Selected Miscellaneous Shows
May
13
2010
New York City, USRainforest Benefit (Carnegie Hall)
With Rainforest Benefit Concert
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Stars Sing to Save Rain Forests (and Maybe Redeem the '80s, Too)...

Camping in the rain forest got a new meaning on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. It was the annual benefit for the Rainforest Fund that features Sting and is produced by his wife, Trudie Styler. The fund supports the preservation of rain forests worldwide and the rights of their indigenous peoples. The camp was in this year's lineup - including Elton John, Lady Gaga and the diva of James Bond movie scores, Shirley Bassey - and some wry production numbers.

Mr. John sang a Madonna medley - "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin" - while surrounded and fondled by male dancers who wore only briefs. And when Ms. Bassey sang "Big Spender," shaking to show off her fringed black dress, Mr. John and Sting flanked her in semi-drag: Mr. John flaunting a boa, and Sting wearing a flowered hat, dangling earrings and a glittery necklace. Sting had started the concert with his "Englishman in New York," backed by strings and horns, a song inspired by the proudly gay author Quentin Crisp. (It may have been a preview of Sting's world tour, in which he will be backed by an orchestra.)

Lady Gaga was, as usual, memorably dressed for the occasion. She appeared as a kind of fairy princess in white, with a short starched dress and a pointy-shouldered top, elevated by platform boots. She sang "Stand by Me" with Sting and was joined by Mr. John for a reprise of the duet they played at the 2010 Grammy Awards, mixing her "Speechless" with his "Your Song." Ms. Bassey unleashed her volcanic crescendos in three songs parading luxury: "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Big Spender."

The night's ostensible theme was revisiting the 1980s, perhaps because the Rainforest Fund was started in 1989. The '80s framework was one reason for the Madonna medley, and for the two songs performed by Deborah Harry of Blondie: "Call Me" and "The Tide Is High," both released in 1980. (She sings them now with less new-wave insistence and more chanteuse breathiness.) Sting's '80s choice was the Fine Young Cannibals' 1989 hit "She Drives Me Crazy"; for part of it, he danced with his wife.

Mr. John sang a Madonna medley - "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin" - while surrounded and fondled by male dancers who wore only briefs. And when Ms. Bassey sang "Big Spender," shaking to show off her fringed black dress, Mr. John and Sting flanked her in semi-drag: Mr. John flaunting a boa, and Sting wearing a flowered hat, dangling earrings and a glittery necklace. Sting had started the concert with his "Englishman in New York," backed by strings and horns, a song inspired by the proudly gay author Quentin Crisp. (It may have been a preview of Sting's world tour, in which he will be backed by an orchestra.)

Lady Gaga was, as usual, memorably dressed for the occasion. She appeared as a kind of fairy princess in white, with a short starched dress and a pointy-shouldered top, elevated by platform boots. She sang "Stand by Me" with Sting and was joined by Mr. John for a reprise of the duet they played at the 2010 Grammy Awards, mixing her "Speechless" with his "Your Song." Ms. Bassey unleashed her volcanic crescendos in three songs parading luxury: "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Big Spender."

The night's ostensible theme was revisiting the 1980s, perhaps because the Rainforest Fund was started in 1989. The '80s framework was one reason for the Madonna medley, and for the two songs performed by Deborah Harry of Blondie: "Call Me" and "The Tide Is High," both released in 1980. (She sings them now with less new-wave insistence and more chanteuse breathiness.) Sting's '80s choice was the Fine Young Cannibals' 1989 hit "She Drives Me Crazy"; for part of it, he danced with his wife.

The 1980s timeline wasn't binding. Sting performed his "Whenever I Say Your Name," from 2003, with his original duet partner, Mary J. Blige, singing jazzy, sultry arabesques all around him. Mr. John sang the Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 hit "Summer in the City," while John Sebastian, who performed and helped write the original version, played guitar in the backup band. And Chic - whose guitarist, Nile Rodgers, was also in the backing band - performed "Le Freak," the disco hit from 1978.

The concert's unannounced performer, Bruce Springsteen, joked that when Sting had told him the theme was '80s nostalgia, he had responded, "Sting, we're '80s nostalgia." He turned a jovial, well-intentioned evening into a flat-out rock concert. He cued audience shout-alongs in his 1984 hit "Dancing in the Dark" and gamely chose a 1980s hit: Bryan Adams's "Cuts Like a Knife," from 1983. Mr. Springsteen improved that compendium of clich├ęs a hundredfold, turning it into a soul buildup as he preached a story about betrayal, pain and release: "If it hurt, let me hear you holler!"

Sting said that Mr. Springsteen also chose the concert's all-star finale - a song, Sting said, that he didn't know. "Everyone in the country knows it but you," he was told. It was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' ": a 1981 arena crowd-pleaser once scorned as cheesy corporate rock. Now, from its appearance in the finale of "The Sopranos" to a best-selling version from "Glee" to a Springsteen endorsement at Carnegie Hall, it's well on its way to rehabilitation.

(c) New York Times by Jon Pareles

Springsteen, Lady Gaga Rock Epic Journey Duet at Rainforest Benefit - Sting and Elton John's annual fundraiser brings Madonna covers, nearly nude dancers and glittery '80s hits to Carnegie Hall...

Last night at Carnegie Hall, it was hard to imagine anything could top Sting covering the Fine Young Cannibals, Elton John leading eight dancers in minuscule bathing suits through an uproarious "Like a Virgin" and surprise guest Bruce Springsteen rocking an impassioned, nearly 10-minute Bryan Adams cover. That was until Lady Gaga emerged and Bruce began playing the opening notes of "Don't Stop Believing." The next five minutes were like a psychotic fever dream. If the sight of Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga embracing each other as they traded lines on a Journey song wasn't enough, Elton's nearly nude dancer squad returned as Sting, Debbie Harry, Shirley Bassey and John joined in. Springsteen said he'd never heard of the song until rehearsals, but blasted out the track's famous guitar solo before briefly joining the dance line, giving Lady Gaga a giant hug and walking offstage looking as stunned as the audience at what had just transpired.

A finale this mind-bloggling is only possible at Sting and Elton John's annual Rainforest benefit in New York. Since 1989, the two musicians have been raising money for the cause by putting on the most bizarre show imaginable. Most year's concerts begin with a rotating cast of artists singing duets on their hits, followed by a second act in which every song shares a theme. If you couldn't guess, this year's organizing principle was the 1980s. Band leader Nile Rodgers kicked off that part of the evening with his classic disco hit "Le Freak." The song is from 1978, but nobody -- especially the upper-crust crowd dancing in the aisles -- seemed to care about the slight transgression. Elton John briefly deviated from the theme to sing the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" as a tribute to John Sebastian, who was sitting in with the band on guitar. Debbie Harry, looking ravishing in a red dress, got the 1980s dance party started for real with the Blondie hit "Call Me."

"This is one of those moments where 10 years from now you'll be saying, 'Remember when Elton did that?' " John announced before launching into a spirited cover of Madonna's "Material Girl" featuring some nice dance moves by the Rocket Man. The dance troupe arrived for an absolutely bonkers "Like a Virgin" as Sting stood on the side of the stage cracking up. "As they say in show business," Sting said, " 'Follow that!' " He came pretty close by busting out the Fine Young Cannibals' 1989 hit "She Drives Me Crazy" with incredible commitment and gusto.

The only person capable of boosting the energy in the room suddenly took the stage next. "This show needs a cardiac event," Sting said as Bruce began singing "Dancing in the Dark" from offstage. "I'm the hired gun for the evening," Springsteen announced. "Sting told me we're doing a show of '80s nostalgia. I said, 'That's easy! We're both '80s nostalgia!' "

Then it got even weirder. "This is a favorite single of mine from the 1980s," Springsteen said as he grabbed a new guitar. "I always knew there was a soul sing hidden inside of it." It took about 30 seconds before it became clear he was playing "Cuts Like a Knife" by Bryan Adams. Halfway through a very long version he stopped the song, fell down to his knees James Brown-style, and told an incredibly lengthy story about an old girlfriend who supposedly left him for a slightly more famous singer. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the bizarre performance more: the crowd, Springsteen, or Elton and Sting as they stood on the side of the stage in slack-jawed disbelief.

The evening began with Sting performing "An Englishman in New York" followed by Elton, the house band and a huge orchestra playing "Philadelphia Freedom." Elton then introduced the most anticipated performer of the evening: Lady Gaga. "This girl is everything," he said. "She can sing. She can play. She's the real deal." Looking quite dressed down and demure (at least by her standards) in a bell-shaped white dress, Gaga settled in at the piano and led the band in a note-perfect cover of "Stand By Me." "I wrote this next song for my dad," she told the crowd before launching into "Speechless." "He's here tonight." Midway through the track, Elton John strolled back onstage and sat down at sat down at another piano. "It's my other daddy!" Gaga squealed as the two reprised their Grammy performance, splicing in parts of John's "Your Song."

Sting and Mary J. Blige - who got shockingly little stage time - revived their 2003 duet "Whenever I Say Your Name" shortly before Sting's wife Trudie Styler gave a speech about the vital work of the Rainforest Foundation. After a film clip of Sting and Trudie's trip to the Amazon, Shirley Bassey belted out "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Goldfinger." The two James Bond themes have absolutely nothing to do with the rainforest, but they were fun and helped earn a ton of money for the cause, which was ultimately the real point of all the mind-blowing musical magic. "No one wants their money back! But I'm not surprised, it was one of the best shows I'd ever been in, or seen, it was incredible," Sting told Rolling Stone after the concert. "Bruce brought the house down because I told him he had to bring the house down. Gaga was incredible. I mean, forget it, it was just a brilliant show."

(c) Rolling Stone by Andy Greene (Additional reporting by Jennifer Vineyard)

Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John highlight Rain Forest show at Carnegie Hall...

Saving the rain forest can bring out the sincere side of anyone, it seems - even Lady Gaga.

At Thursday night's all-star fund-raiser to preserve those endangered parts of the world, a very ladylike Gaga sat poised at the piano at Carnegie Hall and delivered a sober version of one of the most earnest pop songs of all time: "Stand By Me."

Accompanied by Sir Elton John on her next song, "Speechless," she rendered the melody with operatic gravity, moving into John's own "Your Song," as if the two hits - and the two stars - were made for each other.

The result may have done just as much to benefit Gaga's evolving image as it did to aid the world's wildlife.

It handily put her in the company of the pop classics. It also delivered a sure and savvy contrast to the rest of the night.

For their entire 21-year history, the Rain Forest concerts have kept their events on the light side, letting top stars have fun with songs from their own catalogues, and those of others, while hosts Sting and wife Trudy Styler cheer them on.

Much of Thursday night's event tried just as hard to keep things camp as Gaga did to play it straight - with equally rousing results.

Let's see: We had Dame Shirley Bassey belting out not one, but two, gaudy James Bond themes - "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever" - before going even further over the top with "Hey Big Spender."

Even at 73(!) her brassy voice has lost none of its volcanic vibrato.

Next we had surprise guest star Bruce Springsteen, who turned up to do a gut renovation on Bryan Adams' hit "Cuts Like A Knife."

He turned it from a toy-rock bauble into a Solomon Burke-like slice of soul.

But it was John who stole the show. Taking a deep, and well-advised, breath, he dove into Madonna's "Material Girl" and "Like A Virgin" while a kick line of go-go boys in Speedos flitted around him with moves worthy of Cirque Du Soleil.

Genius.

Those last two theatrical outbursts arrived during the show's second half, which meant to salute the '80s, though apparently not everybody got the memo.

Nile Rodgers offered up his chic hit from 1978, "Le Freak," while John reached all the way back to the '60s for John Sebastian's "Summer In The City."

(Sebastian himself accompanied the gigantic 40-plus piece band on guitar, but did not sing).

For a finale, the whole troupe (which also included Debbie Harry and Mary J. Blige) came out to sing a kitschy oldie that has somehow become the song of the hour: Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

Sung in this context, its chorus' statement of faith seemed downright political - which may just have been the smartest mix of camp and sincerity of this entire wonderful night.

(c) New York Daily News by Jim Farber

Setlist:

Sting - Englishman In New York
Elton John - Philadelphia Freedom
Sting/Lady Gaga - Stand By Me
Elton/Lady Gaga - Speechless/Your Song
Sting/Mary J Blige - Whenever I Say Your Name
Debbie Harry - Tide Is High
Elton John - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
Chris Noth - Intro Trudie
Trudie Speech
Dame Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger
Dame Shirley Bassey - Diamonds Are Forever
Dame Shirley Bassey/Elton/Sting - Hey Big Spender
Nile And Chic (Principals) - Le Freak
Sting/Elton - Summer In The City
Debbie Harry - Call Me
Elton John - Material Girl/Like A Virgin
Sting - She Drives Me Crazy
Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In The Dark
Bruce Springsteen - Cuts Like A Knife
Bruce Springsteen And All/ Finale - Don't Stop Believing

SET LIST

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