Music for Youth – Springsteen Benefit at Carnegie Hall

The third Music for Youth fundraiser – a benefit featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen – ran this week at Carnegie Hall. At these benefits, about 20 musicians get together to pay tribute to an American songwriter; each one plays a different song of his. Yeah, it’s been “his” so far – previously feted (and blogged) was Bob Dylan at Avery Fisher.

Thursday was Springsteen at Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie’s hall kicks ass on Avery Fisher’s — but the analogy does not hold. I would not say Springsteen kicks ass on Dylan.

My companion is an insane Springsteen fan; I’m, oh, honestly, I can’t call myself a fan anymore. I go to see what he’ll do, not that I expect to enjoy it all that much. And he wasn’t even gonna be there.

On the bill was a mixed bag indeed: the 60s supplied Ronnie Spector and Odetta; the tribute givers ranged from balding homage-payers like Steve Earle, to fully-haired homage-payers like Badly Drawn Boy, whose recent CD “Born in the U.K.” pays explicit homage, and to the Hold Steady, whose lead singer Craig Finn pays homage in every verbally gymnastic over-syllabic line. Lots o’ homage there.

Rounding out the odd bill were the gospel-tinged the Holmes Bros.; indie pop newbies and faves like Josh Ritter, Juliana Hatfield, Jesse Malin, and Joseph Arthur; bar bands like Philly’s Marah and downtown’s Elysian Fields, and the Bacon Bros.

(yes, that’s Kevin!), plus the North Mississippi All Stars, Uri Cane, Robin Holcomb, and others.

Blissfully free of the obligation to attend, my pal Claire claimed she’d go if only to see Odetta take down Jewel. Having not tolerance whatsoever for Jewel after that damn song about the hands and the pancakes played about a million times on the radio, i heartily agreed.

Well, Jewel didn’t show, but Patti Smith did,

The Hold Steady stole the show, and so, finally, did Mr. Springsteen himself.

Who was good? Joseph Arthur was great on “Born in the USA” hitting every antiwar note in the song with passion and style; Uri Cane was a revelation on his piano instrumental of NYC Serenade. And Odetta, wheeled out by her piano player, on one-night hiatus from “Hairspray,” was resplendent in quilted purple. She stole the show with a campy, funny, stylized delivery of the lines from “57 Channels.” Exactly what the song, and the house, deserved. Jewel didn’t show up, but Odetta woulda rolled her chair right over her pancake face, Claire.

Patti Smith showed up as iconically as ever for “Because the Night.” Brown cowboy boots, slouchy Levi’s, white shirt and big man’s jacket; long straight hair. She is SO nuts (subscribe to her blog and you’ll see!) and SO great, in her weird, weird, way. That about made the night for me.

And at the end, (as I’d heard in the ladies’ room, right before the show) THE BRUCE himself showed up. Now I don’t know about you, but showing up in person at your own tribute is a little. . . narcissistic? Not quite the thing to do? I don’t know, exactly, but the crowd loved it. And so did BS himself, who delivered “Promised Land” with his trademark constipated one-eye squeezed delivery – get that man some prunes, QUICK!!! and the first-ever solo acoustic “Rosalita”, when he was joined by all the celebrants.

Badly Drawn Boy, in a most excellent chocolate knit cap, looked like his was gonna pass out when asked to sing next to the man himself, while the Hold Steady’s Finn was a manaic when he got his chance to sing Bruce’s immortal lines, shaking, wringing his hands, and hopping up and down like a former Minneapolis choirboy on speed. Wait a minute, he IS a former Minneapolis choirboy on speed! As anyone who’s ever heard Finn knows, he is the Catholic Twin Cities reincarnation of Bruce’s hyperverbal Jersey invocation of Dylan. And a fitting way to round out this concert series, and the show. It wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, but it was kinda cool (tho’ Ronnie Spector came close to a total rock ‘n’ roll trainwreck of a performance, the poor woman).

Whew. I’m going to see Iggy Pop and the Stooges on Monday night. With Mike Watt (formerly of the Minutemen) filling in for the dead Stooge. Boy, do I need it after that Springsteen show. Wanna be my dog, Iggy? Please! I’ll sic ya on the posers who showed up at Carnegie Hall. But they’d all probably just make a cellphone ad together. . . .

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