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Music, comedy strike defiant tone at Sandy concert
NEW YORK (AP) - Musicians were so intent upon helping victims of Superstorm Sandy that they didn’t seem to want their benefit concert in New York to end.
In between, the Madison Square Garden stage hosted a mini-Nirvana reunion with Paul McCartney playing the part of Kurt Cobain, a duet between Coldplay’s Chris Martin and former R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, Kanye West wearing a leather skirt and enough British music royalty to fill an old rocker’s home.
The sold-out show was televised live, streamed online, played on the radio and shown in theaters all over the world. Producers said up to 2 billion people were able to experience it live. The audience’s stamina may have depended on their time zone.
“I know you really wanted One Direction,” Martin, speaking onstage at 12:15 a.m., said of the popular British boy band. “But it’s way past their bedtime. That’s why you get one-quarter of Coldplay.” Stipe joined him for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.”
The participants, many natives of the area and others who know it well, struck a defiant tone in asking for help to rebuild sections of the New York metropolitan area devastated by the late-October storm.
“When are you going to learn,” comic and New Jersey native Jon Stewart said. “You can throw anything at us _ terrorists, hurricanes. You can take away our giant sodas. It doesn’t matter. We’re coming back stronger every time.”
Jersey shore hero Springsteen addressed the rebuilding process in introducing his song “My City of Ruins,” noting it was written about the decline of Asbury Park, N.J., before that city’s renaissance over the past decade. What made the Jersey shore special was its inclusiveness, a place where people of all incomes and backgrounds could find a place, he said.
“I pray that that characteristic remains along the Jersey shore because that’s what makes it special,” Springsteen said.
He mixed a verse of Tom Waits‘ “Jersey Girl” into the song before calling New Jersey neighbor Jon Bon Jovi to join him in a rousing “Born to Run.” Springsteen later returned the favor by joining Bon Jovi on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”
Adam Sandler hearkened back to his “Saturday Night Live” days with a ribald rewrite of the oft-sung “Hallelujah” that composer Leonard Cohen never would have dreamed. The rewritten chorus says, “Sandy, screw ya, we’ll get through ya, because we’re New Yawkers.”
The music lineup was heavily weighted toward classic rock, which has the type of fans able to afford a show for which ticket prices ranged from $150 to $2,500. Even with those prices, people with tickets have been offering them for more on broker sites such as StubHub, an attempt at profiteering that producers fumed was “despicable.”
“This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden,” Rolling Stones rocker Mick Jagger said. “If it rains in London, you’ve got to come and help us.”
In fighting trim for a series of 50th anniversary concerts in the New York area, the Stones ripped through “You’ve Got Me Rockin” and “Jumping Jack Flash” before beating a quick retreat _ perhaps not to upstage their own upcoming Pay-Per-View show. Actor Steve Buscemi later made light of that, saying producers made room for him by cutting the Stones short. “I said, `if they play more than two songs, I’m out of here.’”
Jagger wasn’t in New York City for Sandy, but he said in an interview before the concert that his apartment was flooded with 2 feet of water.
The Who weaved Sandy into their set, showing pictures of storm devastation on video screens during “Pinball Wizard.” Pete Townshend made a quick revision to the lyrics of “Baba O’Riley,” changing “teenage wasteland” to “Sandy wasteland.” The Who and West didn’t follow the Stones’ lead, and played lengthy sets that disrupted the show’s momentum.
Keys, a New York native, asked the audience to hold their cell phones high for her song, “No One,” triggering a sea of light that is the modern version of an earlier generation’s holding cigarette lighters in the air. “We love you,” Keys said, “and we’ll make it through this.”
Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” is this century’s most indelible song about her hometown. Billy Joel performed one of the last century’s favorites, “New York State of Mind.” Joel’s “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” sounded prescient, with new Sandy-fueled lyrics smoothly fitting in. He was also the only artist to mark the season, working in a little of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Liverpool’s McCartney has strong New York ties, including a Manhattan office, Hamptons summer home and a third wife, Nancy Shevell, who spent a decade on the board of the agency that oversees New York’s public transit system. Backed by Diana Krall, McCartney performed “My Valentine,” a song he had written for Shevell.
Otherwise, McCartney kept things lively. His James Bond theme “Live and Let Die” set off a light show and he opened his set with the Beatles’ screamer “Helter Skelter.” His big surprise was inviting Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear _ all ex of Nirvana _ to jam on a punky new song.
An energetic West worked up a sweat in a hoodie, black leather pants and a black skirt. He told the audience that he had friends displaced by Sandy who were staying at his house, before getting the crowd swaying with a version of “Gold Digger.” He ended his set by shouting, “I need you right now!” tossing his microphone and stalking off stage.
Eric Clapton switched from acoustic to electric guitar and sang “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Crossroads.” New York was a backdrop for Clapton’s personal tragedy, when his young son died after falling out of a window.
“Can’t chat,” he said, “because we only have 30 minutes.”
The sold-out “12-12-12” concert was being shown on 37 television stations in the United States and more than 200 others worldwide. It was to be streamed on 30 websites, including YouTube and Yahoo. The theaters showing it included 27 in the New York region.
Proceeds from the show will be distributed through the Robin Hood Foundation. More than $30 million was raised through ticket sales alone.
The powerful storm left parts of New York City underwater and left millions of people in several states without heat or electricity for weeks. It’s blamed for at least 140 deaths, including 104 in New York and New Jersey, and it destroyed or damaged 305,000 housing units in New York alone.
Many of the artists told personal stories of friends or family affected by the storm, like Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi.
“I had to hold back the tears really,” he said about visiting the devastation in New Jersey. “My mom’s house (in Point Pleasant, N.J.) got trashed. They had to evacuate her. She’s living with me until we fix it up.”
E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt said backstage that musicians are often quick to help when they can.
“Yes, it’s more personal because literally the Jersey shore is where we grew up,” he said. “But we’d be here anyway.”
AP Music Writer Mesfin Fekadu in New York and Geoff Mulvihill in Toms River, N.J., contributed to this report.
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