Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi blew minds of New Jersey-ians. R.E.M.‘s Michael Stipe came out of retirement. Eddie Vedder joined Roger Waters for a Pink Floyd classic. Kanye West wore a kilt – which soon got it’s own Twitter handle (and over 1,200 followers!). Jay-Z was a no-show. And, apparently, Paul McCartney has joined a new band… with the surviving members of Nirvana. It all was part of 12.12.12 The Concert For Sandy Relief benefitting the Robin Hood Foundation at New York’s Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.
From the moment the concert kicked off, shortly after 7:30 pm ET, it was clear that this was going to be an unusual show, as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band don’t generally open up for anyone. But Springsteen and co. led off at this star-studded benefit, and set the bar high early on, opening with “Land Of Hope And Dreams” and following with “Wrecking Ball,” both from his latest GRAMMY nominated album, Wrecking Ball. He followed with “My City Of Ruins,” a song he originally wrote for his “adopted hometown” of Asbury Park, New Jersey, but which took on new life after 9/11 (he debuted the song during a telethon to benefit families of victims of that tragedy). Last night, however, he brought it back to Asbury, giving an emotional speech during the song’s introduction, and thanked the gay community and the arts community for revitalizing the city.
And then Jon Bon Jovi got to live out the fantasy of most of New Jersey by joining Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band for “Born To Run.”
Roger Waters was next, playing a set of songs taken from Pink Floyd’s two landmark albums Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall. Some of the audience were confused when he was introduced by Susan Sarandon as “Roger Waters with special guest Eddie Vedder,” as Waters has another singer on stage with a hairstyle similar to Vedder’s. That was Robbie Wycoff, the singer in Waters’ band who handles the vocals that David Gilmour sang in Pink Floyd.
The Floyd classic “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2” may have seemed out of place. But on Waters’ current Wall tour he features young children, wearing shirts that say “Fear Builds Walls,” dancing on stage during the song. That helped to make the song seem like more than a screed against the education system; it pointed out that people of all races, ages and tax brackets were affected by Sandy. Soon after that song, Vedder did indeed join Waters onstage for his last song, “Comfortably Numb.”
In 2001 at Madison Square Garden’s Concert For New York City after 9/11, Adam Sandler brought the house down by performing as his Saturday Night Live “Operaman” character, accompanied by The Late Show‘s Paul Shaffer. Last night, he reunited with Shaffer to do a parody of the iconic Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” (which was recently the topic of an entire book) called “Sandy, Screw Ya.” The lyrics detailed the trials and tribulations of living in the Big Apple, including “The puke on your stoop every Sunday morn’ / Times Square losing all its porn!”
Then it was Jersey time again, as Bon Jovi hit the stage, playing “It’s My Life” and “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” After that, Springsteen returned the favor, for a duet of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” That was Bruce’s last performance of the night; next, Bon Jovi closed with a rocking “Livin’ On A Prayer.”
Eric Clapton, fronting a trio, then took the stage for a brief and tasteful set featuring the oft-covered 1923 song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” followed by his Derek & The Dominoes song “Got To Get Better In A Little While” and then the classic Robert Johnson blues classic “Crossroads.”
The Rolling Stones played a two-song set. Their time was probably so brief because they were the last act to be added to the show. Opening, for some reason, with “You Got Me Rockin'” from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge, they followed up (to much better response) with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Mick Jagger quipped “This has to be the largest collection of old British musicians.”
New Yorker Alicia Keys followed with a two song solo piano performance of “Brand New Me” from her brand new album, Girl On Fire, and then played her 2007 hit “No One.”
Like Adam Sandler, The Who was one of the highlights of 2001’s Concert For New York City. Eleven years later, bassist John Entwistle is no longer with them (he passed away in 2002), but they’re still a formidable live band, even if Roger Daltrey can’t hit all of the notes that he used to (leading some to wonder why mega-fan Eddie Vedder didn’t join them on stage to help out). But the band, currently touring to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their Quadrophenia album, are in fighting shape, and played an energetic set that included “Who Are You,” “Bell Boy” (including the late Keith Moon singing his lines via old film footage), “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Love Reign O’er Me” and closing with a song from their most recent album, 2006’s Endless Wire, “Tea And Theatre.” Where other artists spoke with sentimentality about the event, guitarist Pete Townshend told everyone to “Get a ****in’ beer!” Roger Waters set off a minor Twitter stir by unbuttoning his shirt during his performance. Afterwards, NBC anchor Brian Williams got a lot of tweets by mistakenly referring to Pete Townshend as Keith Moon.
Kanye West was the only hip-hop performer of the night, and put on a quick energetic set that included bits of many of his hits, including “Mercy,” “Power,” “Jesus Walks,” “All Of The Lights,” “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” “Touch The Sky,” “Gold Digger,” “Runaway” and “Stronger.” “Runaway” seemed like a particularly tone-deaf choice, as the lyrics encourage the listener to “Have a toast for all the douchebags.” Although none of his songs got as much attention on social media as the black leather skirt he wore (one of the skirt’s last tweets of the night: “Hope everyone donated to the Robin Hood fund tonight. At least $50 is going towards replacing me with pants. Or jeggings at least.”).
Without guests, hype or gimmicks, Long Island native Billy Joel provided one of the best sets of the night, cranking out a half hour of hits: “Miami 2017,” “Movin’ Out,” “New York State Of Mind,” “River Of Dreams,” “You May Be Right” and “Only The Good Die Young.”
Coldplay frontman and Brit-turned-New Yorker Chris Martin then stepped to the stage with an acoustic guitar to play “Viva La Vida,” before being joined by R.E.M.’s MIchael Stipe – who essentially retired from music when his band split up in 2011 – for “Losing My Religion.” Martin then encouraged everyone watching to contribute the “average age of the performers” in dollars to the cause. He finished his set on piano, playing “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.”
Paul McCartney headlined the show, starting off with one classic by his first two bands, The Beatles and Wings, repsectively: “Helter Skelter” and “Let Me Roll It.” He followed that with the lesser known Wings song “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five” from Band On The Run. He was then joined by jazz pianist Diana Krall for “My Valentine,” from his latest album Kisses On The Bottom. After a solo acoustic “Blackbird,” he was joined by (as rumored) Nirvana drummer/Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Nirvana touring guitarist/Foo Fighters member Pat Smear. They did a brutally rocking song called “Cut Me Some Slack.” Then McCartney’s band returned for “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Live And Let Die.” After that, Alicia Keys returned to the stage for “Empire State Of Mind”; while many hoped Jay-Z would show up, the hip-hop businessman was a no-show. The show closed well after 1 am (and could have been called 12.13.12 by then).
Several performances will be available on iTunes. You can still contribute to the Robin Hood fund here.
— Brian Ives, CBS Local / photos by Larry Busacca, Getty Images