Pure entertainment from start to finish...
The evening kicked off with Elton John, Sting, Billy Joel, James Taylor and Charles Aznavour clowning around like the Rat Pack on 'Well, Did You Evah!' - a swingin' serenade that promises, "What a swell party it is." Once you got used to the idea that none of the rockers on the bill was even going to rock, swell is just what the Ninth Annual Rainforest Foundation Benefit was.
Suave instead of sweaty, sentimental instead of stompin', the concert to aid the rain forest and its indigenous tribes was nevertheless pure entertainment from start to finish. As well it should have been, with ticket prices ranging from $100 for a rafter seat to $2,000 for a prime spot plus the post-concert gala.
The show was a tribute to Frank Sinatra, who died nearly a year ago. Of course, none of the night's stars could match Ol' Blue Eyes' vocal finesse. But with most of the younger performers getting on in age and their rock hits becoming standards, the theme was oddly appropriate.
And most of the gang - including those who weren't obvious pros at this type of venue, such as septuagenarians Aznavour and Tony Bennett - did surprisingly well crooning to the tinkling piano, gauzy percussion, jazzy horn toots and swooning strings of the 40-piece Frank Sinatra Orchestra.
John, his suit a-glitter, stole the show several times, and not just when he placed a wedding veil on Sting's head, waltzed him around the stage and kissed him while singing: "Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage." His vocals were resonant and smooth; his pacing on 'Come Fly With Me' would have made The Chairman proud.
Joel - who like the other stars sang but didn't play any instruments - was in equally fine form, relaxed yet dynamic. The newly anointed Rock and Roll Hall of Famer performed 'One for My Baby' boozy and bluesy; his 'The Lady Is a Tramp' was sassy and brassy.
Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin, who swiveled his hips and struck cocky Sinatra poses in a gray suit and porkpie hat, exuded an unstoppable mix of self-confidence and exuberance as he sang a butter-smooth 'I've Got the World on a String' to a steamy, tropical beat.
Bill Murray, the night's surprise guest, did irreverent justice to 'My Way', posing as Sinatra the tyrant as he bellowed lyrics, barked at the orchestra, blithely ad-libbed verses, swilled from a bottle and staggered about the stage. Murray's decadence wasn't quite up to the level of Sid Vicious' late-'70s take, but his vocals were surprisingly forceful and emotive.
A feline Sandra Bernhard, sporting spike-heeled black boots and a '60s coat, added to the theatrics by engagingly growling her way through the Nancy Sinatra hit 'These Boots Are Made for Walking'.
Sting, who organized the benefit with his wife, Trudie Styler, performed a dreamy 'In the Wee Small Hours', a song that lent itself perfectly to his high, yearning tones. Taylor looked endearingly geeky as he sang 'I Get a Kick Out of You', but he compensated with boyish earnestness, gentle warmth and a shyly beaming smile.
Don Henley was another fish out of water, stiff and blow-dried in a suit and tie. His voice was too raspy to do justice to 'Here Goes', but he redeemed himself with a heartfelt 'Angel Eyes'.
(c) The Los Angeles Times by Letta Tayler
Rainforest goes Sinatra...
Elton John sang 'Love and Marriage', Billy Joel did 'I've Got You Under My Skin', and Sting, James Taylor and Don Henley added their own renditions of Frank Sinatra songs during the ninth annual benefit for the Rainforest Foundation Saturday night at Carnegie Hall.
In paying tribute to the standards made famous by the pop crooner - who died last May - the mostly veteran rock stars on Saturday's bill demonstrated how far they've travelled since the days when a generation gap stood squarely between their music and that of Sinatra and his peers. They sounded startlingly comfortable singing tunes from the other side of that gap.
Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joel has always walked a thin line between rock and adult- contemporary music, so it was no surprise then that he earned some of the night's biggest applause for his renditions of such Sinatra favorites as 'I've Got You Under My Skin'.
Joel, who opened the show singing 'Well Did You Evah' with Sting, John and Taylor, looked like he was having a blast. He and John - who toured together last year - did soft-shoe dance moves to the beat of a 40-piece combo introduced as "the original Frank Sinatra orchestra."
But Joel's contributions sounded as much like an impersonation as a tribute. His timbre is eerily like Sinatra's, and he dropped his rocker growl and copied Ol' Blue Eyes' phrasing for effect.
Ex-Police frontman Sting (born Gordon Sumner) has always incorporated jazz, traditional pop and smooth soul in his solo work, so he was at home Saturday with tunes such as 'Witchcraft' and 'In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning'. On the latter, he dropped his voice low and softly phrased such lines as "that's the time you miss her most of all" without sacrificing his own vocal style.
Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, produced the show, which raised more than $2 million for the preservation of the world's rainforests, a cause she has long championed. Sting and Styler established the Rainforest Foundation in 1988.
John provided some of the night's most amusing moments. He sang 'Love and Marriage', clearly relishing the irony of an out-and-proud gay rock star extolling the virtues of a traditional union. As he sang such lines as "ask the local gentry and they will say it's elementary," John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight) pranced around the stage, at one point grabbing Sting for a cheek-to-cheek dance. John put a wedding veil on his amused partner and kissed him.
John then introduced comedian Sandra Bernhard as "a true diva ... and God knows I had a week of that."
He was referring to his stint earlier that week on VH1's 'Divas '99' concert with Cher, Whitney Houston and other pop songstresses.
John and Bernhard, who was dressed in a shimmering silver gown, dueted on a breezy, comic 'Somethin' Stupid', a major 1967 hit for Sinatra and his daughter Nancy. Bernhard then changed into a multicolored shorts suit and high black boots for a farcical take on 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin', Nancy's best-known tune. "Are you ready boots? ... Start walking!" Bernhard yelled as she marched in place.
Comedian Bill Murray, a surprise guest, provided more laughs. He resurrected his old 'Saturday Night Live' nightclub-singer shtick for Sinatra's signature tune, 'My Way'. The audience, comprised of a broad range of ages, howled with laughter when Murray sang, "I banged them all / Fat, short, and tall / And did it my way."
Taylor generated giggles, too, when he placed an ironic emphasis on the line "I get no kick from cocaine," in 'I Get a Kick Out of You'. Surprisingly, the soft-rock singer/songwriter also drove the swinging 'Night and Day' home with a booming vocal.
Henley, by contrast, looked stiff. His high-pitched voice, perfect for the repertoire of his original band, the Eagles, seemed ill-suited for 'Here Goes' and 'Angel Eyes'.
The show-stopper of the second act was young Latin balladeer Ricky Martin, who had female audience members screaming as he sang and danced passionately to 'I've Got the World on a String'. He threw his top hat into the audience, which applauded at a deafening volume.
For the finale, 'Theme from New York, New York', the rockers stood in line, all in black top hats, and did leg kicks along with Tony Bennett - a Sinatra contemporary - and French crooner Charles Aznavour. Joel sang in the voice of Marlon Brando's "Godfather" character.
The mix of musical styles wasn't a total hit with everyone.
"They handled the classics well," said 25-year-old Bridget Rogan. "But it was disappointing they didn't do some of their own songs."
For others, the show was worth the steep ticket prices, which were as high as $2,000.
"We drove six hours from Maine to see Sting," said 25-year-old Michelle Porch. "He's not playing anywhere else in the U.S. this year."
(c) Sonicnet Website by Frank Tortorici