Stepping up in Sandy's wake: The '12-12-12 Benefit' concert
The ubiquitous relief event skews old but rocks hard
By Alan Light
Special to MSN Music
NEW YORK — It might have been the single greatest gathering of talent for a rock show—or it might just have been, as Mick Jagger put it, "the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled." On Wednesday night, Madison Square Garden hosted the almost six-hour "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief," bringing together musical superstars of several generations and raising tens of millions of dollars for the Robin Hood Foundation's efforts to help restore and rebuild the areas of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut that were ravaged by late October's Superstorm Sandy.
Many of the concert's anchors — Paul McCartney, The Who, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel — had also appeared at the Manhattan arena eleven years ago for the legendary "Concert for New York," which followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But if anything, the "12-12-12" show was more rocked-up than its predecessor, with the mellow James Taylor/Paul Simon axis replaced by young guns including Alicia Keys, Kanye West, and Chris Martin of Coldplay.
Still, the vintage of the line-up was a source of some humor throughout the evening. "If you're going to donate tonight," said Martin, "think of a figure that matches the average age of the performers, and I bet we'll raise billions!"
From the evening's very first song, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band thundering through "Land of Hope and Dreams," a few themes were clear: Messages of uplift and perseverance would determine much of the song selection, and these were not going to be strictly "greatest hits" sets. In their meager two-song performance, the Rolling Stones played the largely-forgotten “Voodoo Lounge” track "You Got Me Rockin'" before unleashing an extended, snarling "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The Who mixed several songs from their current tour playing the entire “Quadrophenia” album alongside classics like "Baba O' Reilly" (with Pete Townshend singing "It's only Sandy wasteland") and "Pinball Wizard."
The "12-12-12" show also included numerous actors and comedians offering tales of heroic efforts in such devastated spots as Red Hook, Brooklyn; Breezy Point, Queens; and much of the Jersey Shore. Most memorable was an appearance by Adam Sandler, backed by Paul Shaffer, delivering a parody of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that rhymed the title word with "Sandy, screw ya," and lamented both the storm's destruction and the sorry recent fate of New York's sports franchises.
In the press area backstage, the random assortment of celebrities these events always seem to attract — Katie Holmes, Martha Stewart, Tony Danza — were paraded in for photo ops, while some of the performers spoke about the ways in which Sandy hit close to home; Susan Sarandon described losing power in her downtown apartment, while Richie Sambora said "My mom's house got trashed—she's living with me now!"
Onstage, many of the notable moments came from collaborations that could only arise on a night like this. Jon Bon Jovi joined Springsteen for "Born to Run," and Bruce repaid the favor on Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Michael Stipe sang a lovely "Losing My Religion" with Chris Martin, and Eddie Vedder nailed the vocal in a duet with Roger Waters on Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." (Backstage, Waters said that "Eddie was absolutely amazing, it was like a dream come true.")
The most jaw-dropping partnership of all came near the night's end, when the surviving members of Nirvana — Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear — performed a new song with McCartney called "Cut Me Some Slack" off the soundtrack to Grohl's upcoming "Sound City" documentary. During the song the Beatle joyously wailed and pounded on a cigar-box guitar and Grohl bashed away behind the drums like a crazed Muppet, just like the old days. It was a perfectly-scaled gesture, celebrating the camaraderie and magic of the event without pretending to be any more important than it really was.
The biggest surprise of the night may have been Kanye West, whose position sandwiched in between The Who and Billy Joel didn't bode well, but who responded with a set that built to a ferocious intensity. Dressed in a leather kilt, West kept the stage empty and dark and remained tightly focused in a set that ran twice its allotted ten-minute length; even hits like "Gold Digger" and "Good Life" burned with passion, and demonstrated that he — and the hip-hop he represents in this crowd — belonged on a stage with these giants.
It was after 1 a.m. when McCartney wrapped up his set with "Live and Let Die," and the torch was officially passed when the "12-12-12" show did not end with the expected singalong to "Hey Jude" or "Let It Be," but with Alicia Keys returning to the stage to sing New York City's true 21st Century anthem "Empire State of Mind." In that moment, it was easy to forget the late hour, to feel hope for the victims of this unprecedented natural disaster, and to understand what she was saying: These streets will make you feel brand-new, big lights will inspire you, here in New York.
* Photos by Dave Allocca, AP/Starpix
It really sucked that the show lasted till 1 am...because the station I was watching it on cut it off at 11 pm. I only was able to watch a part of Billy Joel and nothing afterward. I was an amazing concert. I only wish I could have seen the rest.
Kayne showed his TRUE COLORS if you know what I mean, pitiful, I think The Who stole the entire show last night, having Keith Moon singing on there was great and to see a FIT Roger Daltrey salute him was as great as Roger’s voice sounded, Pete Townshend has not lost a step either, they really looked like they both enjoyed themselves. Stones were boring and 2 predictable songs…really??? I almost believe this show had more star power than Woodstock. I only was able to watch a little but taped the show so will watch the rest tonight, but I turned if off 10 seconds into Kayne’s Krap!!!
You can discredit many of the artists from last night as being past their "sell date". However, consider the following: One, many of these people lead the way in creating very influential music and defining an era (and lifestyle) that is recognized around the world. And, given their stature, they still have significant pull in creating a draw and attention; in this case for a worthy cause. Two, given the shifts in musical direction, the more individualized music consumption people enjoy today, and fewer bands today with such a wide international appeal or following, I wonder if we'll see a concert of such proportions again.
You all forget how things were when you were younger. What would your parents do if the Stones, Pink Floyd and the Who performed with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Andy Williams at a benefit concert. Heck you all grew up to be your parents. LMAO
The sound system was "off" and yes, some of these rockers are old-ish, but most of them have done a fabulous job perserving their voices. As Whoopie said today: "Hey, if you want to raise money, my generation, the Baby Boomers, we're your demographic." She was saying that the people donating the most $$....this is the music we want to hear. (I personally would exclude Kanye West from that list).
Since my taste runs to metal, I probably wouldn't cross the street to watch these dinosaurs for free - except maybe Townshend & Daltrey - and I'm as fond of NYC and its endless self-congratulations as I am of your average puddle of cat vomit. However, I hope this show raised lots of money and made lots of people happy.
If only Jimmy Hendrix was alive....what a show that would be!
No one knew what to call his music at that time, but had talent and then some!
Why was it on the Cooking Channel. Really? The sound was not great as the mic's seemed to be unplugged or not at peak performance. Would have loved to hear more clarity. Maybe it was their "old" voices and they can not belt it anymore I don't know but Daltry sounded like he was singing in a box. On the other hand Veder's version of comfortably numb was better than the original. very strong.