Images by: Bryan Lasky
Words by: Scott Bernstein
Love Rocks NYC :: 3.9.17 :: Beacon Theatre :: NYC
All-star concerts with huge lineups can be hit or miss affairs. Often times there’s big gaps in the music while stage changeovers take place and there’s no flow to the evening. On Thursday night, the inaugural Love Rocks NYC concert was held at the Beacon Theatre featuring one of the more insane lineups in recent memory. The benefit for God’s Love We Deliver was a huge hit that included one memorable moment after another and ran for nearly four hours with few breaks in the action. Furthermore, the star-studded event raised a large amount of money for an organization which prepares and delivers nutritious meals for people living with severe disabilities.
At the heart of what made Love Rocks NYC a success was the efforts of the house band. Musical director Will Lee put together an ensemble that was massive in both talent and numbers as he was joined by a six-piece horn section, a six-piece choir of vocalists as well as keyboardists Paul Shaffer and Jeff Young, guitarists Larry Campbell and Eric Krasno and drummers Shawn Pelton and Steve Gadd. By the end of the night the capacity crowd had witnessed the group backing the original performers on such landmark songs as “Soul Man,” “Running On Empty,” “Soulshine,” “La Grange,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Such A Night” as well as dozens of other tunes with themes of peace, love and happiness.
This house band was as good in person as it looked on paper. Lee had them fully prepared and over the course of the four-hour performance there was only one trainwreck moment. The format of the concert saw one special guest after another come out to lead the house band on a beloved classic. About two hours into the show guitarist Gary Clark Jr. and his quartet took the stage for a two-song interlude to give the house band a little break. Attendees were entertained during the quick changeover between house band and Clark Jr.’s band by surprise M.C. Bill Murray, a welcome addition to the proceedings.
Will Lee led the house band onto the Beacon stage at approxmiately 8:15. The group was joined by actor/harmonica wiz Bruce Willis for a performance of the blues instrumental “Tenth Avenue Tango.” Willis then introduced a short video about God’s Love We Deliver’s mission and brought out the charity’s CEO/President. This would be the only break in the music for two hours as 16 songs would follow before Murray took the stage to ask people to donate while the stage was changed over for Gary Clark Jr.
Up first after the speech was vocalist Amy Helm and guitarist Jackie Greene who led the house band on a powerful rendition of “Yes We Can Can” by Allen Toussaint. Helm stuck around as Mavis Staples emerged to one of the biggest reactions of the night from the crowd and then fronted the group on “Will The Cricle Be Unbroken” and a joyous “I’ll Take You There.” The Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer was extremely animated and had the crowd in the palm of her hands. Blues guitarist Keb Mo was the next guest as he led a pretty version of The Beatles’ “In My Life” and then teamed with ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons and London Souls frontman Tash Neal on “The Thrill Is Gone.” Gibbons and Neal went toe-to-toe with Tash holding his own in impressive fashion.
Vocalists Anthony Hamilton and Catherine Russell came out next for a boistrous “Night Time Is The Right Time” before Cece Winans emerged for her own “Hey Devil.” While “Hey Devil” was one of the few songs of the evening that wasn’t a “hit,” Winans showed why she’s considered a legend. Then, Clark Jr. and soul singer William Bell reprised their recent collaboration at the Grammys with a smoking “Born Under A Bad Sign.” Another highlight of the night followed as Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes returned to the familiar confines of the Beacon for “Soulshine.” While Haynes has played his signature song hundreds of times, the massive house band breathed new life into the tune with its horns, vocalists and ridiculously in-the-pocket rhythm section.
Youngster Marcus King displayed why he belonged on the lineup during a version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” which also featured Haynes and Willis. Next, singer-songwriter Marc Cohn led a cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and then a little levity was added to the proceedings when the man who was introducing the evening’s performers from off-stage referred to Patty Smyth as Patti Smith. While he quickly corrected his mistake, Smyth was not impressed and told the crowd as much. She belted “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin alongside her husband, guitarist/tennis legend John McEnroe. Eric Krasno was in fine form throughout the night and was given ample time to shine on the Zeppelin classic.
Another highlight on a night filled with them followed as Catherine Russell and Michael McDonald nearly blew the roof off the Beacon on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Soul legend Sam Moore then displayed the voice and spirit that has made him an icon on “Ain’t That Good News” and a “Soul Man” that featured contributions from Bruce Willis and guitarist Joe Walsh. Vocalist Lisa Fischer has long been the Rolling Stones’ choice to sing “Gimme Shelter” with Mick Jagger and she thrilled the Beacon audience by leading the house band on the tune to close out the first portion of the concert.
More than two hours into the concert Bill Murray emerged to ask attendees to donate to God’s Love We Deliver as the stage was set for Gary Clark Jr. The Austin axeslinger wowed on his own numbers “The Healing” and “When My Train Pulls In.” Murray then returned while the house band got back into place. Bill introduced Jackson Browne whose first performance of the evening was on his own “Running On Empty.” Another highlight on a night filled with them followed as Blind Boys Of Alabama and McDonald contributed to a tear-jerking “I Shall Be Released.” Aaron Neville was the next musical legend to take the stage, leading the house band and the Blind Boys on “People Get Ready” ahead of a stellar rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi are no strangers to the Beacon stage, especially during the month of March. The pair were up next and started off with an emotional take on The Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” Derek’s former Allman Brothers mate Warren Haynes then joined in for a wild “Space Captain” ahead of a rollicking “Turn On Your Lovelight” that saw Trucks and Tedeschi aided by Sam Moore and Jackie Greene. Will Lee had his own turn in the spotlight, with help from Billy Gibbons, on Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life Woman.” Gibbons then took the lead on “La Grange.” After dueling with Tash Neal earlier in the night, Billy tore it up with Eric Krasno on the ZZ Top classic.
The house band shined throughout the night, but especially when they backed Joe Walsh on his own “Life’s Been Good.” Lee’s ensemble emphatically nailed every break while Walsh belted his signature song. The only trainwreck moment of the evening came when Dr. John mixed tempos to start “Such A Night” which threw off the house band. However, it didn’t take long for the group to find its footing and eventually the Doc’s tune came to a successful conclusion. Nearly four hours into the concert many of the benefit’s performers returned to the stage to close out the show just after midnight with a Tedeschi-led “With A Little Help From Friends.” It was a fitting ending to a wonderful night of music for a most worthy cause. Here’s hoping last night’s Love Rocks NYC was the first in an annual series of benefits for God’s Love We Deliver.
Photo Gallery (Photos by Brian Lasky)
House Band Set One: Tenth Avenue Tango (w/ Bruce Willis), Yes We Can Can (w/ Amy Helm & Jackie Greene), Will The Circle Be Unbroken (w/ Mavis Staples & Amy Helm), I’ll Take You There (w/ Mavis Staples), In My Life (w/ Keb Mo), The Thrill Is Gone (w/ Keb Mo, Billy Gibbons & Tash Neal), Night Time Is The Right Time (w/ Anthony Hamilton & Catherine Russell), Hey Devil (w/ Cece Winans), Born Under A Bad Sign (w/ Gary Clark Jr. & William Bell), Soulshine (w/ Warren Haynes), Bring It On Home To Me (w/ Warren Haynes, Marcus King & Bruce Willis), Crazy Love/Tupelo Honey (w/ Marc Cohn), Whole Lotta Love (w/ Patty Smyth & John McEnroe), Ain’t No Mountain High (w/ Michael McDonald & Catherine Russell), Ain’t That Good News (w/ Sam Moore), Soul Man (w/ Sam Moore, Joe Walsh & Bruce Willis), Gimme Shelter (w/ Lisa Fischer)
Gary Clark Jr. Mini-Set: The Healing, When My Train Pulls In
House Band Second Set: Running On Empty (w/ Jackson Browne), I Shall Be Released (w/ Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald & Blind Boys Of Alabama), People Get Ready (w/ Aaron Neville & Blind Boys Of Alabama), A Change Is Gonna Come (w/ Aaron Neville), Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (w/ Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi), Space Captain (w/ Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi & Warren Haynes), Turn On Your Lovelight (w/ Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Jackie Greene & Sam Moore), Get Out Of My Life Woman > La Grange (w/ Billy Gibbons), Life’s Been Good (w/ Joe Walsh), Such A Night (w/ Dr. John), With A Little Help From My Friends (w/ many of the evening’s performers)