121212 Concert Review: The Biggest Rock Concert in History


On paper, the biggest rock concert in history took place last night at Madison Square Garden. It was a doozy. Never before, even during back-in-the-day shows like Woodstock or Isle of Wight, (maybe for Live Aid) has a lineup featured more starpower sharing the same stage.

Just getting Sir Paul and the Stones on the same bill ensures that half of the '60s is represented, not to mention The Who and Clapton. Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Kanye, and a whole bunch of other guys also performed.

First of all, the terms “guys” and “rock concert” are instructive. This show featured almost nothing but rock music played by old white guys. Some people complained about this, which I found interesting.

In terms of stature, who would those critics have subbed in to fill a quota on young , female, or racially diverse acts, or representing different musical genres? Should they have kicked out Macca, the Rolling Stones, Springsteen, Clapton, or The Who? Should the spot have been given to Jay-Z or Bey? Bieber or some other pop star?

There are no current rock bands that approach the standing of any of these artists. Coldplay could perhaps, but Chris Martin was there. The goal was to solicit the most money possible, and none of those fan bases would have compared to the evening’s lineup, save for U2, the only active band in this league that didn’t play the show.

Resurrected bands like Zeppelin or The Police would have gotten a lot of traction. But they’re also old white guys playing rock music. The holy trinity of the British Invasion was there, for God’s sake: the Stones, the Who, and McCartney doing Beatles songs. This was a pantheon of greats. Bruno Mars can wait.

Kanye’s a more entertaining rapper than most, and even he was a little underwhelming to watch onstage. Hip hop just doesn’t lend itself to dramatic live rendering the way rock music does, and the latter happens to appeal to the people with the most money to donate.

Anyway, these guys are going to die soon, and I promise music will go on sucking just as well as it does now. God help the organizer of an all-star benefit fifteen years from now. Who will they get, Rihanna duetting with Psy? How about we just leave Roger Daltrey’s shirtless old torso alone for now and let me enjoy “Baba O’Riley” in peace.

The concert was pretty good, but you can tell that the luster of this type of show is starting to wear off for these artists. Back in the '70s, with events like the Concert for Bangladesh, the idea of a megavent was novel. “How will all those stars even fit on the stage?” gasped someone, probably.

Now, half these artists have 15-minute telethon sets at the ready for their biannual airing. Between Bob Geldof’s egomania and all the terrible things that keep happening to New York, the salvific-celebrity concert is a common sight. You felt it watching the acts.

The show had none of the urgency of the great Concert for New York City. Some of this likely had to do with the fact that the performers, many of them the same, are simply older. I postulate, however, that in addition to the growing banality of the benefit telethon, the situation’s magnitude was a little undersized compared to that other concert.

September 11th was a historic tragedy. Hurricane Sandy is slotted somewhere low in the list of the ten worst U.S. hurricanes. They happen all the time, all over the place. Nobody would have called the Rolling Stones if Sandy had skewed left and left its 100 plus deaths in Delaware.

As for the actual music, I am always going to be partial to classic rockers like The Who (a personal favorite—nay, the thinking man’s favorite!) but I also appreciate some Billy Joel and most of Kanye West’s oeuvre. Everybody did a pretty good job, but no one hit a home run.

The tantalizing McKurtney mashup kept me awake until the end, but it was a Hurricane Irene when I wanted a Sandy. The reunited Nirvana — who, as Chuck Klosterman once pointed out, would have torn up the benefit telethon circuit had Cobain lived — only played one song with Sir Paul, and it was a (decent) original.

First of all, Paul, we’re not inviting you to these things because of Wings. Would it kill you to play more Beatles songs? Secondly, it wouldn’t have taken that much work to reward our 1am line waiting resolve with some super-easy Nirvana songs. Now that would have been worth the wait. Hell, worth the storm.