This was my second time attending Michael Dorf’s charity concerts at Carnegie Hall celebrating the music of an acclaimed artist. This time the honoree was The Rolling Stones and the 21 artists would be performing Hot Rocks 1964-1971 in the same order as the album (except for one change). Rita Houston (WFUV) made all the announcements from backstage during the very quick changes between acts. The house band was led by Lenny Kaye so how could you go wrong?
Since rtb, violaleeblue, and I were buying the cheap seats we chose the last row in the balcony. This gave us the opportunity to stand and dance without bothering anyone and that was perfect because I was on my feet a lot.
The first song was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and the only out of order song. This was because Jovanotti and members of TV on the Radio were using a children’s chorus and they had to leave early because of their bedtime. As soon as the children started singing I got chills and I knew I was in for a great night. As with most of the musicians that night the song was performed close to the original version.
Ronnie Spector killed “Time Is on My Side” adding her whoa-whoas at the end of each chorus. There were three back-up singers, who worked throughout the night with different singers. One woman had a blonde beehive that reached the ceiling.
Peaches, who is better known as an electronica artist, continued the ‘60s vibe with “Heart of Stone.” Her phrasing and inflections totally reproduced the girl singers of that time and the juxtaposition of her very modern look with a 50-year-old sound was exciting to watch.
Rich Robinson performed “Play with Fire.” Again, the artists either didn’t want to mess with or were afraid to change these classics.
“Satisfaction” Juliette Lewis. I really wanted to give her a chance. I swear. But she came out and all she did was play the part of a rock musician. She tried to get the audience to sing along at one point and they weren’t having it. And, yes, I cackled very loudly. I couldn’t help myself. It was ridiculous. She didn’t belong there. I know that musicians play a role on stage – but the moves are organic and come naturally out of their music. She was obviously putting on an act – it looked as ridiculous as it does when a lot of actors attempt it on film. Forgetting the lyrics to one of the verses didn’t even make me feel sorry for her.
Thank god for Marianne Faithfull. The real deal. Most everyone knows her story. Sweet 19-year-old girl hooking up with Mick Jagger. Mick and Keith (Richards) wrote their first song, “As Tears Go By,” for her. She recorded it and it was a huge hit – this sweet voice singing about loss. Drugs, alcohol, being homeless, losing custody of her kid, and then the comeback with Broken English. At the time, everyone was surprised by the ravaged voice. But now when that voice sings “When Tears Go By” you know that she knows what she’s singing about. Faithfull seemed a little nervous and tentative but the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
David Johansen has been compared with Mick Jagger his entire career and “Get Off My Cloud” was a perfect showcase for him. The audience sang along and, in some ways, it was the closest we were going to have to watching Mick on stage.
Steve Earle “Mother’s Little Helper” was the first song he ever learned on guitar and that pretty much tells you everything. It was just Steve and his acoustic guitar and it was brilliant and a little countrified and I don’t think I could ever write anything negative about him.
Ian Hunter and the Rant Band, which included the blonde bouffant, performed “19th Nervous Breakdown.” The bass line at the end wasn’t loud enough and that’s pretty much the soul of the song, isn’t it?
The Mountain Goats was just piano and drums on “Paint It Black.” Again, a little bit theirs and a lot Stones. I’m not complaining about those not going too far away from the originals because I love these songs and I was up out of my chair dancing for most of the night.
Glen Hansard on electric guitar was joined by someone on acoustic bass for “Under My Thumb.” This is the song that so many women know they should hate but they love it anyway. Hansard is not one my favorite artists but he charmed me with this performance. He started by asking the audience to snap their fingers on the beat – it took a while for that to happen since so many were off the beat – and then he performed the song and as a coda he went into “G-L-O-R-I-A” for a rousing finish.
Art Garfunkel (without hair) sang “Ruby Tuesday” accompanied by others on piano and guitar, who also sang background vocals. Once again, he didn’t stray far from the original and Garfunkel’s voice is as sweet as ever. He’s been having health problems with his voice and you could hear it but it did not detract from his performance.
Jackson Browne performed “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” the song that separated the Stones from those sweet hand-holding Beatles. Once more just guitar and background voice and after all these years that song has lost its edge.
Gomez were one of the few artists who changed the song enough to make it their own. They started “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” slowly and then sped up the chorus and slowed down again for the verses. It kept you off-balance as you wondered what they were going to do next.
Angélique Kidjo killed with “Street Fighting Man.” The song was perfect for her and she played with the stage and the band in the way a real musician and singer performs. This was one of the highlights of the evening. Not for me, but for many Rickie Lee Jones was a low point. Jones sat to play “Sympathy for the Devil” on an acoustic guitar with her legs wide open while wearing a dress. Her phrasing was part jazz and part blues with slowed down blues accompaniment. A lot of people in the audience weren’t having it. They started doing the “woo-woos” getting louder and louder as a way to almost boo her off the stage. I was horrified at the lack of disrespect – yeah, I know, I was the one cackling earlier in the evening – but the difference is that this is a real artist. You may not appreciate how she made the song her own but at least respect and listen to what she’s doing. The crowd was mixed – there were small children sleeping and there were pre-teens talking when bored and talking, and teens and 20-year-olds all the way up to old people like me – some of whom were trying to shush the younger woo-woo-ers. I really liked what she did with the song. The song is so familiar to me that I can recite it in my sleep and it was great to hear a new version.
Taj Mahal said he was going to deconstruct “Honky Tonk Women” into the country blues that is so dear to the Stones. Along with his daughter Deva he got one of the biggest standing ovations of the night. Definitely another highlight of the evening. His daughter is a gift to us.
I was interested to see what Rosanne Cash would do with “Gimme Shelter.” I love singing that song, especially the backing vocal. This is a showcase for one of the backing singers during Stones’ concerts. Someone was playing harmonica and I thought it was – could it be? Cash introduced him at the end and it was my honey, John B. Sebastian. Cat Russell killed the Merry Clayton part although I’d have preferred if she’d been allowed to let loose a bit more. Cash was great – she belted the song with confidence and totally rocked out.
Carolina Chocolate Drops played a string band version of “Midnight Rambler.” This is one of my least favorite Stones songs so I was very happy to hear a very original version of it. CCD’s musicianship and vocals were outstanding.
Jackie Greene performed “Brown Sugar.” There was much teasing going on because violaleeblue likes him and was hoping rtb and I would so expectations were high. He was very good. I’d have to hear him sing his own songs to decide how much I like him.
Marc Cohn finished the album with “Wild Horses” with Rosanne and Cash and Jackson Browne on background vocals.
Now I was waiting to hear what surprises there were in store. In the past Bruce Springsteen and REM showed up to their tribute shows but there was no Rolling Stones at this show. But when Houston announced that the singer of Horses and High Heels would be performing “Sister Morphine” I actually yelped with joy. Marianne Faithfull came out and sang the song she co-wrote with Mick and Keith and you know that she has lived every world-weary lyric.
Then Houston announced that everyone would come out to sing “Tumbling Dice” and the audience should sing along since we all know the words. I had to laugh. Doesn’t everyone know the story? Mick was at a Linda Ronstadt concert and backstage he told her that she should sing “Tumbling Dice.” Linda told Mick that she couldn’t because no one understands what he is singing. So Mick wrote down the lyrics for her and then she recorded the song. Except for two of the back-up singers and a few others, it seems that most of the performers and most of the audience do not know the lyrics to “Tumbling Dice” except for the chorus. Steve Earle was the first one out and immediately asked Lenny Kaye if he could use his acoustic guitar and Steve stayed in the back so he wouldn’t have to sing. But it was a very fun ending to a fantastic evening. The only improvement would be to pay tribute to the Stones again and allow the artists to choose songs from their entire catalog.
100% of the net profit from the show ($100,000 according to Dorf) goes to music education:
• Church Street School for Music and Art
• The Pinwheel Project
• Music Unites
• The American Symphony Orchestra
• Young Audiences New York
• Fixing Instruments for Kids in Schools
• The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation
• Midori and Friends
• The Center for Arts Education
By Carene Lydia Lopez