The “greatest rock lineup ever assembled” was, above all, a study in rock star aging. It also made you realize, if you ever forgot, what a great decade for rock the ‘70s were. Forty years later, when important people wanted to raise millions and millions of dollars for storm relief, where did they go but to stars of the ‘70s who sang songs from the ‘70s. They also sang some later songs, and there were some later acts, but none, with one exception, packed the same punch.
The biggest disappointment, if only because so much has been made of their current tour, was the Rolling Stones. Keith Richard seemed to exist in a haze, and Mick Jagger, who is almost a parody of himself, was wizened. It is amazing that he can move as well as he does, but Jumpin’ Jack Flash had no bite and overstayed its welcome. Their two-song set was the shortest of the night, and I wasn’t sorry to see them leave. Steve Buscemi’s following riff with the “Graybeards” – retired first responders from Long Island – was more enjoyable.
The Who, arguably as great as the Stones if not as long-lived, were represented by Pete Townshend, a true rock god, and Roger Daltry, who embarrassed by acting like he was 25. Their song selections, Pinball Wizard and Baba O’Riley, could not be faulted. Nor could Roger Waters’, presenting The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon in short form. Having Eddie Vedder alongside for Comfortably Numb was delightful. Waters himself has aged appropriately, unlike Daltry.
Eric Clapton, by contrast, appeared ageless, with glasses and preppie good looks. His songs were forgettable – at least, a day later I have forgotten them. Paul McCartney, on the other hand, was memorable specifically for singing such forgettable songs – Helter, Skelter, Live and Let Die, My Valentine and something from Wings. If ever I needed evidence that the Beatles were overrated, I could point to Sir Paul’s set.
American rockers may have been outnumbered, but they were clearly not outclassed. (In this comparison I am scoring a draw for the duet of Chris Martin and Michael Stipe. Both did what they do perfectly.) I am tempted to say Bruce Springsteen is in a class by himself, except he was given a run for his money by Billy Joel, who played the most numbers and is as identified with Long Island as Bruce is with New Jersey. Only the Good Die Young got us dancing, but Born to Run (with Jon Bon Jovi) made me cry. As much as the critics continue to admire the Boss’s new releases, nothing in the last 20 years has emotionally attached itself to me, including Wrecking Ball, a prominent part of his performance. Billy Joel didn’t dilute his tribute with “new” material; he stuck with the oldies we love.
For the sake of completeness, I should say that I skipped Alicia Keyes and Kanye West, both for lack of familiarity and lack of interest in their styles. I think that only leaves Jon Bon Jovi. I find his stage presence a little grating, but his TK was the one exceptional post-‘70s song, a rousing anthem that was well worth Bruce’s reappearance on stage.