One month and some change after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an all-star lineup of musicians gathered at New York’s Madison Square Garden to raise money for charity and honor those affected by the attacks. Among the superstars on the bill that night: Paul McCartney, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Bon Jovi.
Wednesday night, a month and some change after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, an all-star lineup of musicians gathered at New York’s Madison Square Garden to raise money for charity and honor those affected by the storm. Among the superstars on the bill: Paul McCartney, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Bon Jovi.
Feeling a little deja vu? The similarities in the two lineups are startling, and they raise a bigger question: Who are tomorrow’s superstar benefit headliners? If there’s a big show at Madison Square Garden in 2023, who will be on the bill?
There were glimpses of answers Wednesday night. Mixed in with the veterans were three-fourths of Nirvana, who played a scorching song with McCartney near evening’s close (see below); Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who joined Roger Waters for a moving rendition of “Comfortably Numb”; Kanye West, whose messy set seemed lost amidst the evening’s classic rock lineup; Coldplay’s Chris Martin, whose crack about the average age on the bill was one of the night’s best jokes; and Alicia Keys, who at 31 was the youngest performer on the bill.
But for many of the vets, Wednesday seemed like a final bow. Back to Chris Martin’s crack about the average age of the performers: Paul McCartney is 70, Mick Jagger and Roger Waters are 69, Keith Richards and Roger Daltrey are 68, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend are 67. At 63, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were relative spring chickens on the bill. Fast forward 10 years: How many of these guys will still be in performance shape? (At only 50, Jon Bon Jovi’s got another 20 years of benefit shows left in him, so get ready to keep hearing “Livin’ on a Prayer” as long as there’s somewhere to play it.)
There were also plenty of similarities in setlists Wednesday from the 2001 show: The Who repeating “Who Are You” and “Baba O’Riley,” Billy Joel doing “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway” and “New York State of Mind,” Bon Jovi doing “It’s My Life,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” At least McCartney mixed things up, not repeating any songs from the 2001 show, and Springsteen — how was he not at the 2001 concert? — opened with two songs from this year’s “Wrecking Ball” album.
But it’s the right time for a changing of the guard. Looking ahead, it’s easy to see U2 taking the reigns at future events, with Bono filling the McCartney role of elder statesman. (Even though the way he played Wednesday, McCartney doesn’t seem to be ready to give up the throne anytime soon.) Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl are the designated rock heroes from the 90s, carrying the torch for the alternative rock sect. (Had Billy Corgan played his cards better since the dismantling of the Smashing Pumpkins, he might have been right up there, too.) And Kanye West, Chris Martin and Alica Keys are rightful ambassadors of the ’00s, along with Jay-Z, Beyonce and Jack White, who have earned their stripes and will be around for years to come. Eminem and Kid Rock could slide into those roles as well: Both have been in the trenches long enough and have cut a wide swath in the music biz over the last 10-plus years.
Green Day, currently sidelined while frontman Billie Joe Armstrong is in rehab, has also graduated to the level of Rock Supergods, and can easily be seen headlining future endeavors. Of today’s pop stars, Bruno Mars — who released his second album, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” this week — has the performance chops and starpower to one day join the bigs on a tribute to heroes, and seems most likely to lead the charge going into the future.
Wednesday’s show, for all its ups and downs — see McCartney and the Who, respectively — was likely the last of its kind. The next time a lineup of music superstars takes the stage to raise money for a cause, look for a different cast of characters to lead the charge.