Paul McCartney almost couldn’t help himself. At the after party following the Concert for New York on Saturday night, he jumped on the little platform stage in the Hudson Hotel restaurant and belted out “I Saw Her Standing There” with Jim Carrey, Dan Aykroyd, Sheryl Crow, director Ted Demme and Paul Shaffer.
McCartney clowned, put on a fire captain’s white hat and mugged for the small but excited crowd. Sometimes, Aykroyd and Carrey seemed to know the lyrics better than McCartney, who wrote them. But when the former Beatle sang the tune, it was like being in 1962 at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
This wasn’t the only jam session. Right before McCartney took the stage, Carrey, Aykroyd, and the ubiquitous Crow performed Sir Mack Rice’s “Mustang Sally,” a Wilson Pickett hit from the 1960s. Luckily, the lead singer for the house R&B band had a more than competent voice, letting the actors mug up the song while this anonymous but talented fellow kicked ass.
The after-party, a rave-up that was packed with celebrities, cops and firefighters, was a Miramax production, courtesy of Harvey Weinstein. Except for the Hudson’s attitude-heavy, overzealous security, the party was so loose and friendly that the uniformed cops and firemen all came over for hugs and pictures with an obliging Sandra Bullock (She may still be there now.) When I told her she could join the USO, she chirped: “I can’t sing or dance, but I’m trying.” One cop pinned her with one of his lapel pins. Sandy was all grins.
Still, the security at the entrance to the hotel was so tight that the new head of Miramax publicity wouldn’t admit Terry Stewart, the head of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. This was ironic since Stewart maintains an equally nasty system for the Rock Hall annual dinner at the Waldorf Astoria. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre, I guess.
Around the room: Harrison Ford mingled with Aykroyd and actor Steve Buscemi, a former fireman himself. McCartney and fiancée Heather Mills danced with the R&B house band, and Billy Crystal did a Sammy Davis Jr. impression. Jimmy Fallon and Adam Sandler, each of whom did very funny bits on the show, hung out together, while Chris Kattan worked the room."Soprano" Lorraine Bracco, who’s in Riding in Cars With Boys, said she was three weeks away from starting the new season of her show. And so on.
Only Miramax gives this kind of party. It’s like a throwback to something we imagine happened in 1920s New York, 1930s Paris or 1950s Hollywood. Big name stars drift in and out, people perform, deals are cut in corners and everyone feels like they had a swell, swell time. There’s a bunch of great looking girls and mysterious talk and lots of flashbulbs popping. You can’t do better than this; you wish you had a mini camcorder, because no one would ever believe it.
The best thing about the Madison Square Garden Concert for New York? That’s easy: the place was filled with uniformed cops and firefighters and their families, as well as families of victims of the World Trade Center disaster. It made for an extraordinary evening to watch people actually benefit from a benefit.
The second best thing? Well, it was a tie between The Who and Mick Jagger/Keith Richards. In a five-hour presentation that rose and fell rapidly, these two units — each in their fifth decade of performing — were nothing short of miraculous. Jagger floated across the stage as he danced. Richards never looked healthier. The Who pulled off three gigantic songs from their 1971 classic Who’s Next as if they’d just written them. They were a joy.
Not so joyous was Paul McCartney, who appeared at the end of five hours with what I'm sure were the best of intentions. Unfortunately, he came off as a shill for his upcoming new album, subjecting the tired audience to three new songs that no knew or especially cared for. He led his set with the Beatles’ old rocker “I’m Down,” a curious choice if you want to make people feel better. McCartney also sang “Let it Be” and “Yesterday” off a TelePrompter — and still got some of the words wrong. This was not encouraging.
The Concert for New York City came off as a divided one. On the one hand, there were some great moments, especially coming from the uniforms. This was due to the hard work of Miramax Films, which worked with the Robin Hood Foundation and other corporate sponsors to make sure the families, etc. all had seats down front and in the entire first section of the Garden floor area. From where I was sitting, this group — which has suffered incalculable loss — appeared to be if not ebullient, then at least happy. A lot of tears were wiped away.
On the other hand, the concert was like all other music events produced by VH1, reflecting adherence to their white male demographic. Of the 16 or so acts, only four were African American. Of those four, only one was a black male, and that was rapper Jay-Z, who on Friday pled guilty to a stabbing in a New York City court. That’s some message to send out, isn’t it? (The show’s finale was all-white, and all male — with the exception of Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow, rock’s professional ribbon cutter.)
The black acts on the show also got to perform one song apiece. Macy Gray did a Beatles song, Jay-Z rapped once and Janet Jackson did something from Pittsburgh that looked incoherent on the Garden video screens. Destiny’s Child performed two numbers, but they’re on Columbia Records, which is releasing the CD of the show, so they were exempt from the implicit message of the night.
If this really was a group of superstars, then where were Tina Turner, Steve Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Prince, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Babyface or Whitney Houston? Certainly those were just a few of the African-American acts that could have participated.
The show reminded me of the old days on New York’s WNEW-FM, which refused to play black acts, even Prince or Stevie Wonder. I once received a letter from one of their deejays explaining that the station was indeed integrated. “We play Sting’s group,” the guy said. Oy vey!
But I quibble. Was there real excitement in the air? Most definitely. Billy Joel was a hit playing "New York State of Mind," but even more so with "Miami 2017." His later return with Elton "I’m promoting my new album, too” John for “Your Song” was a lovely moment as well. James Taylor came on too late in the evening, but his performance of “Up on the Roof” was excellent. David Bowie was a knockout on Paul Simon’s “America” and “Heroes.” He and Taylor should have traded places.
The real scene stealers, besides The Who? Eric Clapton with Buddy Guy. Even though Buddy was never really introduced, he sizzled on the two blues numbers he and Clapton cooked up. They could have played all night and gotten no complaint from me. Plus, enough good things can’t be said about Jagger and Richards. Dredging up “Salt of the Earth” from 1967 was inspired, with its lyric “let’s drink to the hard working people.” And, the performance of “Miss You,” the quintessential Stones-in-New-York song, was perfect. A lot of the acts last night could take a page from their book.
To read Roger Friedman's review of Michael Jackson's latest album, click here.