Concert For Sandy Relief (review) Mick Jagger put it best when he quipped “this is the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled.” Indeed. If this were the 1970’s, this would’ve been considered the greatest concert of all-time. Never before had such an array of rock heavy-hitters shared a single stage. The Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, and others all came together to benefit the victims affected by Hurricane Sandy. Most of these performers are old, and some are VERY old. Yet, it was surprising who held their own and who struggled.
Bruce Springsteen – Grade B- My eight-year old son put it bluntly – “Daddy, why is that man yelling so much”? Springsteen stood with his band like a wall of soldiers, fists pumping, almost marching to the beat. Yet, it ends up just sounding loud – like banging you over the head with a hammer. Bruce’s lyrics are heartfelt (he even wrote a song for the occasion, “My City in Ruins”), but the three new songs he played all lacked melody or any semblance of nuance. He invited Jon Bon Jovi up for a spirited take of “Born to Run,” which further showed how much better his old material is.
Roger Waters – Grade B: Waters has enjoyed a resurgence with his live rendition of “The Wall” (read our review here). Problem is, his penchant for recreating the classic Floyd tracks note for note leaves zero room for improvisation. On one hand, it’s great to be able to hum along to each note-perfect copy guitar solo. Yet, something gets lost in the translation when taken out of context. Waters did “In the Flesh” and “Another Brick in the Wall,” before segueing into material from Pink Floyd’s biggest-selling album, Dark Side of the Moon. There was more than just a little irony to having a giant spinning Dark Side record overhead while they were playing “Money.” The band also did “Us & Them,” but both of these cuts originally featured guitarist David Gilmour, who was not present – making the two songs seem more like karaoke than rock n’ roll. Waters invited Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder onstage for “Comfortably Numb” and he handled his part brilliantly. And what was that slower version of “Another Brick” where he mentions Charles David Mendez, or something? Huh?
Adam Sandler & Paul Schaffer – Grade A: Many comedians participated in the concert, but Sandler stole the show with his rewrite of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (changing the words to “Sandy Screw-Ya”) Somehow it managed to be both funny and poignant at the same time.
Bon Jovi – Grade B: One of the few Eighties bands that have continued to have success, Bon Jovi played a serviceable set featuring recent hits like “It’s My Life” and classics like “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Guitarist Ritchie Sambora’s annoying use of the talk box got to be really old by the anthemic “Livin’ On a Prayer” (he’d already used it for “It’s My Life”). It was also apparent that Jon couldn’t hit the really high “oh oh Livin’ on a Prayer” part of the song, and let the audience try it instead. He returned the favor by inviting Springsteen back onstage to duet on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which ended up sounding better than anything Springsteen did by himself. Overall, good performance, but not stellar. Facebook user Alex Carmichal put it best when he wrote: “How on God’s green is it possible for The Rolling Stones to have more energy than Bon Jovi??!? The math just doesn’t add up. Guh.”
Eric Clapton – Grade B: Clapton took the Sandy Relief literally to heart when assembling his setlist, beginning with the apropos acoustic blues of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” before grabbing his electric for a rousing version of an obscure Derek & the Dominos track “Gotta Get Better in a Little While.” He ended things with a great take on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” – the same arrangement he did with Cream 40 years ago, yet he still has the gruff in his voice to successfully pull it off.
Rolling Stones – Grade A: Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Stones stole the show. They have the most at stake, having just embarked on a world tour. To look at them, they’re ancient – drummer Charlie Watts was so skinny, you were ready for a gust of wind to knock him over. Guitarist Keith Richards still had his signature bandana, but lacked much hair surrounding it, so he looked more like a hospital patient. Yet, none of that mattered when they started playing. The real star was Mick Jagger, who agelessly pranced and danced as he’s done now for 50 years now. Their goal was certainly to leave us wanting more – their 9-minute set consisted of two songs – Voodoo Lounge’s “You Got Me Rocking” and an extended, ass-kickin’ version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Unbelievably, they can still bring it
Alicia Keys – Grade A: In this guy-dominated show, Keys more than held her own with just her voice and piano. Her music continues to get better, as her new song “Brand New Me” shows. One of the few artists that actually still lives in New York, Keys gave a touching talk about her love of the city. While many of the other bands intention was to bludgeon, Keys was mesmerizing in her restraint.
The Who – Grade D: While the Stones were brief, the Who overstayed their welcome, turning in a set over 35 minutes in length. It’s odd to see singer Roger Daltrey holding a guitar, something he almost never did during the band’s heyday. While the Stones can carry on as usual, the Who seem like a muted version of themselves. “Who Are You” was okay, but Daltrey’s voice has deepened and he lacks any of the range he used to employ (although, that didn’t stop him from yelling “who the fuck are you” to the potential 2 billion viewers). The next song, “Bell Boy,” was a nice touch. Through modern technology, the band could play along with deceased drummer Keith Moon – a little preview of what’s to come when they do the entire Quadrophenia album on their upcoming tour. “Pinball Wizard” was alright, but they should’ve stopped there. Daltrey struggled through “See Me, Feel Me,” and then was terrible on “Love Reign O’er Me” – his voice warbling badly on the quieter parts. These songs have unusually high passages that he just can’t pull off anymore. By “Baba O’Riley,” Daltrey’s shirt had come unbuttoned – something he could pull off 30 years ago, but not now…eek. They ended with the odd “Tea & Theater,” which Townshend yelled at the end “go have a fucking beer.” A shorter set would’ve suited them much better.
Billy Joel – Grade B: I was surprised by this one. I saw Joel about ten years ago on his “Old Shit Tour” (his words) and he was okay. He rose to the occasion tonight. Perhaps it’s that he’s a resident who was directly affected by Sandy. He was in surprisingly good voice as he tackled the fitting “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” and “New York State of Mind,” and still had enough piss in him to deliver a decent version of the biting “You May Be Right,” and the doo-wop flavored “River of Dreams.”
At this point, my DVR cut off (the show ran REALLY long). I did however, get to see the Nirvana reunion on youtube.
Paul McCartney & Nirvana Reunion – Grade A: When I heard there was going to be a Nirvana “reunion” I was more than a little skeptical. McCartney trying to do Kurt Cobain seems laughable. However, the guys chose to do neither a Nirvana song nor a Beatles classic, instead playing a new song that they wrote called “Cut Me Some Slack.” The song was dark, featuring furious drumming from Dave Grohl (man, I miss him as a drummer!). Both Paul and Dave screamed out the vocals. It was a brilliant move – since they did a song that no one has heard, we had nothing to compare it to.
The one thing that struck me about watching this concert is that we’ve become so splintered as a society. Where were the musicians of today, and why didn’t they band together for support? Most of the guys from this concert come from a time when we believed that music could actually make a difference. In another ten years, who’s going to take the reigns and help organize something like this? There are so many bands, and we’ve got the ability to listen whenever, and wherever we want. Perhaps the days of the really big bands like the Rolling Stones are gone? –Tony Peters