I could have done without Brad Pitt's beard and the "Hi, it's Steven Spielberg" A-list celebrity phone call interludes - though I'll concede it would have been pretty cool to phone in a Hope For Haiti Now donation and chat with Stevie Wonder about his every-little-bit-counts philosophy, or as he put it, "a whole lot of littles make a whole lot of lots."
But along with the pleas for an unquestionably worthy cause from everyone from Jon Stewart to Denzel Washington, there was plenty of memorable music made at the Anderson Cooper-George Clooney-Wyclef Jean hosted Hope For Haiti Now telethon that took over TV on Friday night.
Musically speaking, I wouldn't include Wyclef's part-Creole finale of The Melodians' "Rivers Of Babylon," in that category, though props are due to the always impeccable in time of crisis tight shirted CNN anchorman of whom 'Clef improvised, "Anderson Cooper of CNN/What we got to tell him?"
Several others who preceded Jean acquitted themselves quite well, however, starting off with Alicia Keys, who set the classy tone with a solo piano "Prelude To A Kiss," which you can watch, along with the rest of the musical performances, at the bottom of this post. Coldplay's "A Message" was heartfelt if less filling - maybe Chris Martin and crew should have covered Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" instead. Later, Martin ably accompanied a blondely banged Beyonce delivering a bravura "Halo," with lyrics altered as if she were singing the power ballad directly to the suffering Caribbean nation.
On the internationally produced telethon - live from Los Angeles, New York, London and Port au Prince -Philadelphia and New Jersey were well represented. Bruce Springsteen was excellent, backed by a downsized version of the E Street Band (no Clarence Clemons, recovering from back surgery, or Max Weinberg, winding up The Tonight Show with Conan), and he delivered what he called "a small prayer for Haiti": A quietly wrenching, intense and determined take on "We Shall Overcome," which he originally recorded for a Pete Seeger tribute for West Chester's Appleseed Recordings.
Two songs later, Philadelphia's The Roots, who acted as the house band for the New York portion of the telecast, made their first appearance backing up Shakira on the Chrissie Hynde's "I'll Stand By You." It never quite completely cut loose, but not for lack of effort on behalf of sousaphonist Damon "Cuba Gooding Jr." Bryson. It's nice to know that that the rest of the world has finally figured out that a bunch of dazzlingly accomplished musicians from Philadelphia are the coolest backing band in the land.
The Roots did their top notch work behind Sting ("Driven To Tears"), Jennifer Hudson ("Let It Be," with a very tasty Kirk Douglas replication of the George Harrison guitar solo) and most expecially Mary J. Blige, who superbly sang Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More," a song that's being heard with impressive frequency these days considering it a century and a half old.
Further on the Philadelphia connected front, U Penn grad John Legend was his usual high quality self with the solo piano spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child," and Wyomissing's own Taylor Swift was merely adequate, not distinguishing herself with her somewhat head scratching cover of Better Than Ezra's "Breathless."
The headline grabbing highlight of the night, of course, was "Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)," the new song performed by Jay-Z, Rihanna and U2 and written and produced with the help of producer Swizz Beatz. Done live from London, it came off quite nicely, with Jay-Z in a camouflage jacket rapping about an uncertain world where "we won't break, when the sky falls, and the earth quakes" and Rihanna, wearing the world's highest heels and shortest skirt, taking the lead (and being seconded by an uncharacteristically unheroic Bono) in singing a grabby hook that promises the Haitian people "We won't leave you stranded." We'll see how that goes.
Other notable moments: Justin Timberlake, with the help of Matt Morris, once again showed himself to be a serious man with an emotive go at Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Very nicely done, but the song is overplayed. Christine Aguilera brought along songwriter Linda Perry for "Lift Me Up," a solidly built spirit raiser from her upcoming Bionic. Haitian singer Emeline Michael had her husky and soulful way with Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross." It was powerful, but I couldn't help wondering why the two Haitian artists on the bill did Jamaician songs from The Harder They Come soundtrack.
Madonna's did a clapalong children's chorus backed "Like A Prayer," and appeared to be inching ever closer to Cher status in terms of ageless facial immobility. The Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock and Keith Urban "Lean On Me" was a worthy country guitar-pull kick in the pants. And kudos to Neil Young and Dave Matthews for refusing to sugarcoat the situation with the decision to do Hank Williams harrowing "Alone And Forsaken," though I can't say their vocal blend left me hoping an album of acoustic duets is on the way.
Donations can be made at 1 877 99 HAITI and info is at HopeForHaitiNow.org. For $7.99, a full Hope For Haiti Now live album is on sale at iTunes as a pre-order. It will be delivered "in the coming days," and comes with a studio recording of the "Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)" single. $1.99 gets you the concert on video. All proceeds go to charity.
Previously: Charlotte Gainsbourg at the TLA