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.
(Click for dozens of photos from the concert.)
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 Boys.
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 Laden.
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 mic.
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 "America Comes Together."