New Tricks Introduced For a Cause

Benefit concerts can bring out unusual behavior in performers. Freed from the responsibility of being a sole headliner, they can try new things or team up for one-time-only collaborations, even if fans still yell for the hits.
At the Paramount on Sunday night, Pete Townshend played piano in public for the first time; Paul Simon sang harmony with him on “The Kids Are All Right.” Wynton Marsalis, famed for his jazz purism, lent trumpet solos to “You Can Call Me Al”; in the same song, Annie Lennox delivered a verse in a thick Scottish accent, while Mr. Townshend suddenly turned into a hoofer. The concert raised $850,000 for the Children’s Health Fund, which provides medical care for poor children.

Mr. Townshend, whose concert appearances are rare, opened with an eccentric, introspective set. He played acoustic guitar and piano, and featured three songs from the Who’s 1973 rock opera, “Quadrophenia.” After singing about “that uncertain feeling” in “Cut My Hair,” he joked, “Could have been the drugs.”

Although it wasn’t a crowd-pleasing set, it was a fascinating and eerie one. Many of the songs were ambitious mini-suites; heard anew, they revealed a mature man still worrying through past identity crises. With his high, reedy voice, Mr. Townshend grew vulnerable and vehement, particularly in Screaming Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You.” His piano playing was decorous, but his guitar worked up to fierce, flamenco-like strumming.

Mr. Simon followed him, backed by a large but underrehearsed band, in hits and one new song. Despite a hint of Zimbabwean mbira (thumb piano) music, the new song sounded like lesser Simon and Garfunkel fare, relying on weather imagery and gentle, folky guitar. There were snappy arrangements for “Late in the Evening” and “The Cool, Cool River.” But Mr. Simon consistently phrased behind the beat, perhaps aiming for a relaxed approach; instead, he sounded listless.

Ms. Lennox won over the audience with a polished and soulful set, a partial reprise of her Summerstage concert on Friday night, with poised arrangements and dramatic gestures. By the time she sang “Walking on Broken Glass,” audience members were dancing and rushing toward the stage. Mr. Simon accompanied her on guitar and sang an occasional descant on his “Something So Right,” which appears on Ms. Lennox’s new album, “Medusa” (Arista).

Mr. Marsalis led the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a set that recognized the tastes of a rock audience but didn’t condescend. From Duke Ellington’s “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” to his own “God Don’t Like Ugly,” the material relied on 12-bar blues progressions or driving riffs. Yet it also delved into abstruse harmonies, showed off the lickety-split precision of the orchestra’s ensembles and made room for thoughtful and raucous solos. The set belonged in a smaller, more comfortable room than the Paramount.

by Jon Pareles
Source: The New York Times

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