A quick note before today’s post…
If this review of the 12/12/12 concert seems dated, it is. I was going to post it on Friday, but that just didn’t feel appropriate after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Yes, this blog is completely meaningless in the world, and no, I had no personal connection with the area…but it just didn’t seem right to post something that’s meant to be humorous on such a tragic and heartbreaking day.
I wanted to write about the events from some perspective, but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything on Friday. I don’t recall being this crushed over something before in my life – certainly not since 9/11 – and my heart bleeds for the families and community involved. I’m tearing up just thinking about it, three days later.
To the children and the adults whose lives are no longer with us – rest in peace, you brave, beautiful souls. May your deaths never be forgotten, and may they inspire those of us more fortunate to honor your memory in any way we can.
There’s just no way to transition out of that tragedy to anything fun and light-hearted, and so I’m not going to try too hard. But here’s today’s review, and here’s hoping you enjoy it, after the break…
In terms of organizing some of music biggest’s stars for one epic night, the planners behind Wednesday’s 12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief get an A+. The cause was more than worthwhile, and the outpouring of support was obviously incredible. There’s certainly no doubt as far as that’s concerned.
But was the show actually any good? Let’s examine, piece-by-piece, from one TV viewer’s warped mind…
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Jersey’s favorite son was a logical choice to kick off the show, as The Boss rocked MSG with his legendary E Street Band. Bruce kicked off the set list with “Land of Hope and Dreams”, a track from this year’s Wrecking Ball. What’s that? You don’t know “Land of Hope and Dreams”? Did you watch a second of this year’s MLB playoffs? Then yes, you know “Land of Hope and Dreams”. Do the words “COME ON, THIS TRAIIIIIIIIIN!” ring a bell? Because, yes, in that case, you’ve heard “Land of Hope and Dreams”.
The Boss then unleashed the title track off of Wrecking Ball before launching into “My City Of Ruins”, complete with a typically uplifting Bruce sermon, before inviting up Jon Bon Jovi for “Born To Run”. It was a heavy-hitting four-track setlist, and Bruce seemed to be having a blast as always.
The biggest complaint here could be the song choices – there’s only one tune here that the casual Bruce fan can get behind. But Springsteen went with an uplifting set, and isn’t that what the concert was all about? It’s hard to imagine that anyone else could have opened the show with the same vigor and uplifting mood.
Billy Crystal: Bruce was followed by sort-of-emcee Billy Crystal, the pride of Long Beach, who delivered a part-standup, part-serious monologue to kick off the core of the show and get the fundraising message across. It was typical Crystal – some great one-liners, some groaners, a lot of self-knowing smiles – which was fine with me. I could have done without the Chris Christie Twinkie joke, but Billy’s LIPA burn (“You can feel the electricity in the building tonight. That must mean Long Island Power’s not involved.”) was well done. And you know he’s as sincere about the cause as anyone.
Roger Waters (featuring Eddie Vedder): The first indication that this was going to be a really, really, REALLY long show came when Waters, the former Pink Floyd star, got a seven-or-so-song setlist. No offense to Roger Waters and all he’s accomplished, certainly – but with The Who, The Stones and Macca still to come, among others, you figured if Waters got a half-hour, they’d get at least that much time.
Anyway, Waters mostly delivered with a solid, if slightly overlong set. I’ve never been much of a Pink Floyd fan, but it’s hard to argue with “In The Flesh?”, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” and “Money”. Backed by a seemingly endless array of singers and musicians with an all-black wardrobe, this was solid if not earth-shattering stuff, until Eddie Vedder stole the show. The Pearl Jam front man came on board to take the middle vocals in “Comfortably Numb”, and he absolutely crushed the song, closing out Waters’ set in style. Bump the grade up for that alone.
Adam Sandler & Paul Shaffer: One of the night’s best surprises belonged to native New Yorker Sandler, backed by David Letterman’s sidekick Shaffer on piano. Sandler delivered his own version of Leonard Cohen/everyone else classic “Hallelujah”, changing the lyrics to become more New York/New Jersey-centric and delivering the cry of “Sandy, screw ya!” It was an inspired and refreshingly funny moment for Sandler in a recent run that’s been largely devoid of anything humorous. Huge points to Sandler for bringing back the goofy sentiment of his Chanukah songs, and Shaffer makes everything better by just yelling out “Hallelujah!” at random times.
Bon Jovi: Jersey’s second-favorite son, Jon Bon Jovi and his band were introduced by Kristen Stewart, who is from California and has no discernible connections to New Jersey or New York. Ooooookay then. This, predictably, was one of the more awkward moments of the night, as Stewart acted particularly nervous and wooden while just reading into the teleprompter. (Seriously, I have nothing against Kristen Stewart, but we couldn’t get someone from the tri-state area to introduce Bon Jovi? Anyone? Is Kristen Stewart some closet Bon Jovi fanatic who blasts Prayer ’94 when she wakes up every day? I don’t know.)
But all of that was rendered moot, because Bon Jovi kicked ass. Plenty of people are quick to mark the former hair-metal rockers as wildly overrated, but they can string together hits with the best of ’em. After “It’s My Life” started the set, the group ran through an epic version of “Wanted Dead Or Alive” before welcoming back Bruce on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”. And, of course, “Livin’ On A Prayer” closed the set, with the audience responding as loudly to the chorus as they did to anything all night.
Bon Jovi showed up to play the hits, and played four of their biggest ones. They’re Jersey boys, they felt the effects of the storm, and they came down to the Garden and delivered a hell of a mini-rock-and-roll show. What more could you ask for?
Eric Clapton: From the big, sexy rock hooks to the blues…Eric Clapton was next on the Garden stage, backed by a solitary bass player and a solitary drummer. And lest you think you know how to play guitar or play the blues, Eric Clapton showed us all that we know nothing. He tore through “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Got to Get Better in a Little While” – the latter, an appropriate song for the show – before serving up a helpful of Cream with “Crossroads”. There was nothing flashy about Clapton’s performance here – just straight-up gorgeous guitars and brilliant music. And that’s good enough to earn top markings in my book.
The Rolling Stones: The inclusion of The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band, right at the beginning of their 50th Anniversary Tour – this should have been something special. And, well, it wasn’t. The Stones ripped through “You Got Me Rocking”, for some reason, before legendary hit “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”…and then poof, they were gone.
I understand the Stones are all 1,000 years old, and I understand they have a show on Saturday, and I understand it’s pay-per-view…but we couldn’t get a third song, for charity’s sake? And we only got one song that wasn’t “You Got Me Rocking”, with the absurd depth of the Stones’ catalog? Sure, Mick Jagger was great, and the band sounded good, but poor form on the set list, guys.
Alicia Keys: Holy whoa.
I don’t listen to Alicia Keys – not for lack of musical talent, just because I generally don’t listen to many solo female pop artists. That may need to change, because Alicia blew me away on Wednesday night. She played just two songs – “Brand New Me” and “No One” – while making up lyrics about cell phones in the air and New York seemingly on the spot. And while Alicia crushed the vocals, that wasn’t the most impressive thing about the performance – you could truly feel that she was as “New York” as anyone else at the show. You knew that Keys wasn’t faking one second of her performance, of her emotions, of her desire to inspire. It was breathtaking stuff. More Alicia, please.
The Who: I saw Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and the gang back in 2007, and Daltrey’s voice was still top-notch – but five years later, things have changed. Daltrey sounds like his best days are far behind him, and that’s not meant to be a criticism – the man’s 68 years old, and he’s been screaming and rocking for most of those 68. So while the legendary frontman’s voice was diminished last week, he still sounded good enough to churn out a solid half-hour of hits, backed by the immortal Pete Townshend and Zak Starkey, son of Ringo, on drums.
Highlights of the set included “Bellboy”, where Daltrey switched on and off with a recording of late drummer Keith Moon, and “Baba O’Riley”, which will never not be amazing. Literal highlights included Daltrey’s Boehner-orange chest, which he revealed to the world after gradually unbuttoning his shirt throughout the performance. Did we need to see it? No. Can Roger Daltrey play naked at this point and still kick ass? I don’t want to think about it, but yeah, he probably could.
(One other complaint, and more on this later: why couldn’t Eddie Vedder get a chorus on “Love, Reign O’er Me”? His version of the song is outrageously good.)
Brian Williams: Brian was fine and generally witty throughout the night, but he thought Pete Townshend was Keith Moon after The Who’s performance. Oh, Brian. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Not giving a grade here, but…yeah, Keith Moon died in 1978. So that could have been better. Hey, speaking of things that could have been better…
Kanye West: Well, this just didn’t work in any way.
First things first: I’m a huge Kanye fan in terms of his studio albums. I’ll put West’s first five solo releases up against anyone else’s in hip-hop, and 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is my favorite rap or hip-hop record ever. But this performance was doomed from the start, because West was playing to a crowd where the median member was probably a white, 50-year-old male. If we’re being completely honest, that’s not exactly the target demographic.
But West could have made it work a little bit better than he ended up doing. Here are a few humble suggestions as to how the crowd might have responded better:
- Don’t open with “Clique”.
- Don’t follow that with “Mercy.”
- Don’t wear a skirt and a Pyrex hoodie.
- Play “Homecoming” with Chris Martin, who was on hand, and tailor the lyrics to New York.
- Heck, tailor ANY lyrics to New York and acknowledge that you’re at a benefit concert for hurricane relief. I think Kanye did this at some point, but I couldn’t tell through all the Auto-Tune.
- Don’t play a song where the chorus is “let’s have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the a**holes.” Just a thought.
- Don’t destroy the Rihanna hook on “All of the Lights”. Heck, let Alicia Keys play it.
- Bring out Jamie Foxx, who showed up later on stage, for “Gold Digger”.
- Give Billy Joel a guest verse on “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.” OK, this is a bad suggestion.
I’m sorry, Yeezy – I love you, but you didn’t do anything to either change the public perception of yourself (not that he cares) or fit in to the concert and the theme of the night. I’d still see you live in a second, but this was cringe-worthy stuff.
Billy Joel: Luckily, there wasn’t much time to worry about Kanye’s set, because the night’s best set would follow the worst. Joel, in his first major show in two years, sounded sensational on six classic hits with his stellar backing band. From Joel’s best song – “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)”, with Sandy-specific lyrics – to one of his best live songs – “You May Be Right” – this set was a blast. And while you wouldn’t mistake any of the tunes for B-sides, he owned the night without even playing “Piano Man” or “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”.
And Joel, unlike Mr. West, was awfully aware of the moment. He noted how happy he was to be there and offered his support for those affected by Sandy – and he also got into the season’s spirit with a few bars of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. For the love of music, give us one more tour, Billy!
Chris Martin: I have no idea why Chris Martin played rather than Coldplay, but the group’s frontman came off as charismatic and hilarious during a beautiful three-song set. He cracked about performers’ ages and Michael Stipe’s immediate return to retirement after a beautiful version of “Losing My Religion”, completely endearing himself to the crowd at all times. And hey, how about that version of “Losing My Religion”? The best collaboration of the night saw the ex-R.E.M. singer join Martin for an acoustic version of the 1991 classic, which was a terrific surprise. In just three songs, Martin orchestrated a beautiful, funny and perfectly-paced set. Well done.
Paul McCartney: In the night’s closing set, the Beatles legend played eight songs – not one of which was a Beatles hit. Of course, it was still a blast, with Macca commanding the crowd as he always does.
Mega-rocker “Helter Skelter” started the set before a pair of Wings tunes, including the not-always-common “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”. But the set’s highlight was a wild Nirvana reunion of Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, who joined McCartney for a blistering new tune, “Cut Me Some Slack”. And the pyrotechnic-filled “Live and Let Die”, closing out the set, was close. Could we have used a star-studded rendition of “Hey Jude” to close? Of course we could have, but it’s hard to complain much here.
Alicia Keys, again: My new favorite lady in music returned to close out the show with her version of “Empire State of Mind”, joined on stage by dozens of first responders. And not to rain on anyone’s parade, least of all Alicia’s, but there could have been a better end to the night. First of all, most people know “Empire State of Mind” as a collaboration with Jay-Z, not a solo Alicia song. Secondly, where the hell was everybody else? We couldn’t have anyone except McCartney on stage for this? No closing with all of the artists? I know it was late, but come on.
And that take me to another point – as much of a spectacle as the 12/12/12 show was, I almost expected more. We were promised a bevy of surprises, but the actual number of collaborations seemed small by comparison. How about Vedder for “Love Reign O’er Me”? Bruce joining Billy Joel for “New York State Of Mind”? (They’ve done it before.) Anyone joining Kanye? The pre-concert hype was so breathless that I almost left expecting more.
Some other random observations before I put this post to bed:
- Quentin Tarantino wore Wu-Wear and seemed to go completely off-script, because of course he did.
- Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t get off filming in Brooklyn? Really? Come on, Scorsese.
- Line of the night: “I am Stephen Colbert, and I am a huge celebrity.”
In summation, the show ran way too long and it couldn’t possibly match its own hype. It still matched a ton of the greatest artists of all-time and today, though, for a totally worthwhile cause. I certainly don’t regret tuning in.