upcoming “Django Unchained” who introduced the headliner everyone’s been waiting for: Sir Paul McCartney.

Over the last day rumors have been spreading that McCartney’s set would feature a Nirvana reunion with Dave Grohl, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic joining the ex-Beatle onstage. Well that happened, with a new song called “Cut Me Some Slack,” which wasn’t bad but nobody is going to mistake it for either band’s classic material. 

With his tight touring band McCartney also played “Helter Skelter,” “Let Me Roll It,” “1985,” “My Valentine” (with a guest appearance by Diana Krall), “Blackbird,” “I’ve Got A Feeling,” and “Live and Let Die.” McCartney is one of those rich celebrities that refuses to age. I won’t speculate about plastic surgery, but he sure as Hell doesn’t look 70. The fact that most of his music refuses to age too balances it out.

Alicia Keys came back out after Macca's set and closed the show with a poignant and fitting “Empire State of Mind Pt. 2.” 

Again, whew! After all that music, celebrities, and hurricane talk, I’m exhausted. Time to call it a blog and get some rest.

More later...

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