The 12-12-12 concert might have been seen and heard all over the world, and the devastation might have hit New York and New Jersey hard, but Wednesday night’s concert in Madison Square Garden to raise money in aid of the victims of hurricane Sandy was Brit night. More specifically, it was Old Brit night. With a lineup of the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and Chris Martin, all of whom came in to help the cause, the event was a reminder of the good old days of the special relationship between England and theUnited States.
The show opened with dramatic pictures of the hurricane’s winds, rain and waves attacking and drastically altering the landscape around New York City. It’s hard to remember it was only six weeks ago; the spectacle of it already seemed unreal.
It made sense that the opening act was New Jersey’s greatest star, Bruce Springsteen, who began with Land of Hope and Dreams as the camera panned forward over the mainly white, mainly middle-aged, affluent crowd on the stadium floor. Everyone was standing, but there was a general lack of focus as the concert began. Many audience members seemed to be chatting to each other rather than watching the stage.
“You probably can’t tell at home but they’ve definitely turned the speakers up to 11 tonight,” tweeted Springsteen as he performed.
He was right, we couldn’t tell. There were audio bugs throughout Springsteen’s half-hour set and when Bon Jovi came on stage to join him he was carrying a microphone that didn’t work and he could hardly be heard on Born to Run.
The Brits took over when Roger Waters strolled on stage for The Wall. Waters only performed Pink Floyd numbers, and the absence of his former partner Dave Gilmour was noted during guitar solos on Money and Comfortably Numb. But Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder filled the gap beautifully as he sang the main vocal part on the song.
This was always going to be a long show. The longer it ran, the more money it could raise. And with a download of the event available for presale on iTunes heavily promoted throughout the event (another revenue stream) the organizers were maximizing on every opportunity to raise dollars.
So it was a shame when halfway through the website crashed and the phone lines were so overwhelmed they couldn’t connect. Who knows how many dollars waiting to be pledged didn’t get through.
Waters was followed by Eric Clapton, and it was at this point that remarks about the age of performers began to flood the internet.
“Have to respect the passion Bruce brings to the stage!” said one. “Especially for being in his 60s. Sweet vest too.”
“Eric Clapton: the only 67-year-old who can rock the hipster glasses just as much as he rocks his guitar.”
Of course when the Stones came on to play a brisk two songs: You Got Me Rockin and Jumping Jack Flash (Opening line – “I was born in a crossfire hurricane”) Mick immediately joined in on the joke.
“This has to be the largest collection of old British musicians ever at Madison Square Garden,” he said.
“And if it rains in London you’ve got to come and help us out.”
The first AND ONLY woman to perform as a headliner – Alicia Keys – didn’t come on stage till almost three hours into the concert. She played for about 15 minutes, before things returned to normal with the advent of the Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend (or Keith Moon as Brian Williams called him).
It’s a good thing neither Pete Townshend nor Roger Daltrey died before they got old, or else they would not have been able to rock Madison Square Garden tonight (Dec. 12). The Who put on a master class while rocking for a good cause, raising money for the Robin Hood Relief Fund to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Opening with ‘Who Are You,’ the Who then gave the crowd a dose of their current ‘Quadrophenia + More‘ tour with ‘Bell Boy,’ a lesser known track from their classic 1973 album. The band paid tribute to the late Keith Moon by including a video projection of him singing his rare vocal part on that song.
From there came ‘Pinball Wizard,’ with Townshend’s familiar opening power chords still thrilling after 43 years and showing no signs of age. They finished off a mini-set from ‘Tommy’ with the rock opera’s finale, ‘Listening to You.’
Two other classics followed, ‘Baba O’Riley’ and the showstopper, ‘Love Reign O’er Me,’ with Daltrey giving his most powerful vocal of the night and Townshend delivering a solo that summed up everything that makes him such a brilliant guitarist. They ended their set, surprisingly, not with one of their hits, but with ‘Tea and Theatre,’ the lovely acoustic closer of the ‘Wine & Glass’ mini-opera found on their 2006 album, ‘Endless Wire.’
If there was an issue one could have, it was that during their set, Daltrey’s began shedding layers of clothing to the point where his shirt was open. While the 68-year old remains in great shape for any age, some people were starting to miss the black turtleneck worn by Jon Bon Jovi earlier in the evening.
There followed the evening’s highlight for some and lowlight for others, as Daltrey bared his tan, very buff, hairless chest and kept it exposed as he sang. For a very long time.
The Who led into Kanye West dressed in a leather kilt who led to Long Island’s Billy Joel performing his iconic New York State of Mind as well as a bunch of his other greatest hits.
Then the Brits returned in the person of Chris Martin who sang an unplugged version of Viva La Vida before bringing Michael Stipe of R.E.M “out of retirement” to sing a low-key and moving Losing My Religion.
It was left to Sir. Paul. McCartney. (as Quentin Tarantino introduced him) to close the show. By the time he came onstage in extremely high-waisted jeans, we were on day two and it was well after midnight on 12-13-12.
“Thank you for STAYING,” said McCartney gratefully.
He sang Helter Skelter then Let Me Roll It followed by a song from his Wings portfolio before finally, at 12.50am, two hours and 35 minutes after the last one left, another woman came onstage. Diana Krall – an amazing talent. Not that you’d have known. Krall didn’t even get to sing. She briefly accompanied Macca on the piano for My Valentine before silently disappearing into the wings to be noisily replaced onstage by Nirvana.
Before I end I should mention that there was a healthy representation of comic talent punctuating the night. From Billy Crystal to Adam Sandler to Chris Rock to the cast of Saturday Night Live, they were there. But again, no female comedians took the stage. (Where were you, New York residents Tina Fey and Lena Dunham?) And the comedy was underwhelming and unfunny.
McCartney brought the house to its tearful feet with Live and Let Die as the tired audience looked around for their coats and bags. Around the world, other audiences got ready for bed or for work. A solitary firework exploded and rescue workers, police and firemen came on stage for their bows. Alicia Keys returned and surrounded by the real stars of hurricane Sandy sang Empire State of Mind.
It was the perfect finish.
Emma Keller from guardian.co.uk & dave lifton from ultimateclassicrock.com
photo by: Larry Busacca, Getty Images