Article 2010-05-13 Carnegie Hall, New York City, NY

Stars Sing to Save Rain Forests (and Maybe Redeem the ’80s, Too)

Camping in the rain forest got a new meaning on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. It was the annual benefit for the Rainforest Fund that features Sting and is produced by his wife, Trudie Styler. The fund supports the preservation of rain forests worldwide and the rights of their indigenous peoples. The camp was in this year’s lineup — including Elton John, Lady Gaga and the diva of James Bond movie scores, Shirley Bassey — and some wry production numbers.

Mr. John sang a Madonna medley — “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” — while surrounded and fondled by male dancers who wore only briefs. And when Ms. Bassey sang “Big Spender,” shaking to show off her fringed black dress, Mr. John and Sting flanked her in semi-drag: Mr. John flaunting a boa, and Sting wearing a flowered hat, dangling earrings and a glittery necklace. Sting had started the concert with his “Englishman in New York,” backed by strings and horns, a song inspired by the proudly gay author Quentin Crisp. (It may have been a preview of Sting’s world tour, in which he will be backed by an orchestra.)

Lady Gaga was, as usual, memorably dressed for the occasion. She appeared as a kind of fairy princess in white, with a short starched dress and a pointy-shouldered top, elevated by platform boots. She sang “Stand by Me” with Sting and was joined by Mr. John for a reprise of the duet they played at the 2010 Grammy Awards, mixing her “Speechless” with his “Your Song.” Ms. Bassey unleashed her volcanic crescendos in three songs parading luxury: “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Big Spender.”

The night’s ostensible theme was revisiting the 1980s, perhaps because the Rainforest Fund was started in 1989. The ’80s framework was one reason for the Madonna medley, and for the two songs performed by Deborah Harry of Blondie: “Call Me” and “The Tide Is High,” both released in 1980. (She sings them now with less new-wave insistence and more chanteuse breathiness.) Sting’s ’80s choice was the Fine Young Cannibals’ 1989 hit “She Drives Me Crazy”; for part of it, he danced with his wife.

The 1980s timeline wasn’t binding. Sting performed his “Whenever I Say Your Name,” from 2003, with his original duet partner, Mary J. Blige, singing jazzy, sultry arabesques all around him. Mr. John sang the Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1966 hit “Summer in the City,” while John Sebastian, who performed and helped write the original version, played guitar in the backup band. And Chic — whose guitarist, Nile Rodgers, was also in the backing band — performed “Le Freak,” the disco hit from 1978.

The concert’s unannounced performer, Bruce Springsteen, joked that when Sting had told him the theme was ’80s nostalgia, he had responded, “Sting, we’re ’80s nostalgia.” He turned a jovial, well-intentioned evening into a flat-out rock concert. He cued audience shout-alongs in his 1984 hit “Dancing in the Dark” and gamely chose a 1980s hit: Bryan Adams’s “Cuts Like a Knife,” from 1983. Mr. Springsteen improved that compendium of clichés a hundredfold, turning it into a soul buildup as he preached a story about betrayal, pain and release: “If it hurt, let me hear you holler!”

Sting said that Mr. Springsteen also chose the concert’s all-star finale — a song, Sting said, that he didn’t know. “Everyone in the country knows it but you,” he was told. It was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”: a 1981 arena crowd-pleaser once scorned as cheesy corporate rock. Now, from its appearance in the finale of “The Sopranos” to a best-selling version from “Glee” to a Springsteen endorsement at Carnegie Hall, it’s well on its way to rehabilitation.

By Jon Pareles via The New York Times.

Springsteen, Lady Gaga Rock Epic Journey Duet at Rainforest Benefit

Last night at Carnegie Hall, it was hard to imagine anything could top Sting covering the Fine Young Cannibals, Elton John leading eight dancers in minuscule bathing suits through an uproarious “Like a Virgin” and surprise guest Bruce Springsteen rocking an impassioned, nearly 10-minute Bryan Adams cover. That was until Lady Gaga emerged and Bruce began playing the opening notes of “Don’t Stop Believing” (check out YouTube footage of the song). The next five minutes were like a psychotic fever dream. If the sight of Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga embracing each other as they traded lines on a Journey song wasn’t enough, Elton’s nearly nude dance squad returned as Sting, Debbie Harry, Shirley Bassey and John joined in (Sting said he’d never heard of the song until rehearsals). Bruce blasted out the track’s famous guitar solo before briefly joining the dance line, giving Lady Gaga a giant hug and walking offstage looking as stunned as the audience at what had just transpired.

A finale this mind-bloggling is only possible at Sting and Trudie Styler’s annual Rainforest benefit in New York. Since 1989, the pair have been raising money for the cause by putting on the most bizarre show imaginable. Most year’s concerts begin with a rotating cast of artists singing duets on their hits, followed by a second act in which every song shares a theme. If you couldn’t guess, this year’s organizing principle was the 1980s. Band leader Nile Rodgers kicked off that part of the evening with his classic disco hit “Le Freak.” The song is from 1978, but nobody — especially the upper-crust crowd dancing in the aisles — seemed to care about the slight transgression. Elton John briefly deviated from the theme to sing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” as a tribute to John Sebastian, who was sitting in with the band on guitar. Debbie Harry, looking ravishing in a red dress, got the 1980s dance party started for real with the Blondie hit “Call Me.”

“This is one of those moments where 10 years from now you’ll be saying, ‘Remember when Elton did that?’ ” John announced before launching into a spirited cover of Madonna’s “Material Girl” featuring some nice dance moves by the Rocket Man. The dance troupe arrived for an absolutely bonkers “Like a Virgin” as Sting stood on the side of the stage cracking up. “As they say in show business,” Sting said, ” ‘Follow that!’ ” He came pretty close by busting out the Fine Young Cannibals’ 1989 hit “She Drives Me Crazy” with incredible commitment and gusto.

The only person capable of boosting the energy in the room suddenly took the stage next. “This show needs a cardiac event,” Sting said as Bruce began singing “Dancing in the Dark” from offstage. “I’m the hired gun for the evening,” Springsteen announced. “Sting told me we’re doing a show of ’80s nostalgia. I said, ‘That’s easy! We’re both ’80s nostalgia!’ “

Then it got even weirder. “This is a favorite single of mine from the 1980s,” Springsteen said as he grabbed a new guitar. “I always knew there was a soul sing hidden inside of it.” It took about 30 seconds before it became clear he was playing “Cuts Like a Knife” by Bryan Adams. Halfway through a very long version he stopped the song, fell down to his knees James Brown-style, and told an incredibly lengthy story about an old girlfriend who supposedly left him for a slightly more famous singer. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the bizarre performance more: the crowd, Springsteen, or Elton and Sting as they stood on the side of the stage in slack-jawed disbelief.

The evening began with Sting performing “An Englishman in New York” followed by Elton, the house band and a huge orchestra playing “Philadelphia Freedom.” Elton then introduced the most anticipated performer of the evening: Lady Gaga. “This girl is everything,” he said. “She can sing. She can play. She’s the real deal.” Looking quite dressed down and demure (at least by her standards) in a bell-shaped white dress, Gaga settled in at the piano and led the band in a note-perfect cover of “Stand By Me.” “I wrote this next song for my dad,” she told the crowd before launching into “Speechless.” “He’s here tonight.” Midway through the track, Elton John strolled back onstage and sat down at sat down at another piano. “It’s my other daddy!” Gaga squealed as the two reprised their Grammy performance, splicing in parts of John’s “Your Song.”

Sting and Mary J. Blige — who got shockingly little stage time — revived their 2003 duet “Whenever I Say Your Name” shortly before Styler gave a speech about the vital work of the Rainforest Foundation. After a film clip of Sting and Trudie’s trip to the Amazon, Shirley Bassey belted out “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Goldfinger.” The two James Bond themes have absolutely nothing to do with the rainforest, but they were fun and helped earn a ton of money for the cause, which was ultimately the real point of all the mind-blowing musical magic. “No one wants their money back! But I’m not surprised, it was one of the best shows I’d ever been in, or seen, it was incredible,” Sting told Rolling Stone after the concert. “Bruce brought the house down because I told him he had to bring the house down. Gaga was incredible. I mean, forget it, it was just a brilliant show.”

By Andy Greene via Rolling Stone.
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