A Long And Winding Show - Big names belt out Beatles set and more at Carnegie concert...
If you think some of the spontaneity has been squeezed out of live popular music, at least on the star level, you're right. Flashy stage shows, which most acts feel their fans expect in this age of slick video, have to be computer-choreographed almost to the nanosecond, or the lighting might come in at the wrong note.
Bruce Springsteen, who always looked so freewheeling, seemed to give in to a set list on his last rock tour. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has dumped its ragged and splendid jams. Once you get out of the bars and small clubs, the sense that anything can happen has faded, and it is missed.
So an event like Sting's annual Rainforest benefit show Monday at Carnegie Hall has an appeal beyond Elton John, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Roberta Flack, Emmylou Harris, Herbie Hancock, Joe Cocker and, it turned out, Madonna. It's the idea that while, yeah, it is rehearsed, some of the songs could still surprise you and there's even the chance for an actual offbeat moment.
The opening set had Taylor singing 'Sweet Baby James', Harris singing 'Boulder to Birmingham' and Elton dueting with Harris on 'Stand by Your Man', as a nod to Tammy Wynette. This was all good.
But the centerpiece was the second set, when all the guests did Beatles songs. Well, all except Madonna. She didn't appear in the first set, so she kicked off the second one with 'Frozen'.
Then the Beatles songs started and the first thing this always proves is how fine and lasting so many of those songs are. As a rock 'n' roll singer, Sting is from a different galaxy than John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but when he sings 'I Saw Her Standing There', it's still a fine rock 'n' roll song.
The core group of Sting, John, Joel and Taylor took most of the songs, and they gravitated toward middle-period Beatles: Sting doing 'Day Tripper', Joel doing 'Lady Madonna' and 'Got to Get You Into My Life', John doing 'We Can Work It Out' and 'Lucy in the Sky'. Sting and Joel dueted on 'Drive My Car' and Taylor sang 'I Will'.
Curiously, on a night that included several bows to the late Linda McCartney, Taylor didn't mention that 'I Will' was one of the first songs Paul dedicated to her - one of the first "silly love songs" and still one of the best.
Flack changed Lennon's 'Imagine' from a song sceptical about organized religion to a song embracing religion. It was also interesting that Cocker closed the show, suggesting his versions of 'Something', 'She Came in Through the Bathroom Window' and 'With a Little Help' have such history that they were the closest things at Carnegie to actual Beatle music.
In the end, though, you can almost pick Beatles songs out of a hat. When Elton John sings 'Across the Universe', he doesn't sound at 51 like Lennon did at 27. So what?
Monday's only inexcusable omission was that Harris, who does a sublime 'Here, There and Everywhere', didn't get a solo. But the fact that you could walk out of Carnegie Hall thinking about who sang what made it a welcome kind of rock'n'roll night.
(c) The Most New York web-site
Celebrities sing to save rain forests...
Sting, Madonna, Billy Joel, and Elton John were among the celebrity singers at the ninth annual benefit for the Rainforest Foundation.
The Monday night concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall raised money to help indigenous people save the rainforests in which they live. The foundation, co-founded and headed by Sting's wife Trudie Styler, has raised over $10 million since 1989, including an estimated $2 million from Monday's event.
The musicians enjoyed being a part of it.
"It's fun to work with other musicians you admire," Joel said. "And the cause is a good one." John agreed. "It's an event that, once you've done it, you want to do it every year because it's so much fun," he said. Joel performed the Beatles hit, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', and John sang his 1980s single, 'I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues'.
In 1994, the late Tammy Wynette participated in the Rainforest Foundation benefit. This year, her passing was noted by John and Emmy Lou Harris. "I put my hand up and said, 'I'll do 'Stand By Your Man', which I knew she would have loved," John said. "She would've giggled at that."
Sting played a jazzy version of 'Roxanne', and Madonna - making a surprise appearance - joined in for the group finale as they sang the foundation's theme song, 'With a Little Help from My Friends'.
New York City played the agreeable host by temporarily renaming the street outside Carnegie Hall "Rainforest Way." The city also lit up the Empire State Building in green light.
Faces Were Red, Rosie Was Blue at Big Benefit...
Rosie O'Donnell dislocated some jaws at Monday's Rainforest Foundation benefit. The cuddly talk-show hostess and mommy got back in touch with her raunchier days as a standup comic by repeating a deep-blue joke that David Bowie once told her. Trying to paraphrase it in a family newspaper could leave us with lockjaw.
So let's just say it involved an act that wouldn't be foreign to George Michael. Some in the black-tie crowd gasped. But given that the crowd was mostly made up of music industry people, O'Donnell got a big laugh. The comic explained to everyone that the only reason she took this gig was because she once confused Sting with Phil Collins on her show. Hence her introduction of Madonna and Sting as "Courtney Love and Phil Collins." Madonna kept referring to pal Rosie as "Kathy Bates." As for Sting, he said that he felt free to hug the Material Gal with abandon because "I got permission from [his wife] Trudie Styler to flirt with you."
The first part of the evening had a country twang. "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman," sang Elton John, dedicating Tammy Wynette's ballad to her widower, George Richey, who was in the audience with his family (The song also gave Elton his chance to dance with Sting.)
After intermission came a Beatles tribute awash in psychedelic light. Sting reminisced about 'Penny Lane'. Elton dedicated 'Across the Universe' to Paul and Linda McCartney. Joel recalled how, the night of John Lennon's murder, he rode his motorcycle for hours until he got to a bar where he sat down at a piano and joined other Lennon mourners in a chorus of 'In My Life' - a tune Joel performed for the Carnegie crowd.
Joe Cocker joined James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Roberta Flack, Wynonna Judd, Tsidii Leloka and the rest of the stars for 'I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.' A tribute within a tribute Joel couldn't resist aping Cocker's famously jerky performance style.
(c) The New York Daily News
With A Little Help From Our Friends...
On Monday evening April 27th 1998, Carnegie Hall was the location for the 9th Annual Rainforest Foundation Benefit Concert.
To make this a night to remember, Trudie Styler (co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation) reunited the "Fab Four" for this special event. Not John, Paul, Ringo and George, but James, Billy, Elton and (husband) Sting who formed the basis for an entertaining evening of Beatles tunes.
The first half of the show was all the stars singing their signature pieces. Sting opened with an acoustic version of 'Roxanne'. Then Elton John came out and sang 'I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues'. James Taylor was followed by Billy Joel, who wanted to play another song. But since Trudie asked him (I think Billy saw it more as a threat) to do a different song at this time in the show - "I figured tonight I had to do what she wanted," - he sang 'New York State of Mind'. Each of the stars stayed on stage after their songs and just sat by the piano on stools.
The first feminine input, between these big guys, came from Emmylou Harris. Together with Elton John she paid tribute to Tammy Wynette by playing 'Stand By Your Man'. Elton's singing of "some- times it's hard to be a woman" and dancing with Sting during the instrumental part really caused some hilarious moments. Next, Emmylou Harris (with everyone singing backup) sang her 70's hit 'C'est La Vie You Never Can Tell'.
From country to jazz. Roberta Flack was the second lady on stage. She sang 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' and 'Killing Me Softly' and it was then time for some serious stuff as James Taylor introduced Trudie Styler. In her speech (see left for the full text), she stressed the need of continuation of the work more then ever, after a disastrous year for the world's rainforests. "We at the Rainforest Foundation know it's going to be a long fight but we're not going to give up, shut up or go away. The birth of the new millennium must bring radical solutions to prevent total environmental disaster."
Of course, it's not only environmental, but also personal losses that have made the previous year so sad. Tammy Wynette, Carlos Vega, Linda McCartney and Gianni Versace were amongst the Rainforest's ardent supporters, and have passed away in recent months. To pay tribute to these people, Sting performed 'Fragile' and then actor Sidney Poitier recalled the song in his "Mandela's" speech by saying: "How fragile we are indeed. What can we do to make this a better world? It has to begin within ourselves" with which he perhaps meant to say; don't think black or white... think green!?
The cast of the 'The Lion King' ended the first half of the show with a wonderful number from the play called 'One by One'. They wore wonderful bright costumes and had these great paper birds on long wires that flew over the audience's heads.
The second half opened with the "surprise guest" who had her back turned to the audience and facing a large orchestra who were set up on stage. The mystery guest was Madonna who sang her new song, 'Frozen'. While the stage was being rearranged for the grand finale Rosie O'Donnell did some comedy. She explained that she has to appear at "Every God damned thing" they ask, because she once confused Sting with Phil Collins on her TV show!
Rosie introduced 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and the 'house band' came out all in Sgt. Pepper's costumes! The "Rainforest's Fab Four" and guests were going to sing their favourite Beatles' songs during the rest of the evening, starting with 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'. Billy Joel's prefaced 'In My Life' by saying it had a lot of meaning for him. After he heard John Lennon died, he just got on his motorcycle and rode, not knowing where, and ended up in this bar playing Lennon tunes and this was the one which stuck with him the most. Sting and Billy then dueted on 'Drive My Car' and Sting's Beatles all time favourite, 'Penny Lane' on which the trumpet was really. Roberta Flack returned and sang 'Imagine', but more stars were yet to come, as Herbie Hancock took his place behind the piano for 'Come Together'.
The next treat came after Sir Elton's performance of 'We Can Work It Out' and 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds'. Billy Joel said how pleased he was to introduce "the next guy 'coz he used to 'do him' for years" - Joe Cocker! Joe sang 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window' with the whole house going nuts for him.
All the performers returned to the stage for the finale, including Trudie Styler, Sidney Poitier, Wynonna Judd, Madonna and all the other performers to sing an amazing 'I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends' which had everyone out of their seats. Since all the crowd in Carnegie Hall was standing anyway, they said goodnight, and then ended with 'Twist And Shout'.
See you at the 10th Rainforest Benefit Concert Anniversary next year?
(c) Luuk Schroijen for Sting.com
Meet the Beatles again, and their musical fans...
You can't go wrong with a Beatles tune. For the generation that can afford $125 tickets to benefit shows, Lennon-Mccartney songs are so deeply and fondly remembered that a competent performance is lovable and anything better is pure delight. That's what Sting and his cohorts realized for the ninth annual Rainforest Foundation benefit concert, which took place at Carnegie Hall on Monday night.
In the first half of the concert, Sting, Billy Joel,, Elton John, James Taylor, Roberta Flack and Emmylou Harris sang Their own hits, most of them ballads that brooded over love or mortality or ineffable sadness. It was the serious part of the show, with moments of pristine grace in Sting's 'Fragile' and Ms. Flack's 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'. And it was the high-minded part of the show: Sidney Poitier read a motivational Nelson Mandela speech, followed by the cast of 'The Lion King' singing the jubilant, South African-style 'One by One'.
After intermission, Madonna made an unannounced appearance to sing 'Frozen', a song that urges a friend to let go of the past. Strings (from the East Harlem Violin Project) played mournful chords or quasi-Arabic lines while a midtempo hiphop beat came and went. Madonna, dulcet and careful, had turned herself into America's answer to Bjork.
Then came the fun. The backup band re-emerged in bright satin uniforms with epaulets, as on the cover of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', and the stars revealed that they, too, were Beatles fans. With a home section onstage, they could perform songs like 'Got to Get You Into My Life' (Mr. Joel) and 'Penny Lane' (which Sting named as his favorite Beatles song). The high trumpet part in 'Penny Lane' got its own round of applause. Mr. Taylor crooned 'I Will' ; Ms. Flack put a gospel coda on 'Imagine'. When Sting and James Taylor sang 'Come Together', Herbie Hancock sat in on the piano adding splashes of jazzy dissonance between the lines. And Mr. Joel did an unabashed John Lennon imitation in 'Lucy in the Sky (With Diamonds)'.
When Mr. Joel sang 'In My Life', a ballad about places and people now gone, it seemed unexpected fitting for the occasion. But it's doubtful that 'Drive My Car' was a warning about fossil-fuel pollution of or that 'Lady Madonna' (for which Madonna stayed backstage) was on the program to suggest the perils of overpopulation. The Beatles Songs were cheerful but decorous until Joe Cocker rived on stage and restored them to rock. His disheveled belting on 'She Came in Through the Bathroom Window', roughewn but with pinpoint timing, made everyone perk up; by the finale of 'With a Little Help From My Friends' and 'Twist and Shout', Madonna had topped her Versace dress with a Cowboy hat, and she was showing all the sensitive songwriters around her how to do the twist.
(c) The New York Times by Jon Pareles
The church of rock'n'roll...
The church of rock'n'roll took up temporary residence at venerable Carnegie Hall last night for the annual tree hugger's ball to benefit the Rainforest Foundation.
The saints on the all-star bill included benefit regulars Elton John, James Taylor and Sting, and a newcomer to the cause - Billy Joel. There were also rumors flying that God was coming, but he cancelled and sent Madonna to fill in for him.
It was the kind of concert that made the listener slack-jawed from the unrelenting, high-powered names and performances. The evening was really two concerts in one. The first half had each member of the musical Mount Rushmore doing one of their signature tunes, and then doing back-up vocals for the others. The second half of the show featured last night's fab four honoring John, Paul, George and Ringo in an all-Beatles program.
At the split where the two mini-concerts met, Madonna did a sex'n'violins version of her steamy hit 'Frozen' with a 24-kid fiddle outfit from East Harlem. Sting opened the show by putting on the red light with a powerful acoustic version of 'Roxanne'. It was understated and a nice way to get the concert rolling. At the close of the tune, Sting stuck and sat quietly on a bar stool watching Elton John work 'I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues'. Like Sting's performance, it was pretty, and certainly had the audience's attention, but it was James Taylor's 'Sweet Baby James' that was the evening's first spine-chilling gem.
It was a tough act to follow. Billy Joel saw the fans all goo-goo eyed at Taylor's sweet lullaby, and an did a switch from his rehearsed tune and powered through 'New York State of Mind'. He said Mrs. Sting, a.k.a. Trudie Styler, insisted he do that for her benefit show, and Joel added with a hint of fear in his voice: "I'm not arguing with her tonight."
It was here that Joel proved that this concert wasn't a bunch of escapees from the Rock of Ages old-folks home, but a vibrant night of stellar music. He worked the piece with nimble vocal acrobatics that, more often than not, referenced his personal hero, Ray Charles.
The concert honoured many of the benefit's supporters who have died in the past year, including Gianni Versace, Linda McCartney and Tammy Wynette (who starred in the 1994 edition of the show). It could have turned maudlin, but there was a bit of fun when the great Emmylou Harris backed up Elton John, who sang the lead vocal for Wynette's best-loved tune, 'Stand By Your Man'.
John's ambiguous sexuality made his bold rendering of the opening lyrics a riot. As he sang, "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, giving all your love to one man," the fans were rolling with laughter. By mid-song, Harris took over, allowing Elton to do a cheek-to-cheek two-step with an all-too-willing Sting.
Trudie gave an impassioned speech about not giving up, shutting up or going away when it comes to fighting the powers willing to destroy the rain forests. It was brief, interesting and - in the nine years of Rainforest benefit concert yammerings - the one time Mrs. S. hit a home run.
Madonna's 'Frozen' was pretty good, but it isn't the best tune from her new disc. The now maternal girl gave a welcomed diversion to the mostly boys-club show, but she didn't achieve the showstopper that everyone anticipated when she first stepped onto the stage. During Madonna's bow, when she was wrapped around Sting in a Trudie approved ultra-flirt, the evening's comic guest, Rosie O'Donnell, got big laughs when she screamed from the wings, "Look, it's Courtney Love and Phil Collins!"
Everybody has a favourite Beatle song - including these megastars - but even a talented all-star cast like this should have rethought their Beatle selections before actually doing them. The winners in the Beatle sound-alike were Billy Joel and Sting doing 'Driving My Car'. Elton's version of 'Across the Universe', which he dedicated to Linda McCartney, was also quite good. And unannounced vocal stylist Joe Cocker was terrific on 'Get By With a Little Help From My Friends'. Robert Flack's version of John Lennon's 'Imagine' was less forgettable (and not a Beatle song) and James Taylor's 'Come Together' was weak.
Still, even with the occasional yawner, the performances and the program were mostly excellent, allowing the annual concert to hold on to it's title of one of the top musical variety shows of the year.
(c) The New York Post by Dan Aquitalane