Superstars from David Bowie to Paul McCartney to Jagger and Richards
rained classic rock on thousands of firefighters, police officers and
rescue workers Saturday night in a concert that raised millions of
dollars for September 11 relief efforts.
While last month's relatively somber "America: A Tribute to Heroes"
echoed the shock of a nation in mourning (see "Mariah Carey,
Springsteen, Other Stars Sing For America On Telethon"), the Concert for
New York reflected the resolve of a country set on celebrating the
heroism of its people and commitment to freedom. The live VH1 broadcast
of the show, at Madison Square Garden, featured a telephone number and
Web site ( www.helping.org) for music fans to donate money, and
Cablevision president and chief executive James Dolan told
Reuters that ticket sales had already raised $14 million.
The show began quietly, with Bowie sitting solo at a keyboard, playing a calliope-like accompaniment as he sang Simon and Garfunkel's "America." When he
launched into a soaring, full-band version of "Heroes" backed, as
others would be, by Paul Shaffer and others from the "Late Show With
David Letterman" house band the cops and firefighters began dancing in
the aisles, and they rarely let up through the nearly six-hour show.
After an introductory monologue by Billy Crystal, who managed to draw
laughs from such unfunny subjects as Osama Bin Laden and anthrax, Bon
Jovi got fists pumping with mostly acoustic versions of "Livin' on a
Prayer" and a rocking "It's My Life," while Goo Goo Dolls turned "Iris"
with its repeated line "I just want you to know who I am" into an
insistent demand to recognize the men and women lost on September 11.
On the Garden floor, rescue workers and their families held up pictures
of the fallen comrades, some along with signs expressing such poignant
sentiments as "My dad is your hero." Tears were few, though they did
fall during James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and during Elton John and
Billy Joel's version of John's "Your Song."
Joel, a lifelong New Yorker, drew deafening cheers with both the eerily
apropos "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" a rocking,
apocalyptic account of watching "the Empire State laid low" and his
more loving ode to the Big Apple, "New York State of Mind."
While Saturday's lineup was loaded with classic rockers, a few younger
voices turned up, too, including Jay-Z, Destiny's Child and Backstreet
Jay-Z performed "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" early in the show, the tune's "not
guilty" line ringing out ironically less than a week after the rapper
pleaded guilty to a stabbing charge in New York. Destiny's Child, on the
other hand, went for a healing vibe with "Emotion" and a gospel medley,
while Backstreet Boys did an a cappella medley of hits including "I Want
It That Way" before Brian Littrell donned an NYPD hat for "Quit Playing
Games (With My Heart)."
Melissa Etheridge got some help from the audience when her microphone
went out during "Come to My Window" and then delivered an acoustic
version of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
The night's most intense music, and most raucous applause, came while
the Who were onstage. The British Invasion band started out sounding
rusty and slightly out of sync on "Who Are You," and singer Roger
Daltrey would struggle with his voice throughout a four-song set. But
the band rocked through the Who's Next classics "Baba O'Riley"
and "Behind Blue Eyes," and guitarist Pete Townshend windmilled and
delivered a blistering solo during "Won't Get Fooled Again" in front of
a panoramic view of the pre-September 11 New York skyline.
Comedians kept the spirit celebratory between musicians. Will Ferrell
delivered his dead-on impression of President Bush mock-quoting Jay-Z
by saying the U.S. would "beat the shiz-nit out of the Tiz-aliban" and
Adam Sandler dug out his "Operaman" character for off-color jibes at Bin
In one of the night's few surprise appearances, Keith Richards joined
his Rolling Stones partner Mick Jagger for "Salt of the Earth," a
fitting tribute to working-class heroes, and "Miss You," which found the
lead Stone prancing about the stage while his guitarist mugged behind
The evening wasn't without its awkward moments. The support for unity
across party lines that the crowd showed Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle didn't extend to New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who was
loudly booed when she came to the microphone. And Richard Gere's calls
for compassion and understanding rather than violence and revenge drew
jeers, which the actor laughed off, perhaps reflecting his
non-confrontational Buddhist beliefs.
John Mellencamp fared better when he and India.Arie envisioned a
"Peaceful World," and the heartland rocker got the crowd singing along
to "Pink Houses'" chorus of "Ain't that America/ Home of the free."
Things quieted down for John's new single, "I Want Love," and Five for
Fighting's "Superman" before McCartney revved things up again with a
rollicking version of the Beatles' "I'm Down."
McCartney quickly quieted things down with two new songs from his
upcoming album, Driving Rain, including the ballad "From a Lover
to a Friend," a single that is raising money for the families of
firefighters killed at the World Trade Center (see "Paul McCartney To
Donate Single Proceeds"). A version of "Yesterday," begun a cappella and
then joined by a string quartet, showed that the 59-year-old still can
command an arena full of people with little more than his voice.
Macca ended the evening joined onstage by many of the evening's
performers for the Beatles' "Let It Be" and, finally, "Freedom," a new
song he said he wrote the day after the attacks. Much of the audience
sang along to the tune's sing-songy chorus "I'm talkin' about freedom/
I will fight for my right to live in freedom" providing a fitting end
to an evening that celebrated the best America has to offer.
For more information on and audience reaction to the attacks, including tips on how you can help, see "9.11.01: Moving Forward."