Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Oct 30th 2009 10:00AM by Steve Baltin
The early portion of the show, with an introduction by Tom Hanks and an opening performance by Jerry Lee Lewis, felt more like a TV taping -- the shows will be broadcast in some format on HBO -- than the concert experience advertised. But after a crowd-pleasing set by Crosby, Stills, and Nash that opened with 'Woodstock' and featured guest appearances by Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt -- who did a nice cover with Stephen Stills of the Allman Brothers' 'Midnight Rider' on the 38th anniversary of Duane Allman's death -- and James Taylor, New York icon Paul Simon made everyone forget about the cameras.
Opening with 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,' Simon embraced his role as music historian, citing legendary DJ Alan Freed -- the man many credit with coining the term rock 'n' roll -- and turning over portions of his set to fellow New Yorkers Dion, for a nice version of 'The Wanderer,' and doo-wop icons Lil' Anthony and the Imperials. And when Simon came back to the stage joined by Art Garfunkel, it was all any fan could ask for. The five-song set, which opened with 'The Sounds of Silence' and featured 'The Boxer,' 'Mrs. Robinson' and Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away,' culminated with a goose bump-inducing version of 'The Bridge Over Troubled Water.'
If anyone was able to bring in the spirit of collaboration it was Stevie Wonder, one of music's most generous artists who will happily share the stage with artists of all genres. Opening with 'Blowin' in the Wind,' "for Bob Dylan," Wonder reminded everyone in Madison Square Garden of his own stature as a live performer, ripping off killer versions of 'I Was Made to Love Her' and 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours' among others. But he thrived in his role as collaborator, first bringing out Smokey Robinson for a meeting of Motown legends on 'The Tracks of my Tears,' followed by John Legend guesting on a cover of Marvin Gaye's 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).' Wonder then had the whole Garden honoring Michael Jackson when he performed 'The Way You Make Me Feel' and led the crowd in a chant of "Long live Michael Jackson." Stevie then brought out B.B. King, and any fan of music history had to be blown away by the sight of the two titans dueting on King's 'The Thrill Is Gone.' It was a hard act to follow, but before anyone knew it, a bearded Sting was standing front and center of the stage playing bass on 'Higher Ground,' which led into an impressive version of the Police's 'Roxanne,' with Sting on vocals.
Finally, Bruce Springsteen took the stage. He merged the best of Simon and Wonder's set, willingly playing backing band time and again. In a nearly two-hour set that didn't end until 1:30AM Springsteen only played five of his own songs, instead taking turns with a slew of guests. First up was Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave fame, for two rock and soul revue performances of 'Hold On, I'm Coming' and, of course, 'Soul Man.' Then Tom Morello guested on Bruce's 'Ghost of Tom Joad,' a song he covered with Rage Against the Machine, and returned later for a version of the Clash's 'London Calling.' John Fogerty led the E Street Band in Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Fortunate Son' and 'Proud Mary,' as well as helping Springsteen out on Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman.' And there were still more guests as Darlene Love, who, as Bruce noted, is on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, represented the Phil Spector era. But the absolute highlight of the evening came in the encores when unannounced guest Billy Joel joined the E Street Band for a "New Jersey, Long Island summit." The legends performed Joel's 'You May Be Right,' 'Only the Good Die Young' and 'New York State of Mind' before performing Springsteen's 'Born to Run,' with Joel taking a verse. A group rendition of 'Higher and Higher' finally closed the six-hour show with a sense of celebration befitting a 25-year anniversary.