The 12-12-12 concert to benefit victims of Superstorm Sandy, held at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, boasted a lineup ranging from aging white English people to other aging white English people. In both spirit and personnel, it resembled the venerable post-Sept. 11 Concert for New York City, with Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and the Who, all returning to perform at the Garden and joined by even more A-list stars.
All artists can be commended for donating their time to a worthy cause. (Donations to Sandy victims can be made here.) But this was a nearly six-hour concert which means there were moments that were awesome ... and moments that were the opposite.
Awesome Things That Happened
Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen’s mini-set included “My City of Ruins,” which was written for a then-moldering Asbury Park, played to great effect at the 9/11 telethon and at any number of benefits since, and will now unfairly be known as That Song Bruce Plays When Bad Things Happen.
Jon Bon Jovi duets with Bruce: The Bon Jovi frontman came onstage for a great/weird “Born to Run” and, at least once during the evening, hugged Springsteen with the sort of familiarity the Boss never would have tolerated during Bon Jovi’s hair metal years. Chris Christie isn’t the only New Jersey icon towards whom the Boss has considerably softened.
The Rolling Stones: They played two songs, “You Got Me Rocking” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” each a marvel of acrobatic peacocking and general showing off-ness. The good news: Everyone appears to still be alive, though we’ll have to get back to you on Keith Richards. The bad news: They didn’t do “Shattered.”
Alicia Keys and Billy Joel: Keys and Joel are the benefit concert equivalent of first responders. They always show up, they’re always prepared, everybody is happy to see them and their presence is weirdly comforting.
Chris Martin: He wore a suit, played an acoustic guitar, and generally carried on like the leader of a Merseybeat band in 1961. He seemed genuinely honored to be there, and humbled. He brought out R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe — who hasn’t been either of those things since 1987 — for Stipe’s old band’s mega-hit “Losing My Religion.” Martin then told the viewers that, when trying to decide how much money to donate, they should think of a figure that approached the average age of the evening’s performers. Truer words.
Other Things That Happened
Roger Waters: The former Pink Floyd leader played a dipped-in-amber greatest hits set so long and lugubrious that even Eddie Vedder, guesting on “Comfortably Numb,” couldn’t save it.
Bruce duets with Jon Bon Jovi: The Boss, visibly caked in makeup, joined forces with JBJ for the tragic bronzer explosion/exercise in unintentional irony that was “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” perhaps not the best song to perform for thousands of people who actually can’t go home, because their houses are in the ocean.
Eric Clapton and the Who: Both nicely done, but emblematic of the evening’s main problem — this was an evening of classic rock acts playing their greatest hits.
Kanye West: This was ... off, somehow. It was poorly lit with muddy sound, and West seemed ill at ease during an extended medley that included “Power,” “Jesus Walks,” “Stronger” and “Gold Digger,” though he found his footing towards the end.
Paul McCartney fronting the remainder of Nirvana: Sir Paul played a few Wings songs, he did a few Beatles songs, he performed with Diane Krall, like you do at this sort of show. He then brought out Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear for the Nirvana non-reunion you’ve (never) been waiting for. Not-Nirvana played a strange-but-not-unpleasant, “Helter Skelter”-like new song called “Cut Me Some Slack.” It felt less like a Nirvana reunion than simply like watching Paul McCartney playing with a crack backing band. Painless, really. And witnessing Sir Paul introducing Pat Smear was worth the six-hour run time. (Okay, it wasn’t.)
The grand-ish finale: McCartney, Keys and a host of first responders performing “Empire State of Mind.”
Some lingering questions
Why did Roger Waters play 57 songs over a 10-day period, and the Stones play only two?
Where was Jay-Z?
Why did so many well-known artists — Eddie Vedder, Chris Martin — perform without their bands? Was this a logistical thing, or a high-profile opportunity to get audiences used to them as solo artists?
Why was Jon Bon Jovi dressed like a French mime?