Musicians were so intent upon helping victims of Superstorm Sandy that they did not seem to want their benefit concert in New York to end.
The final notes of Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” closed the star-studded show nearly six hours after Bruce Springsteen set a roaring tone with “Land of Hope and Dreams”.
In between, the Madison Square Garden stage hosted a mini-Nirvana reunion with Paul McCartney playing the part of Kurt Cobain, a duet between Coldplay’s Chris Martin and former REM singer Michael Stipe, Kanye West wearing a leather kilt and enough British music royalty to fill an old rockers’ home.
The sold-out show was televised live, streamed online, played on the radio and shown in theatres all over the world. Producers said up to two billion people were able to experience it live.
“I know you really wanted One Direction,” Martin, speaking onstage at 12.15am local time, said of the popular British boyband, "but it’s way past their bedtime. That’s why you get one quarter of Coldplay.” Stipe joined him for that band’s “Losing My Religion”.
The participants, many natives of the area and others who know it well, struck a defiant tone in asking for help to rebuild sections of the New York metropolitan area devastated by the late October storm.
“When are you going to learn?” comic and New Jersey native Jon Stewart said. “You can throw anything at us – terrorists, hurricanes. You can take away our giant sodas. It doesn’t matter. We’re coming back stronger every time.”
Jersey shore hero Springsteen addressed the rebuilding process in introducing his song “My City of Ruins”, noting it was written about the decline of Asbury Park, New Jersey, before that city’s renaissance over the past decade.
He mixed a verse of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl” into the song before calling New Jersey neighbour Jon Bon Jovi to join him in a rousing “Born to Run”. Springsteen later returned the favour by joining Bon Jovi on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”.
Adam Sandler hearkened back to his Saturday Night Live days with a ribald rewrite of Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered “Hallelujah”. The rewritten chorus goes: “Sandy, screw ya, we’ll get through ya, because we’re New Yawkers.”
Ticket prices ranged from $150 to $2,500. Even with those prices, people with tickets had been offering them for more on the internet, an attempt at profiteering that producers said was “despicable”.
“This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden,” Rolling Stones rocker Sir Mick Jagger said. “If it rains in London, you’ve got to come and help us.”
In fighting trim for a series of 50th anniversary concerts in the New York area, the Stones ripped through “You’ve Got Me Rockin” and “Jumping Jack Flash” before beating a quick retreat.
The Who weaved Sandy into their set, showing pictures of storm devastation on video screens during “Pinball Wizard”. Pete Townshend made a quick revision to the lyrics of “Baba O’Riley”, changing “teenage wasteland” to “Sandy wasteland”.
Keys, a New York native, asked the audience to hold their cell phones high for her song, “No One”, triggering a sea of light that is the modern version of an earlier generation’s holding cigarette lighters in the air. “We love you,” Keys said, “and we’ll make it through this”.
Billy Joel performed “New York State of Mind”. His “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” sounded prescient, before he marked the season with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
Backed by Diana Krall, McCartney performed “My Valentine” before keeping things lively with James Bond theme “Live and Let Die”. He opened his set with the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and later invited Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smears – all former members of Nirvana – to jam on a punky new song.
An energetic West worked up a sweat in a hoodie, black leather leggings and a black kilt. He told the audience that he had friends displaced by Sandy who were staying at his house, before getting the crowd swaying with a version of “Gold Digger”.
Eric Clapton switched from acoustic to electric guitar and sang “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Crossroads”. New York was a backdrop for Clapton’s personal tragedy, when his young son died after falling out of a window.
Roger Waters played a set of Pink Floyd’s spacey rock, and was joined by Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder for “Comfortably Numb”.
The sold-out “12-12-12” concert was shown on 37 television stations in the US and more than 200 others worldwide. It was to be streamed on 30 websites, including YouTube and Yahoo. The theatres showing it included 27 in the New York region.
Proceeds from the show will be distributed through the Robin Hood Foundation. More than $30m was raised through ticket sales alone.
The powerful storm left parts of New York City underwater and left millions of people in several states without heat or electricity for weeks. It was blamed for at least 140 deaths, including 104 in New York and New Jersey, and it destroyed or damaged 305,000 housing units in New York alone.