Gotta give it up for the locals. Musicians closely associated with New Jersey and New York dominated the 12-12-12 concert to raise funds for Hurricane Sandy survivors, selecting songs that created a narrative of perseverance, rebirth and hope.
It began with Bruce Springsteen, continued with Bon Jovi and Billy Joel, and concluded with Alicia Keys. In between were, as Mick Jagger quipped, "the world's biggest collection of aged British rock stars" plus Kanye West, talk show hosts, comedians and two members of Nirvana performing with Paul McCartney.
The locals were the ones who dug out songs that not only celebrate the idea of hope, but encourage the audience to chime in on the affirmative phrase of "all right," Keys' "No One," Springsteen's "My City in Ruins" and Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home" among them.
"Faith will be rewarded," Springsteen sang in the first song of the night, "Land of Hope and Dreams." The line comes in the midst of the list of travelers on the metaphorical train in the song, an an apropos sentiment for the opener of five-hour, 50-minute benefit concert.
Springsteen has become old hat at these concerts, setting an appropriate tone through song selections and the seriousness of his performance. At Madison Square Garden "Wrecking Ball's" story of rebirth was a smart follow-up to "Hope and Dreams; "My City in Ruins" was transformed into a solemn gospel number over the melody of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" before Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" was tagged on as a coda. Heartfelt.
He was one of the few artist who spoke at length, remarking about the renaissance that had occurred his adopted hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., that had given the once rundown beachtown a multicultural population base and vibrant tourism.
"The Jersey shore has been inclusive," Springsteen said, a sentiment that would be echoed in filmed clips of displaced citizens and by celebrities with ties to the area. "That's been a principal part of the characteristic of the Jersey shore. I pray that characteristic remains (once it is rebuilt). It's what makes us special."
Before a single note was played, the concert had already raised about $36 million for The Robin Hood Relief Fund for Hurricane Sandy. Producer John Sykes, president of Clear Channel Entertainment, said the organizers won't know the full total of donations for several days, but already the concert was an even bigger success than the money raised for 2001's Concert For New York City, which he also co-produced with 12-12-12's Jim Dolan and Harvey Weinstein when he was president of VH1.
New York had its side of the story handled by Billy Joel. His tale of the abandoning of New York City, "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)," took on a new level of poignancy, the idea of New York neighborhoods washed away, dark or unoccupied. Segueing into "Movin' Out," a song that runs counter to the overall message of rebuild and renew, and the obvious "New York State of Mind," Joel created the balm of the telecast. Others explored wounds; Joel's song choices explored the conflict inside the minds of so many of those affected by the storm.
Two acts who excelled at the post 9/11 concerts, McCartney and the Who, had different results here. McCartney gave a varied and enthusiastic performance that included a new song, the guttural blues jam "Cut Me Some Slack" with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear that was more Plastic Ono Band than Wings.
The Who took an approach that did not quite translate on the small screen, performing "Bellboy," a "Quadrophenia" track that featured a rare Keith Moon vocal, with a video clip of the late drummer singing his parts. (Roger Daltrey's off-kilter vocal - did he have a cold? - did not help the situation).
"See Me, Feel Me," the spiritually lifting tune from "Tommy," on the other hand worked a metaphorical wonder more powerful than Townshend altering the key phrase in "Baba O'Riley" to it's only Sandy wasteland."
Television producers and directors consistently say it takes a great live show to produce a great telecast. Alicia Keys was shot close-up, a portrait of intimacy on her solo piano version of "Brand New Me." The Rolling Stones, limited to two songs, and Eric Clapton's segment shared a similar intimacy from the camera work, but Mick, Keith and the boys were far more successful than Slowhand.
The presentation of Roger Waters, obviously the same as he has used on his tour of "The Wall" overwhelmed the screen; the imagery and presentation was cold and un-affecting. Other than the presence of Eddie Vedder on "Comfortably Numb," Wednesday was just another re-visiting of Waters' most famous songs.
The acts made their messages clear through songs that reference weather -- the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and its opening of "born in a crossfire hurricane"; -- and perseverance -- Eric Clapton with the most obscure song in the Derek and the Dominoes' canon, "Got to Get Better in a Little While," and Kanye West's "Diamonds From Sierra Leone."
"Diamonds" was a highlight of West's set, which was largely snippets of tunes. He was stuck representing youth and the hip-hop community on the bill and the shortened versions of his songs eliminated any chance for his music to develop a dynamic quality on par with the rock acts.
Age, to some degree is an issue. Coldplay's Chris Martin suggested the Robin Hood Foundation could make a fortune if everyone would donate a dollar amount based on what they believe is the average age of the performers. The younger folks - Keys, Martin, comedian Adam Sandler with a reworked version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and West -- were the performers delivering a presentation they don;t do night after night on the road.
Martin gave the evening the jolt it needed, bringing out Michael Stipe for a duet on R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." Surprises when they include missing singers have staying power; Clapton injecting into his set perhaps the least known song from the Derek and the Dominoes' canon, "Got to Get Better in a Little While," becomes just a piece of trivia.
Comedians Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, talk show hosts Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and various celebrities took turns introducing the acts and clips about devastated areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Visits to the phone banks where celebrities were taking calls fell to a less than comfortable Brian Williams.
THE 12.12.12 SETLIST
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
"Land of Hope and Dreams"
"My City in Ruins">"Working on a Building">"Jersey Girl"
"Born to Run" with Jon Bon Jovi
Roger Waters with Eddie Vedder
"Another Brick in the Wall"
"Us and Them"
Adam Sandler with Paul Schaffer
rewrite of "Hallelujah"
"It's My Life"
"Wanted Dead or Alive"
"Who Says You Can't Go Home" with Bruce Springsteen
"Living on a Prayer"
"Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out"
"Got to get Better in a Little While"
"You Got Me Rocking"
"Jumpin Jack Flash"
"Brand New Me"
"Who are You"
"Pinball Wizard," "See Me, Feel Me"
"Tea & Theatre"
Abbreviated versions of:
"Run This Town"
"Diamonds From Sierra Leone"
"Touch the Sky"
"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)"
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
"New York State of Mind"
"River of Dreams"
"You May Be Right"
"Only the Good Die Young"
"Viva la Vida"
"Losing My Religion" with Michael Stipe
"Us Against The World"
"Let Me Roll It"
"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five"
"My Valentine," with Diana Krall
"Cut Me Some Slack" with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear
"I Got a Feeling"
"Live and Let Die"
"Empire State of Mind"