LOS ANGELES -- If ever there was a memorable, albeit
borderline-surreal, moment in the history of rock, it happened Saturday night
when legends Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Don Henley took the stage
together at Royce Hall at UCLA.
"We're jammin' at Royce Hall," the crowd chanted during the event. Teaming
with more than a thousand tuxes and formal dresses, the celebration more
resembled a parent's night gala than it did a musical benefit.
Motown pioneer Wonder, at his keyboard at center stage, pounded out the
instrumental part of his 1972 hit "Superstition,"
smiling that blissful, toothy smile and waving his head from side to side
in his characteristic sway. Meanwhile, folk-rock institution Paul Simon, in
a gesture that seemed to say "I don't really know this song, either,"
handed ex-Eagle Don Henley a tambourine and grabbed the shakers for himself.
As if that weren't strange enough, the hosts for the evening, actors John
Lithgow and Paul Reiser, as well as flute performers James and Jeanne
Galway, entered the palm-tree-decorated stage and began making noise on
their respective noisy percussive instruments.
These were the bizarre closing moments of "Royce Hall Encore, Celebrate the
Return," a benefit held Saturday night to celebrate the reopening of the
University of California at Los Angeles' landmark Royce Hall, which
suffered severe damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The benefit
raised more than $1.5 million for the School of Arts and Architecture.
As one of the campus's first four original structures, the hall -- which
seats 1,829 people -- has been the main venue for performances by the UCLA
Center for the Performing Arts since 1929. The crowd, while as enthusiastic
as any teenage rock fans, largely comprised adults who had forked over
considerable hunks of cash for the effort to restore the building and
reestablish Campaign UCLA, a fund-raiser to support students and programs
in the arts. Tickets to the performance were $75, but attendees who wanted
dinner, too (an after-the-show ordeal organized by the likes of Steven
Spielberg and David Geffen), paid between $500 and $5,000.
Henley, Simon and Wonder each performed four songs separately before
collaborating on four encores, the first a jamming version of Simon's 1973
hit "Loves Me Like a Rock," for which each performer sang a verse onstage.
When they finished, Wonder asked Simon to sit next to him on the piano
bench, while Henley stood at a microphone behind them. They exchanged
flattery: Wonder reminisced on hearing the Simon and Garfunkel staple
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" for the first time; Simon commented on
inducting Wonder into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and Wonder sang the
chorus of the Eagles classic "Hotel California."
"Now I want to hear this," Wonder demanded next, and sang, "Coo-coo-c-choo
Mrs. Robinson." Stopping, he looked at Simon, as if to give him his cue
into the classic single "Mrs. Robinson," perhaps best known from the
soundtrack to the film "The Graduate." Obliging him, Simon got up, strapped
on his guitar and played the song's opening guitar line, eliciting claps of
recognition from the audience.
With Wonder and Henley singing the chorus, it provided a true moment of
tri-legend unity, resonating the timelessness of not only the song but also
Prior to Henley and Simon joining him, Wonder (donning a purple suit,
silver shirt and his ever-present sunglasses) opened his miniset on piano
with his 1969 sing-along hit "My Cherie Amour." With the hall's amazing
acoustics, his high, soulful voice carried beautifully. Wonder switched to
his keyboards for another hit, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," which he
introduced by coaching the crowd to sing "You Are My Sunshine."
"You're off-key, and you already messed up," he teased them.
Though he appeared delighted to be performing and was intent on instilling
a celebratory mood in the hall, it was Wonder who commanded the most
serious moment of the night. "I cannot let this day go by without
addressing the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated 30 years
ago today in Memphis," he said, speculating, "maybe that's why it rained
today in L.A." He reminded the audience to "remember those who still have
less opportunity ... those who are hungry, jobless and forgotten." He
concluded, "We must all give our best to do as Martin Luther King said 30
years ago yesterday -- to reach that mountaintop."
Standing up behind his keyboard, he performed an extended, jazzed-up and
powerfully moving version of the national anthem on harmonica.
Wonder then switched back to piano for a rocking version of "Higher
Ground," from his 1973 album, Innervisions. His impassioned delivery
roused some in the crowd to flail their tuxed and jeweled arms in the air.
Dressed in a baseball cap, jeans and a blue T-shirt, Simon added to the
nostalgic mood of the day, playing his '70s hits "Me and Julio Down by the
Schoolyard" and "Slip Slidin' Away," during which he jiggled playfully
behind his guitar. In a suit, Henley performed three love songs that
spanned his career: a song from his forthcoming album, "My Wedding Day"; an
earlier solo hit, "The Heart of the Matter"; and the '74 Eagles classic
"Best of My Love," in addition to a new semirocker, the sardonic "Shredding