Stars turn out for the Rainforest...
A light rain fell on the crowd gathered in front of Carnegie Hall as I arrived for the concert. Papparazzi and celebrity seekers, eager to catch a glimpse of a famous guest, pressed toward the many limousines approaching. Among the well dressed crowd I recognized John McEnroe and Patty Smythe (whom I spoke with briefly), Robin Quivers (from the Howard Stern show) who was mistaken for Whoopi Goldberg by one excited admirer, Brooke Shields, Demi Moore and Isabella Rossellini. As I took my seat in the auditorium, Henry Kissinger walked by. A friendly couple next to me introduced themselves and dubbed the evening: "The Best Party in New York, we come every year!".
The concert began with the headliner trio; Sting (dressed in a pinstriped shiny silver suit), Elton John and James Taylor performing a brief introductory song. Sting followed with a cordial welcome and thanked everyone for supporting The Rainforest Foundation. He started the evening by singing the strikingly beautiful 'Fields Of Gold'. Elton John took centre stage at the grand piano to deliver a heartfelt version of the classic 'Your Song' (a tremendous crowd pleaser ). James Taylor took over, and in his warm, relaxed style delivered' Sweet Baby James'.
Bruce Springsteen was introduced, to thunderous applause and chants of "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce,!" from the crowd. James Taylor and Bruce sang a soulful duet of the song 'The River'. Elton then joined Bruce, who joked, 'Maybe next year we'll do a 'Best of Academy Awards' album'. He performed his haunting ballad 'Streets Of Philadelphia', with Elton adding harmony and back up vocals.
For the first big surprise of the night, Elton John introduced, "My good friend, and fellow piano man Mr Billy Joel!" (to excited cheers from the audience) Billy explained that Elton asked him "To do this Rainforest gig for Sting and Trudie and it just so happens that a few years ago I was trying to sell my Manhattan apartment and they bought it. It's great to sell your place to a rock star, they don't care what their accountant says. So what am I going to say, 'no'?". He dedicated his first song to 'some consistency in my life', and belted out a bluesy number, 'My Baby Grand Is All I Need.'
Elton John returned to the stage, apologizing to "the parents of young children, for I'm sure you must be tired of this song by now". He followed with a beautiful rendition of this 'Lion King' hit, 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight' (an apparent favorite with the adults, judging by the enthusiastic response!). Sting followed with a tribute to a Brazilian artist, Antonio Carlos Jobim, whom he described as "A father figure to me, and a great friend, who we lost this past year." Sting performed two of his songs, 'Insensitive' and 'Dreamer', accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar.
He announced the current President of the Rainforest Foundation was ill, but that his wife, Trudie Styler, would speak on her behalf. She came out in a stunning, shimmering white gown and delivered a stirring speech on the accomplishments of the Rainforest Foundation. She eloquently addressed the achievement of the 'demarcation of the Menkrognoti land for the Kayapo Indians and the continued support of the indigenous medical care and education.' The Rainforest Foundation has also begun to focus attention on the needs ofthe Panara people of Brazil, as well as public education programs. Trudie's talk was articulate, heartfelt, and inspiring and it is obvious she is very commited to the work of the foundation.
The next performance was by the dynamic opera star Jessye Norman. She wore a long gray/black gown, with zigzag points down the sides and a large headwrap. Ms. Norman began with a description of her selection as 'a song about an ungrateful lover who has left and the person is describing how they are unable to go on without them.' Her gestures and stage presence were quite dramatic and her facial expressions conveyed the intense emotions within her music. Then she began a slow, rich interpretation of 'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands.' The crowd enthusiastically attempted to clap along with her, but she motioned for us to stop. (By the final verse, she did concede, but directed our clapping herself, to ensure appropriate timing and tempo!).
James Taylor introduced Geoffrey Oryema, musician from Uganda, as' A citizen of the world'. He explained his selection was a 'song written by children for their teacher who was killed', entitled 'La Po Nee'. A rhythmic, interesting performance, complete with swirling colored lights, and finalized by a ritual dance, depicting jabbing motions at the ground.
Sting returned, announcing another surprise guest artist, by saying, 'When Billy Joel sold me his apartment, he forgot to mention the upstairs neighbor was a musician too. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Paul Simon!' He started off with a long guitar introduction into 'Sounds Of Silence' (amidst thunderous applause). Then he sang a rollicking rendition of 'Graceland' hinting at the theme of 'A Tribute To Elvis' for second half of the show.
After intermission, Bruce Springsteen started off with a hilarious song he had written, describing the plight of a hapless soul who 'orders fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches at the house with sign that says 'Graceland 2'. The chorus was 'I'm turning into Elvis, and there's nothin' I can do'. Then it was a hard rock number, 'Viva Las Vegas', with back up from the impressive back up band assembled on the stage. Sting followed with an acoustic guitar version of 'All Shook Up.' Billy Joel strode out with a guitar but later admitted, 'I don't know how to play the damn thing.' He attempted some Elvis style hip swiveling on 'Don't Be Cruel', imitating his singing and dance moves.
Next James Taylor performed the melodic 'Love Me Tender'. But the best Elvis impersonation (vocally that is), came from the next guest Mr Jon Bon Jovi!' (we thought we'd seen everyone, but there was still more.) He did a soulful number that sounded like 'Believe', followed by a rocking Elvis tune, 'That's Alright', along with backup band Paul Simon and Billy Joel.
Sting came out for 'Guitar Man', boogeying and rocking out with Bruce and the rest of the boys. Elton took the stage in a fabulous sequined ensemble and joked, "I was going to sing 'My Boyfriend's Back', but instead I'll do this number", and lit into 'The Girl Can't Help It.' By now the whole band was rockin', and he threw in some old style Elton John dance moves while playing the piano. Billy Joel followed with 'Heartbreak Hotel', complete with 'The King's' style and mannerisms.
Bruce Springsteen emerged in a sparkling shirt, joking, "Elton loaned me this shirt," then tore into 'Burnin' Love'. The whole group came out and joined them, rockin' and rollin', which brought the audience to their feet for a lengthy standing ovation.
Jessye Nonnan entered, sang a familiar aria from 'Carmen', while focusing her attentions on Bruce, stroking him and circling him flirtatiously. (Adding to the humor, the King of Rock looked suddenly nervous and uncomfortable). At the conclusion of her song, Mr Springsteen said "Jessye, do you sing rock and roll?" to which she retorted, 'Do you sing Opera?". She launched into '0 Sole Mio', which gradually developed into' It's Now or Never' (the theme for the Benefit), and they were joined by the whole chorus, including Trudie Styler, as well the audience, singing along. After another energetic standing ovation, the star studded lineup ended with 'Hound Dog', as The Carnegie Hall crowd rocked out, singing and dancing at a fever pitch. An exciting performance, and a memorable evening for everyone!"
(c) Tammi Reed for Outlandos/Sting.com
All Star concert rains supreme...
Where to begin? Perhaps with James Taylor trading perfect verses with Bruce Springsteen on 'The River?'
Or Paul Simon finding a mournful new arrangement for '"The Sounds Of Silence?'
Or Elton John and Billy Joel dancing a campy pas-de-deux during 'Jailhouse Rock?
Or Sting... finally lightening up?
Such unexpected moments drenched this year's Rainforest benefit concert in sheer charm. For three hours at Carnegie Hall Wednesday night, an all-star team of classic rockers put on the kind of performance that benefit shows should always be but hardly ever are.
While most charity shows drown in sanctimony this night soared on froth. If most ramble on longer than the Simpson trial - crawling through disconnected sets from disparate players - this sixth annual concert for the cause held to a tight schedule and theme (especially in the second act, devoted to Elvis).
Better yet, the staging called for every star to remain on-stage for the entire night, a clever way to up their camaraderie. At any given moment fans in the sold-out house could see Bruce, Sting, Elton, Paul Simon, Billy Joel and James Taylor sitting side by side - a virtual Mount Rushmore of the world according to VH1. Performing round-robin-style the stars kept the pace breathless and allowed for some sweet collaborations.
When Taylor applied his prim diction to half of Springsteen's 'The River', the song travelled uptown, giving it a whole new class resonance. Springsteen, likewise, traded lines with Elton on the AIDS-related 'Streets of Philadelphia', a match that worked better symbolically than musically. Elton couldn't find his way into the song, but he earned extra goose bumps as a gay man singing about "friends vanished and gone."
Still, the pervasive tone of the night steered clear of heavy emotion. At times the show didn't even feel like a formal concert - more like a private party with friends performing for each other.
Even the issue at hand couldn't weigh the night down. Outside of a brief speech from Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, no one mentioned a single twig of the Rainforest.
The stars aimed to please right off, opening the night with the musical equivalent of comfort food. (Elton doing 'Your Song', Taylor on 'Sweet Baby James', Simon on 'Graceland'.) Unplugged pieces like these ate up most of the first half of the show.
But the event kicked into high-level giddiness with the Elvis tribute. Bruce even offered a brand-new song for the occasion, 'I'm Turning Into Elvis and I Don't Know What to Do'. The piece presents an average schmo waking up one day to find himself dubbing his house Graceland, popping little white pills and hiring "companions" who look like Ann-Margret. Bruce also offered his usual 'Viva Las Vegas' plus a determined, mid-paced 'Burnin' Love'.
Billy Joel went for a straight impersonation of the king in songs like 'Don't Be Cruel', while Taylor performed an erudite 'Love Me Tender'. Sting showed a sense of humour(!) in 'All Shook Up', and even the seemingly irredeemable Jon Bon Jovi proved a good match for the silly 'It's Only Make Believe'.
For a topper, the whole cast joined in with opera star Jessye Norman on a medley of 'O Solo Mio' and the Elvis song that ripped it off, 'It's Now or Never'.
The mingling captured the mission of this whole night: to bring the high-toned down to earth.
(c) The New York Daily News by Jim Farber