SHOW REVIEW

Garden Party For the Woods...

Although the television announcers yesterday morning were talking about the concert for Walden Pond, and a broadcast Monday night misplaced Walden Woods in upstate New York, Don Henley probably raised somebody's consciousness about the place. Not Mort Zuckerman's, maybe, but somebody's.

Regardless of how successful Henley turns out to be in his efforts to keep developer / publisher Zuckerman off of Henry David Thoreau's old stomping grounds (in Massachusetts), he certainly helped put on a good show Monday night. Most of that credit should go to Billy Joel, though, who pretty much turned the Garden inside out. But Henley was there, too. So was Sting.

But's let's stick to Joel, who demonstrated that even if you're a really big star you can still have fun playing your hits, as well as expanding their possibilities. You don't have to be embarrassed, as Sting seems to be, by your older material. 'Piano Man', for instance, sounded as fresh as it ever did, as did 'New York State of Mind'. Joel may not be the most profound songwriter we have, but he's knows what makes rock and roll rock and roll.

And he seemed happy to be there. Joel, Henley and Sting are performers who take themselves very seriously, and their appearance on one bill threatened to be a ponderous affair indeed. It wasn't, thanks to Joel who, although he looked and dressed like a real estate developer, was energetic and kept things burning - even on 'We Didn't Start the Fire', one of the more pat, lazy things he's ever done. 'Allentown' was strong, and illustrated his debt to early rock; 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant' had a certain grandeur, and 'The Longest Time', on which he was joined by the New York vocal group Rockapella, showed him in fine voice and having a great time wallowing around in the doo-wop.

Henley shouldn't have followed Joel; 'New York Minute' isn't 'New York State of Mind', and 'End of the Innocence', as fitting as it may have been for this occasion, isn't 'Only the Good Die Young'. Members of the audience were heading for the exits long before Henley finished his set, although he sounded fine. Serious but fine.

Sting, with adventurous backup from Branford Marsalis on sax, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and David Sancious on keyboards, was more accessible than usual, though still a bit chilly. He explored new rhythmic possibilitites in 'King of Pain', but neutered Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', which was as bad as 'King of Pain' was good. 'The Soul Cages' sounded fresher, but 'Roxanne' was perfunctory, and the vocal weak. He also successfully stripped all the darkness out of 'Every Step You Take', which was patronizingly funky. Not a memorable set but, then, it's been a long time since Sting was the opening act.

And did we mention Billy Joel?

(c) Newsday by John Anderson

Walden Woods Benefit...

There were no long-winded speeches or sermonettes at the Walden Woods Benefit concert Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

In keeping with the simplicity that Henry David Thoreau stressed in his writings, a few discreetly hung banners in the hallways and a short preconcert video narrated by actor James Earl Jones were the only reminders of the concert's purpose: to raise funds to save from developers the wooded area surrounding the historic Massachusetts pond. For the four and a half hour show, the first of three organized by Walden Woods Project founder Don Henley, the emphasis was strictly on the music.

The concert lineup read was a rock-and-roll dream team, Sting as the opener; Henley, the closer; and Billy Joel, tucked neatly between the two. And it performed like one. (Sting, Joel, and Henley were scheduled to appear again Tuesday night. Thursday, Henley will be joined by Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Buffett.)

Sting's set was heavily focused on material from his Police days, 'Message in a Bottle', 'Roxanne', 'Every Breath You Take', to name just a few. But rather than just regurgitate these classics, Sting altered or augmented the arrangements, bringing a sense of freshness and vitality to each.

On several songs, saxophonist Branford Marsalis joined the solid trio of musicians that accompanied Sting on his most recent concert swing, and the quartet delighted at every turn.

Particularly pleasing was the band's spirited interpretation of 'The Soul Cages', the title track of Sting's latest album. Marsalis' soprano sax added the perfect lilting touch to this midtempo rocker.

While Sting's voice sounded a bit worn and ragged at the start, his vocal problems abated by the time of his spirited rendition of 'King of Pain' and his raucous one of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'. The latter song has become a staple in Sting's repertoire, and the signal for him and David Sancious and Dominic Miller, trading guitar licks, to push out the throttle and really let loose.

Joel, on the other hand, didn't need to build to a climax. Opening with the fast-paced, contemporary-history chronicle 'We Didn't Start the Fire', he and his seven-member band arrived on stage with all cylinders firing. And Joel and company were relentless as they moved from one high-energy tune to the next.

Listeners barely had time to catch their breath before the band was off and running, pulling yet another song from Joel's greatest-hits list. A dynamo onstage, Joel performed as if he had to win over the crowd, but it was already solidly in his corner, just waiting for an opportunity to sing along or cheer lyrics.

Henley, who was introduced by Joel as "Mr. Walden Wood himself", had a tough act to follow. But he responded with one of the finest performances I've ever seen him give. Henley has passionately devoted the last two years to the Walden Woods Project, and his performance reflected the emotions that have driven him during his battle with land developers to preserve Walden Woods as open land.

'Dirty Laundry' was fuelled by ferocious anger. Determination, and even a hint of defiance, filled 'I Will Not Lie Down'. And love was the driving force of 'Wasted Time', 'The End of the Innocence', and 'Heart of the Matter'.

Normally a reserved performer, Henley poured his heart and soul into dramatic readings of his poignant love ballads, particularly the acoustic-laced 'Heart of the Matter'.

Henley said the song, which seeks forgiveness from a former lover, took him "42 years to write." Henley took his place behind the drums for a couple of Eagles classics, 'Hotel California' and 'Life in the Fast Lane', and then returned center stage to bring the evening to a memorable close with an achingly beautiful rendition of 'Desperado'.

(c) The Bergen Record by Barbara Jaeger

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