Power-couple Trudie Styler and Sting led a star-packed line-up at the three-hour event held Thursday at New York's Carnegie Hall.
It's serious business trying to save the world's rainforests. But the annual Rainforest Fund benefit concert series meant to raise funds for the cause long ago learned the value of keeping things light.
For the 25th year, power-couple Trudie Styler and Sting led a star-packed line-up at Carnegie Hall - the latest of which included Paul Simon, James Taylor, Dionne Warwick, Stephen Stills, Renee Fleming and more.
At the three hour event, held Thursday, nary a twig of the rainforest was mentioned, outside a tidy speech at the mid-way point by Styler, outfitted in a chic white, floor-length gown.
The show set its preferred tone right away, with a rendition of the slosh classic "What A Swell Party," given jaunty new life by Sting, Kevin Spacey and James Taylor. (Taylor entered the stage with a lampshade on his head).
For those who don't know, actor Spacey has a long history as a mimic, as well as a singer. Or at least as a guy who mimics a singer. He proved that again with a wry Sinatra impersonation in "That's Life."
From there, the repertoire couldn't have been more happily chaotic. It almost seemed as if the organizers were engaged in some kind of contest to see how many genres they could jam into one night. The songs bounced from opera (Ms. Fleming on "O Mio Babbino Caro" and "La Ci Darem La Mano," aided by Sting) to jazz (Chris Botti on Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain") to township jive (Paul Simon on "Graceland").
Botti valorized Davis' piece, exagerating it flourishes to embrace its inspiration - flamenco - more conventionally. Sting showed surprising poise while working in Fleming's wheelhouse. He nailed the Italian lyric.
Sting pushed the bounderies further by bringing a wholly different art form to this musical event. He featured a pas-de-deux, from the decorative couple Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo, during a rendering of his own "When We Dance."
Every year, the Rainforest Fund organizes its music around a theme, such a Motown, the '80s, etc. This time, they threw things open with the vague term: classics - including the same number of them as the fund's current age.
The term certainly applied to Ms. Warwick's songs. She used what's left of her voice cannily in "Walk On By" and "Anyone Who Had A Heart." Warwick navigated the notes of the latter with particular invention, finding a new way to balance the song's chic with its ache.
Oscar Isaac, who sang the lead part for "Inside Llewyn Davis," offered a folk re-think on Rod Stewart's slick pop song "Young Turks." He sounded sweet, though few would consider this '80s hit a classic.
Stills served up a far truer cultural touchstone from his Buffalo Springfield days, "For What Its Worth." But he had to use lots of striking psychedelic guitar solos to make up for his scratchy vocals.
For a rock segment, Sting and Styler exercised their right to nepotism by hiring their sons Eliot and Joe Sumner to voice "Born To Be Wild" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," respectively. The voices of both sons show the genes of the father, while Eliot seems to have gotten his dad's fine bone-structure as well.
Backup singer Lisa Fischer had the chance to realize the dream of "20 Feet From Stardom" by taking the lead on hits from her bosses, The Rolling Stones. She shouted mightily through "Start Me Up" and "Jumpin Jack Flash." Likewise, E Street Band support singer, Patti Scialfa shared a girl-group-influenced lead vocal with Sting on the soul standard "Stand By Me."
Simon repeated several songs from his recent co-headlining tour with Sting. They dueted on "The Boxer" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The night ended with an all-star sing-a-long on a classic that doubles as a piece of advice: "Love The One You're With." Its hooting crescendos nailed the event's ideal mood - joy.
(c) New York Daily News by Jim Farber