It's bad karma to get too snarky about well-intentioned charity efforts, but all-star disaster-aid concerts have become such a genre of their own that a little analysis seems appropriate.
Wednesday night's 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief was equal parts transcendence and train wreck, offering moments of magic and good vibes as well as awkwardness and poor taste throughout its six-hour run. Proceeds from the show and related products are expected to raise millions for the anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation's hurricane relief fund.
The evening featured a parade of senior British rock stars vs. the home team of Long Islander Billy Joel and Jersey boys Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. Most played half-hour sets, with comedy bits and storm-related video segments covering the transitions.
The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and remnants of the Beatles, the Who and Pink Floyd led the Boomer-friendly lineup, which clearly suited the pale, middle-aged crowd at Madison Square Garden and presumably catered to a well-heeled demographic watching from home via live streaming and a random assortment of cable channels. Mick Jagger called it "the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled." The only nods to any sort of diversity - or to the 21st century, for that matter - were a decent medley set by Kanye West and short solo appearances by Alicia Keys and Coldplay's Chris Martin, who claimed to be the evening's youngest performer.
* Paul McCartney was in fine voice for a surprisingly strong closing set built around album cuts like Wings' "Let Me Roll It" and the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" and "I've Got a Feeling." Though the news leaked in advance, it was still the evening's biggest surprise when his well-established backing band was replaced by Nirvana survivors Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic and guitarist Pat Smear for an aggressive original tune called "Cut Me Some Slack," with Macca playing searing slide licks on what looked like a cigar-box dobro.
* Roger Waters led his band through a fine series of Pink Floyd favorites from The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, closing with a faithful rendition of "Comfortably Numb" in which Eddie Vedder subbed for the absent David Gilmour on vocals.
* Other matchups included Diana Krall with McCartney on his recent torch song "My Valentine"; Michael Stipe with Martin on "Losing My Religion"; Jon Bon Jovi with the Springsteen band; and Springsteen with Bon Jovi.
* NBC anchor Brian Williams, who has shown refreshing modesty and a quick wit in appearances on The Daily Show and elsewhere, threw away some credibility with a bizarre turn as emcee of a celebrity phone bank where actors, comedians and random celebrities (Chelsea Clinton?) took donations for the cause. He seemed overcaffeinated and lost, annoying the other volunteers and at one point confusing Pete Townsend with the long-deceased Keith Moon.
* Aside from the spot-on Billy Crystal, comedy in general didn't fly well at this event. The fails included an inexplicable "Drunk Uncle" sketch by SNL's Seth Myers and Bobby Moynihan, and a coarse rewrite of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" by Adam Sandler and Paul Shaffer.
* Gee, it was great that Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz took time out from their "Django Unchained" publicity tour to, um, promote "Django Unchained."
* The Strolling Bones sounded pretty good on "You Got Me Rocking" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" before they apparently cut their set short and left the stage. Perhaps they saw themselves on the monitors and feared for the impact on sensitive viewers. The clean life doesn't seem to suit Keith Richards, whose Gollum-like pallor made the ever-craggy Ron Wood look almost human in comparison.
* The Who, now down to just two original members, delivered an adequate set of FM-rock staples, highlighted by a moving rendition of "Love, Reign o'er Me." Roger Daltrey has kept himself in shape and can still deliver a good scream, but it was painful to watch him struggle to hit high notes and repeatedly fall short. And was this really the appropriate time for a video mini-tribute to Keith Moon on "Bell Boy"?
[A+E] Theater + Dance, Jazz + Blues + R&B
[A+E] Festivals + Parties, DJs + Dancing
[Music] Jazz + Blues + R&B