CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Members of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Soul Coughing, the Presidents of the United States of America, the J. Geils Band and Medeski Martin & Wood performed here Sunday to pay tribute to late Morphine singer Mark Sandman.
The show on an outdoor stage near the Middle East, a Central Square nightclub where Sandman often performed, culminated with a "We Are the World"-style rendition of Morphine's "Cure for Pain" (RealAudio excerpt).
Sandman, who was 46, died of an apparent heart attack onstage July 3 while the dark rock band was performing in Italy.
"It just seems so unreal," said Carrie Svingen, Morphine's publicist, who was with Sandman when he died. "I can't believe he's gone."
Chris Ballew, the pop rocker who used to lead the Presidents of the United States of America, performed an ode to Sandman called "Gone Again, Gone." He was joined by the two surviving members of Morphine, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway. The same trio had played the song during a smaller tribute to Sandman three weeks ago at Cambridge's Lizard Lounge, another nightspot where the tireless singer and bassist was a regular.
Organizers said they hoped to make the Mark Sandman Memorial Concert an annual event. "This time, it's mostly friends of Mark's performing, but next year we hope to invite lots of other musicians," Svingen said.
For the event, the city of Cambridge closed off a section of Brookline Street in the Central Square neighborhood where Sandman lived and often played. The area was papered with fliers bearing Sandman's likeness and the words "Rest in peace."
The Middle East doors were open to the crowd all day, and people moved freely throughout the club's numerous rooms. The mood was mostly somber in the small upstairs room where the stage had been transformed into an altar.
Morphine posters and photos were flanked by yellow sunflowers and red gladioluses. Small candles flickered among the flowers and floated on sunflower-shaped candle holders adrift in huge bowls of water. Tiny blue lights twinkled at the edge of the stage.
A continuous film loop of interviews, videos, concert footage and home movies played on a screen above the altar. Watching the presentation, one fan who gave his name only as Art said, "He was just such a talent. It was too soon. He just died way too early."
Outside, the event was subdued but upbeat. Organizers decided to proceed despite intermittent rain and threatening clouds. When the hard rain finally fell, Peter Wolf, lead singer of the recently reunited J. Geils Band, performed under a hastily tossed plastic tarp with an equally makeshift band called Movable Bubble. The band included Colley, Conway, Ballew and other musicians.
Because of thunderstorms, the first act, a souped-up version of Sandman's first band, the offbeat blues-rock outfit Treat Her Right, did not start until about 4 p.m., nearly an hour after the official start time.
The all-star version of Treat Her Right, who gave the most high-octane performance of the day, included the three original members of the band Conway, Dave Champagne and Jim Fitting along with Colley, Ballew, Russ Gershon of the jazz band Either/Orchestra, and singer Laurie Sargent. Also in the band was Mighty Mighty Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett, who had the difficult task of taking on Sandman's vocals in a rave-up version of "I Think She Likes Me."
Treat Her Right played to a couple hundred people. The crowd swelled to an estimated 500600 by the time the second act, the Either/Orchestra joined by keyboardist John Medeski and stellar rock cellist Jane Scarpantoni began playing. Noting Sandman's love of obscure music from exotic locales, Gershon characterized Either/Orchestra's offering as "Ethiopian jazz, one of Mark's last gifts to us."
Sandman formed Morphine in the early 1990s after Treat Her Right broke up. With their odd, guitarless lineup, Morphine gained the support of college radio and built a cult following with their four studio albums, the most recent of which was Like Swimming (1997). Morphine also contributed music to the films "Get Shorty," "Beautiful Girls" and "Postcards From America," and the television series "Homicide: Life on the Street."
Concert organizers set up tables where fans could thumb through thick tomes of Morphine press clippings or record their thoughts on the pages of blank books. Fans also were encouraged to contribute to the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund.
Svingen said Sandman had wanted to start such a fund for a long time, and the musician's friends and family thought it would be a fitting tribute to his memory. "We haven't worked out all the details yet, but the money will go to fund music programs in Cambridge elementary schools," she said. "They've already collected quite a bit of money."
Asked why Sandman had gravitated toward music education for kids, Svingen pointed out Sandman's two nephews, Alex and Gabe Holmes, whose ska-punk outfit, Super Hero 42, performed at the event. A number of local children were invited to perform as well.