Rock legends take over 12-12-12


Critiquing the broadcast of the 12-12-12 Sandy benefit concert on Wednesday night is like assessing the food at a bake sale: Maybe the muffins are oversalted or the cookies are stale, but that’s not the point. The point is charity and drawing attention to the cause.

In the case of the concert at Madison Square Garden in New York, broadcast on dozens of cable networks, radio stations and websites, the goal was raising money for Superstorm Sandy relief, and the players were some of the monumental names of baby boomer rock and their progeny: the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, the Who, Roger Waters, Chris Martin and Eddie Vedder.

Stones singer Mick Jagger, 69, back with his band to celebrate its 50th anniversary, characterized the lineup as “the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden.” He was joking, but probably historically accurate. Even the late Who drummer Keith Moon made an appearance, virtually, during a fantastic version of the Who’s “Bell Boy.”

Mixed in was just enough variety to (barely) avoid accusations of cultural deafness. From a younger cohort, Alicia Keys -- “one of the most inspirational singers of our generation,” as rapper and impresario Sean Combs described her -- offered her solid blend of R&B; and classic song, the highlight of which was a pitch-perfect, minimal piano rendition of her “No One.”


And Kanye West, wearing a leather kilt, performed a medley of verses, including the recent track “Clique,” his tag-team summer jam “Mercy” and a confident if distracted version of his first hit, “Jesus Walks.”

The concert was produced by executives from the Madison Square Garden Co. and Clear Channel Entertainment Enterprises, and film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Proceeds will go to the Robin Hood Relief Fund, a poverty-fighting New York charity.

The Rolling Stones left us wanting more, with just two songs: the cookie-cutter “Voodoo Lounge” track “You’ve Got Me Rocking” from 1993, and a solid if uneventful take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” (I was gunning for “Gimme Shelter” or “Get Off My Cloud.”)

If true history occurred, it was indeed due to the presence of so many legends who might not again appear together on the same stage. Those players, including Clapton, Stones guitarists Ron Wood and Keith Richards, the Beatles’ McCartney and the Who’s Pete Townshend, are about 70, and have been sharing stages in one form or another since the London club days of the early ‘60s.

As the evening progressed, native New Yorkers Keys and Billy Joel both offered love letters to their home. Two adopted New Yorkers, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and former R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, teamed for the latter’s “Losing My Religion.”

The show culminated with McCartney, who came out with his own band to perform a version of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” as hard and voluminous as the original. “Thank you for staying,” said McCartney, acknowledging the hour before kicking in to his great “Let Me Roll It.”

McCartney was joined by the former members of Nirvana -- Pat Smear, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic -- for a hard new song. McCartney said the song was the result of a recent jam session. It was an impressively thick rock song, and featured the former Beatle wailing on electric guitar.

There were a few tone-deaf moments, and one early one came from Waters. For “The Wall,” he had local children dance along to the words, “We don’t need no education.” Waters and his band then performed “Money,” Pink Floyd’s classic indictment of capitalism, with the line “money is the root of all evil today.” Waters seemed unconcerned with the garbled message.

Luckily, there was ample time to clarify the night’s purpose: By the time the concert concluded after more than five hours, it had nearly turned into a telethon.