After the inept and tragic events of the past few weeks, it's time to deal with debacles of a musical nature. Good intentions and a sliding scale of talent is usually the genesis for an event like From The Big Apple To The Big Easy- a five hour plus concert to raise funds for the Victims of Katrina.
As expected, there were moments of brilliance punctuated by talentless turns from Hollywood dopes and bimbos. I opted for the pay-per-view package which included many cable-only questionable perks. Between songs I was bombarded with innumerable shots of approving, rich, white people partaking of the fancy seat festivities. So many of them were clapping out of time, that at one point they all actually found a groove for about three seconds. I kept thinking of Ross Perot doing his funky little Popeye dance to Crazy. They also threw in some public service messages from ex-president puppets Bush and Bubba, and it was a lot like when Moe Howard and Larry Fine used to drop by the Officer Joe Bolton Show.
Things actually got off to a good start with the Rebirth Brass Band. They marched through the VIP section, without any apparent hassle, and then up to the stage. If you ever get an opportunity to see these guys, don't miss it-they're amazing.
Next, the Inventor, Creator, Godfather, of modern New Orleans music, Allen Toussaint, took the stage and blasted out an impassioned version of his hit Southern Nights. Toussaint, who still puts on a tremendous show, will be performing this Sunday afternoon down at Joe's Pub in the Village, in yet another benefit show. Toussaint is a genius writer, arranger, pianist, singer, and luckily he stayed onstage for a good chunk of time backing up the other acts.
Before long, Lenny Kravitz and Elvis Costello took turns underwhelming each other. Luckily, Clarence "Frogman" Henry saved the day, and showed that a performer forty years past his prime is still better than a Costello or a Kravitz any Tuesday. Frogman stunned the Garden with a stellar Ain't Got No Home, complete with little girl and frog stylings. He segued into his I Gotta Go schtick, and down in N'awlins that act can last fifty-five minutes. With the off-camera hook lurking, Frogman's I Gotta Go routine was infused with a fresh sense of urgency.
Next, Paul Simon kicked things into a truly tepid gear. It was billed as Simon & Garfunkel, but I think one of them was busy doing community service or something. Well, here's a news flash: Paul Simon can't sing. I thought he had at least that going for him. He belted out a King Usniewicz-worthy trashing of Jimmy Clanton's Just A Dream. My cats were committing suicide while he was on. Talk about the Sounds of Sadism. I'm serious, folks: He can't sing.
It didn't take Jimmy Buffet but five seconds to screw up the words on Fortune Teller. Not an important gig, so why bother to learn the song?
Some guy sang A Change Is Gonna Come. Tattoos on face, earrings, goatee--over-emoting like a Motown John Barrymore. Sort of like those guys who sing acapella versions of Stand By Me down in SoHo on the weekend. Cheesy. I think he might've been a Neville.
Some other guy came out and busted some moves on a great version of Professor Longhair's Big Chief. (I don't have to tell you I'm out of the loop on performers of the last fifty years, right? That's why I don't know who a lot of these new kids are. I'm just an FMU DJ for cryin' out loud...)
Jessica Lange introduced Irma Thomas. She was really good in King Kong. I mean Jessica. Irma came on like King Kong with It's Raining and Time Is On My Side. Mind-blowingly great, despite the obligatory Paul Schaffer-led Hollywood Endings.
Wacky duet from Toussaint and Cyndi Lauper on Barbara George's I Know. Lauper was surprisingly entertaining.
The Dixie Cups were real class. Stage moves, Ikettes-esque matching suits, great voices. Points off for coercing the audience to sing solo on Chapel of Love. It's an oldies thing-you wouldn't understand... Irma and Cyndi joined the Dixie Cups for Iko Iko and it didn't suck.
Hello New York-it's Bette Midler! Politically on target, but performance-wise off base, Midler crashed and burned in a matter of moments. The Left has inexplicably more flopsweaty performers than the Right. What's going on here? Why do Republicans have a firmer grasp on show biz? Those are gonna be questions for another day there, pal.
Time for Elton John. Yup. Three songs.
Next up, Walter "Wolfman" Washington played guitar with his teeth on a version of Robert Parker's Barefootin'. Amazing.
Snooks Eaglin was incredible. Both Wolfman and Snooks were pre-taped with enhanced applause and presented as real time.
A bejeweled and necklaced Ed Bradley introduced Buckwheat Zydeco and Ry Cooder as "our version of the Blues Brothers." Jeez, grandpa... thanks for making it up to 1980! Buckwheat and Ry were joined by Lenny Kravitz for When the Levee Breaks and it wasn't bad. OK, it had the Acapella Hollywood Ending. Irma Thomas joined them for some slow, bluesy number. It got dull real fast.
Next came a public service message from Music Cares for drug rehab. Clips of Elton John thanking them for keeping him straight. Um... how about one disaster at a time? This is the exact moment the show headed south and I don't mean New Orleans South. Maybe New Orleans South right now though...
After fifteen minutes of set changes, Jimmy Buffett reappeared, hugged groovy Ed Bradley, and then promptly screwed up the opening lines of the first song-I'm not kidding! This guy is off the hook. No wonder he's so Cult. Then Jimmy Buffett begat Dave Matthews. They exchanged egotistical celebrity chatter about how glad they were to finally be jamming with each other. They tackled a calypso-tinged cover of Neil Young's Heart of Gold and lost. Amid all this hurricane mess, let's not forget about Canada!
Buffett played some more. Reminds me of that great line Joe Belock got off after 9/11 when he heard that Liz Taylor was inspecting Ground Zero. "Haven't we all suffered enough?" spake Joe. Buffett played on. He babbled and grandstanded even more than the last time he trod this particular basketball court. (Buffett and Calvin Klein should have an NBA Crazy-Off.) Buffett got in a plug for his rehearsal room and then played another song. Then Buffett introduced his Parrothead band and played a Grateful Dead number in an apparent nod to the 1906 Frisco quake. Afterwards, Buffett thanked Jerry Garcia and then played some more. (Can you tell how much I hate Jimmy Buffett? I'm typing this on my window ledge, weighing the advantages of a five story plunge versus one more Jimmy Buffett song.) Buffett introduced the band again, this time giving props to Ed Bradley on tambourine. They did Margaritaville. I climbed in off the windowsill and did an entire bottle of aspirin and a bag of heroin.
Five weeks later it looked like Jimmy Buffett was about to wrap it up. Then he brought out a baseball-capped Paul Simon. They combined their talents for the World's Worst Version of Sea Cruise. Worse than the Shemps. I mean really bad. This crap made Rockestra ("Rock For Kampuchia") look like the Nat King Cole Trio. Finally, a spent Buffett bade farewell and retired to offstage temptations.
In a TCB Flash, ex-prez Bill Clinton appeared and effortlessly energized the room. He introduced that "inspired artist, who once dared to ask 'Who'll Stop the Rain?' [Someone] who ... declared that he was not a 'Fortunate Son,' (insert Dubya mwap mwap noise here) ... John Fogerty!" The reclusive Fogerty looked wiggy and rocked out adequately on Born on the Bayou, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Keep On Chooglin', Willie and the Poor Boys, Bad Moon Rising, Proud Mary, you know- all those great Creedence Clearwater Revisited classics. (It was pointed out to me recently, that CCR never recorded an original song about a girl. Ever. You can look it up. Except Sweet Hitchhiker, but you don't want to go too deep into that end of the songbook.)
Ed Bradley checked in and announced that Fats Domino couldn't make the show. He introduced the incredible Dave Bartholomew along with the not-so-incredible Elvis Costello. Eighty-five year old Bartholomew was rockin' like a goddamned teenager on The Monkey Speaks His Mind. Unfortunately, Costello stepped all over the lead vocals and ended up nasally blowing the words when he came in wrong after the trumpet break. Note to EC: The TelePrompTer was invented for a reason-use it!
Kermit Ruffins joined the Dirty Dozen Brass Band for a rousing St. James Infirmary. The show was starting to gather steam again. A crazy-assed version of My Feet Can't Fail Me Now followed and abruptly ended the two song set.
After a ten minute break, an unseen voice solemnly intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen-we are graced by the presence of Mr. Paul Newman." Mr. Paul Newman, looking like he was auditioning for the Charlie Weaver Story, introduced the "who's hoarser than who?" duo of Simon and I Was A Teenage Garfunkel. They slummed through some post-Tom and Jerry tripe and stared straight ahead. Guess Art is on a hoosegow holiday, so he was probably glad to be there, but you wouldn't know by looking at him. Simon's singing ability actually worsened in the short space of three hours. If Simon and Garfunkel were performing like this intentionally, they'd be the folk-rock Homer and Jethro, however that ain't the case.
This was followed by another pre-taped segment, this time featuring Big Sam's Funky Nation tearing the roof off of Bah Duey Duey.
Back in the real time world, Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril, along with offspring Nevilles Ian and Ivan, hit the stage and did whatever it is they do. They split after one number and the Meters were awkwardly introduced. The Meters did their thing and the Rebirth Brass Band marched out again for the All-Star, Batman Villain, 21st Century Schlub version of When the Saints Go Marching In. Naturally, half of the stage was confusedly chirping out I'll Fly Away. It wasn't unlike the time your humble author jumped onstage with the A-Bones and blissfully belted out Hully Gully while they played Wooly Bully. Could happen to anyone. It was about then when my TV set unplugged itself and marched down the stairs. The Big Apple to the Big Easy concert lurched and groaned to its inevitable finale. Hopefully all of the money will go to all of the right places, which is what this shindig was supposed to be about in the first place.