All-Star Line-Up Delivers Blues, Rock, Gospel and Soul Classics at 'Love Rocks NYC!' Concert: Recap

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Bruce Willis performs during "Love Rocks NYC! A Change is Gonna Come: Celebrating Songs of Peace, Love and Hope" A Benefit Concert for God's Love We Deliver at the Beacon Theatre on March 9, 2017 in New York City. 

It was appropriate that Thursday night’s all-star concert at the Beacon Theatre was benefiting God’s Love We Deliver. That worthy organization delivers meals to severely ill people throughout the New York City metropolitan area, and the show -- dubbed Love Rocks NYC! -- was an evening of musical comfort food. Featuring an amazing line-up of celebrated musicians performing “Songs of Peace, Love and Hope,” the memorable affair not only inspired people to donate money, but likely recruited volunteers for the organization as well.

With this sort of line-up, it wasn’t surprising that the evening was a marathon affair, lasting over four hours. It was anchored by a house band led by musical director Will Lee, and featuring such estimable players as Paul Shaffer, Steve Gadd, Shawn Pelton, Erick Krasno, Larry Campbell, and Jeff Young. To say that they anchored the proceedings magnificently would be an understatement -- during a quiet moment, one audience member shouted out a definitive review: “The house band is f---ing great!”

Bruce Willis, looking far more animated here than he has in any of his recent movies, kicked off the night by jamming with the band on harmonica. The actor was a frequent presence throughout the evening, including playing harp as Sam Moore and Joe Walsh performed the Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man.”

This was a feel-good evening, one not featuring themes of nihilism or despair but of uplifting soul, R&B, gospel, and pop classics that the older, baby boomer crowd --tickets were not inexpensive -- lapped up. The highlights are almost too numerous to mention, but they started with Mavis Staples demonstrating that the years have done little to diminish her soul-stirring voice, on performances of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Take You There.”

Bill Murray showed up halfway through the evening to take over MC duties. “An hour-and-a-half ago, I was watching a basketball game in Madison Square Garden,” he told the crowd. “And the world’s greatest arena has nothing on the Beacon Theatre tonight!” He also joked that, after this show, God’s Love We Deliver -- which provides meals to people with some 200 illnesses -- would have to add tinnitus to the list. When one audience member shouted out something unintelligible, Murray replied, “You can heckle, you paid a lot of money for these seats. You can say whatever you like. My parents are dead.”

These sort of one-off shows often feature ragged, under-rehearsed collaborations, but such wasn’t the case here. Keb Mo, Tash Neal and Billy Gibbons provided a triple guitar whammy on “The Thrill is Gone.” Anthony Hamilton and Catherine Russell sang “Night Time Is the Right Time” with a sensual energy. Warren Haynes and blues guitar wunderkind Marcus King (whose voice sounds like an old soul at age 20) brought it on home with “Bring It On Home.” Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald and the Blind Boys of Alabama soared to the rafters on “I Shall Be Released,” with the latter then joining Aaron Neville on “People Get Ready.” Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes furiously jammed on “Space Captain.”

The solo performances were equally thrilling. Gospel superstar CeCe Winans sang a new song, “Hey Devil,” with such blazing intensity that you could feel Satan running for cover. Lisa Fischer showed that she had no need for The Rolling Stones when it comes to bringing down the house with “Gimme Shelter.” Jackson Browne thrilled the crowd with his biggest hit, “Runnin’ on Empty.” Aaron Neville brought his trademark falsetto to the classic “A Change is Gonna Come.” And Joe Walsh performed his solo hit “Life’s Been Good” with slightly updated lyrics; his fans no longer “write [him] letters,” but rather “emails.”

Gary Clark Jr. was the only artist allowed the privilege of playing with his own band, and he didn’t disappoint, with a searing one-two punch of “The Healing” and “When My Train Pulls In.”

The eminent Dr. John closed the show proper with his decades-old classic, “Such a Night,” featuring a guitar assist by Walsh. Before the finale, in which nearly the entire line-up showed up onstage to sing “With a Little Help From My Friends,” there was some speechifying by the show’s presenters, top New York City real estate broker Greg Williamson and fashion designer John Varvatos.

“This is the beginning of a long-standing tradition in New York City,” Williamson declared of the show, which is intended to be an annual event. Judging by the audience’s rapturous response, there was no reason not to believe him.

Set List

Bruce Willis, "Tenth Avenue Tango"
Amy Helm and Jackie Greene, "Yes We Can"
Mavis Staples and Amy Helm, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"
Mavis Staples, "I’ll Take You There"
Keb Mo, "In My Life"
Keb Mo, Tash Neal and Billy Gibbons, "The Thrill is Gone"
Anthony Hamilton and Catherine Russell, "Night Time Is the Right Time"
CeCe Winans, "Hey Devil"
Gary Clark Jr. and William Bell, "Born Under a Bad Sign"
Warren Haynes, "Soulshine"
Warren Haynes, Marcus King and Bruce Willis, "Bring It On Home"
Marc Cohn, "Crazy Love"
Patty Smythe, John McEnroe, "Whole Lotta Love"
Michael McDonald, Catherine Russell, "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough"
Sam Moore, Joe Walsh and Bruce Willis, "Soul Man"
Lisa Fischer, "Gimme Shelter"
Gary Clark Jr. and band, "The Healing"
Gary Clark Jr. and band, "When My Train Pulls In"
Jackson Browne, "Runnin’ on Empty"
Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald and Blind Boys of Alabama, "I Shall Be Released"
Blind Boys of Alabama, Aaron Neville, "People Get Ready"
Aaron Neville, "A Change Is Gonna Come"
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, "Loving You is Sweeter"
Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, "Space Captain"
Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Sam Moore and Jackie Greene, "Lovelight"
Will Lee and Billy Gibbons, "Get Out of My Life Woman"
Billy Gibbons, "La Grange"
Joe Walsh, "Life’s Been Good"
Dr. John, "Such a Night"
Ensemble, "With a Little Help From My Friends"