Responding to the unprecedented damage caused by superstorm Sandy, an unprecedented lineup of A-list musicians, including Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and The Who, banded together Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden for what is being called the biggest concert in history.
"12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief" -- broadcast live on dozens of channels around the world, as well as hundreds of radio stations, in dozens of movie theaters and on websites -- was expected to reach 2 billion people, and organizers hoped it would raise tens of millions of dollars in donations for the Robin Hood Foundation.
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"We're going to get through this," Joel told the global audience, before moving into his classic "Only the Good Die Young." "We're just to mean to lay down and die."
It was a night of wild contrasts, starting with Springsteen's mixing of prayers with "Born to Run" to the juxtaposition of Alicia Keys' tender piano-driven set and The Who's raucous rock. Joel's set included the rock of "Miami 2017," which featured the new lyrics he wrote for it last month reflecting the destruction in the Rockaways during Sandy, the gospel-tinged "River of Dreams" and even a Christmas song, as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" segued into "New York State of Mind."
The concert turned into a night of collaborations, as the artists tried to reflect the spirit of cooperation they say will be needed for rebuilding the areas affected by the storm.
Diana Krall joined McCartney for his song "My Valentine," while Keys and McCartney closed out the six-hour concert with "Empire State of Mind."
And there was the stunning combination of McCartney and a reunited Nirvana for a new song that was more like his solo project The Fireman than "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but surprising just the same.
The concert was also a balance -- meeting the need to entertain billions around the world while also focusing on the struggles after the storm.
Humor became the best weapon for that. Billy Crystal tried to be lighthearted onstage as he represented his native Long Beach. "This is amazing," he said. "You can feel the electricity in the building, which means that Long Island Power is not involved."
Adam Sandler transformed Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" into an anthem of survival for New York, singing "Hallelujah. Sandy, screw ya. We'll get through ya, 'cause we're New Yorkers," while skewering everyone from the Lohans to former Rep. Anthony Weiner. Mick Jagger called it "the largest collection of old English musicians ever in Madison Square Garden." Jon Stewart called the night "the greatest Hanukkah show ever."
Susan Sarandon said the benefit had a deeper meaning, both inside and outside the Garden. "It reassures you that humanity still has a heart," she said.
Springsteen opened the show with "Land of Hope and Dreams," followed by "Wrecking Ball," which he adapted to shout out the Jersey Shore. However, it was his powerful ballad "My City of Ruins" -- which initially referred to Asbury Park, then New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and, now, the areas recovering from Sandy -- that really moved the crowd. "Tonight, this is a prayer for all my struggling brothers and sisters in New York and New Jersey," he said, introducing the song, before folding in the Tom Waits classic "Jersey Girl." Guitarist Steven Van Zandt said backstage that the band wanted to balance appropriate songs with a bit of fun.
Crystal pays tribute
Crystal wanted the audience to know about the damage Long Beach suffered. "The motto of our town is 'I have Long Beach sand in my shoes,' " he said. "Now that sand is still in their kitchens, living rooms and still in their streets. The ocean I used to dream about became their worst nightmare. No one could have anticipated the level of devastation Sandy would bring or just how many lives it would affect. Over 100 people died. Over 600,000 homes and 500,000 businesses were destroyed or damaged. Entire neighborhoods were wiped out. People's memories and keepsakes were swept out to sea or left at the curb for the garbage pickup."
Pink Floyd's Roger Waters said backstage that he divides his time between New York City and Long Island and has seen the destruction from Sandy. But he said the evening was uplifting, adding that he enjoyed his collaboration with Eddie Vedder so much that he nearly stopped singing "Comfortably Numb" to kiss him. "It was magical," he said. "It was a great experience."
With David J. Criblez