Images by: Andrew Blackstein
Words by: Scott Bernstein
Concert For Island Relief :: 1.6.2018
Radio City Music Hall :: New York City
Radio City Music Hall :: New York City
In September, Hurricane Irma leveled the Virgin Islands and shortly thereafter Hurricane Maria made a mess of Puerto Rico and surrounding islands. Joel and Kate lived on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for 20 years, but only made it nine days after their home was destroyed before they made the decision to head to the mainland to be able to enjoy the basic comforts of a hot shower and a warm bed. On January 6, Joel and Kate – who still haven’t been able to return to St. John – were among those in attendance at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for a Concert For Island Relief, a benefit show featuring Dave Matthews, the Trey Anastasio Band, Aaron Neville and Hurray for the Riff Raff. The concert was put together to benefit island recovery efforts, an effort which is still underway and sadly underfunded and publicized.
Hurray For The Riff Raff opened the action at Radio City, one of New York City’s grandest venues. The band is led by Bronx’s own Alynda Segarra, who is of Puerto Rican decent. Segarra was reveling in the moment of performing in such a legendary room within her hometown and noted how important it was to her to help raise funds for those still suffering in Puerto Rico. HFTRR opened with “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl,” which saw Alynda strutting around the stage in singing the song. Segarra then led the group through “Hungry Ghost” and the fitting “Rican Beach.” The band was supposed to end their set with “Living In The City,” but Alynda’s voice gave out each of the three times she started to sing the gem off the now year-old The Navigator. Segarra blamed the cold weather and HFTRR slunk off-stage in front of a confused crowd.
Shortly thereafter, iconic performer Aaron Neville took the stage. Neville was joined by guitarist Jamie McLean and pianist Michael Goods. The trio made a big sound for just three musicians. Aaron, at age 76, still has the voice that made him a global superstar. Neville, McLean and Goods opened with Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and fit a bit of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” within. Next up was Aaron’s gorgeous rendition of “Bird On A Wire” by Leonard Cohen and a take on The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment.” McLean had a chance to spread his wings on a song Dobie Gray made famous, “Drift Away.” However, the highlight of the set was the trio’s impactful cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Neville then put the crowd into singalong mode with the pairing of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and “Stir It Up.” Aaron and his mates were given extra time due to HFTRR’s shortened set, so they made great use by presenting a stirring version of Randy Newman’s “Louisana 1927.” Watching the NOLA native sing “Louisiana, Louisiana. They’re tryin’ to wash us away” is a moment those at Radio City won’t soon forget.
The third act of the evening was the full Trey Anastasio Band. Anastasio, who was fresh off a highly successful four-night run with Phish at the nearby Madison Square Garden, assembled his solo band for an hour-long, power-packed set at Radio City. The band hadn’t played together since early November, but still sounded as tight as ever as they worked through such staples as “Mozambique,” “Sand,” “Curlew’s Call” and “Money Love & Change.” Due to the shortened set, TAB played “radio-friendly” versions of everything, often loping off jams and extended solos. The horn section of Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman and James Casey was in particularly fine form throughout. Cressman was showcased on the set-opening “Mozambique,” Hartswick wowed the crowd with her vocals on a cover of Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” and Casey shined on “Money Love & Change.” The best improv of the night came within “Dark & Down,” while “Push On Til’ The Day” nearly tore the roof off Radio City. For the finale, Trey, Jennifer, James and Natalie presented a beautiful a capella rendition of the traditional Irish song “The Parting Glass.”
Most multi-act benefit concerts run late, as it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly how such a show will play out. The Concert For Island Relief was an example that sticking close to schedule could actually be pulled off. An army of union workers took the stage after TAB cleared out and moved the band’s setup behind a curtain that had been closed. Dave Matthews’ amp and mic were set up at the front of the stage along with an extra few mics and Anastasio’s amp.
While Dave Matthews frequently performs without his band, he normally does so with guitarist Tim Reynolds. The Concert For Island Relief was a rare Dave solo gig that was open to the general public as usually when Matthews plays solo it will be at a private benefit. Dave was talkative throughout his set and the audience was at times attentive and at times boisterous. The guitarist opened with a run of “Don’t Drink The Water,” “Stay Or Leave” and “Funny The Way It Is” and then called out the crowd. Matthews said something to the effect of “You’ve been drinking haven’t you?” and finished with “I’m game, it looks good on you.” He also told the origin story for the title of “Samurai Cop,” a song DMB debuted in 2016 that was also a staple of 2017 Dave & Tim performances. Matthews traces it back to the name of a direct-to-video film from 1991 that wasn’t very good.
“Grey Street” was a highlight from the solo portion of Dave’s set as the guitarist gave a powerful performance of the Lillywhite Sessions-era tune. Then, Matthews explained that he has a friend who is from the U.S. Virgin Islands whose mom’s house was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. He proceeded to bring out the friend, Dave Matthews Band member Rashawn Ross. Dave and Rashawn paired for a stunning “Mercy” with Ross providing both high harmonies and trumpet blasts. The duo were then joined by Brooklyn’s own Ben The Sax Guy, a frequent collaborator, for “Satellite” and “Save Me.” Next, Matthews returned to the solo format and strapped on an electric for “Some Devil” ahead of a short-and-sweet “Dancing Nancies.”
Dave Matthews and Trey Anastasio have a friendship that dates back to the early ’90s. Phish rarely has had opening acts since 1991, but made an exception in 1994 for a series of dates the Dave Matthews Band opened. The two acts collaborated at most of those shows and Trey and Dave swapped guest spots in 1995 and 1997. In 2003, Matthews recruited Anastasio to contribute to his solo debut Some Devil. Trey not only added to the LP, but joined a group Dave put together to support the album. Dave and Trey took part in 2003 and 2004 Dave Matthews & Friends tours and Anastasio also set sail for three Dave & Friends’ performances in 2006 as part of the Dave & Friends Caribbean Cruise Getaway. The last time Anastasio and Matthews joined forces before Radio City was when Trey sat-in with DMB on “Lie In Our Graves” at SPAC on August 14, 2007.
Matthews brought out Anastasio for a gorgeous duet on “Waste,” a song Trey and Tom Marshall wrote for Phish. Dave called “Waste” his favorite song after the pair concluded the beautiful take on the Billy Breathes ballad. Then, the curtain went up to reveal the rest of the Trey Anastasio Band ready for action. Trey strapped on his electric, Aaron Neville and Rashawn Ross emerged, and the ensemble went on to cover Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker.” Anastasio hadn’t performed “The Maker” since his Dave & Friends’ days, but sounded fantastic in sharing vocals with Matthews and Neville.
Next, Aaron Neville stepped into the spotlight to lead Dave Matthews, Rashawn Ross, Ben The Sax Guy and the Trey Anastasio Band on a pair of NOLA classics “Brother John” and “Iko Iko.” Neville has his own style of performing the tunes and it went well at Radio City, including a bit of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance.” The show then concluded with a triumphant version of Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.” Dave and Trey make a fantastic pair and here’s hoping fans won’t have to wait another decade for their next collaboration. Not only was the Concert For Island Relief a wonderful musical event, the concert also raised much-needed funds for P.R. and the U.S.V.I. Matthews said it best when he told the crowd, “It is amazing that in a country with so much that we can’t often look after our own people. So it’s a great honor to come here and share a good night with you guys and to help out down there in the islands.”
Photos (by Andrew Blackstein)
Hurray For The Riff Raff: Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl, Hungry Ghost, Rican Beach, Living In The City*
* – Aborted
Aaron Neville: Stand By Me > Chain Gang > Stand By Me, Bird On A Wire, This Magic Moment, Drift Away, A Change Is Gonna Come, Three Little Birds > Stir It Up, Please Send Me Someone To Love, Louisana 1927
Trey Anastasio Band: Mozambique, Everything’s Right, Sand, Valentine, Dark & Down, Curlew’s Call, Money Love & Change, Clint Eastwood, Push On Til The Day, The Parting Glass
Dave Matthews: Don’t Drink The Water, Stay Or Leave, Funny The Way It Is, So Damn Lucky, Samurai Cop, Grey Street, Mercy (w/ Rashawn Ross), Satellite (w/ Rashawn Ross & Ben The Sax Guy), Save Me (w/ Rashawn Ross & Ben The Sax Guy), Some Devil, Dancing Nancies, Waste (w/ Trey Anastasio), The Maker (w/ Trey Anastasio Band, Rashawn Ross & Aaron Neville), Brother John/Iko Iko (w/ Trey Anastasio Band, Rashawn Ross, Ben The Sax Guy & Aaron Neville – featuring “Do You Wanna Dance” chorus), I Want To Take You Higher (w/ Trey Anastasio Band, Rashawn Ross & Aaron Neville)