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As set lists go, you can’t do much better than the Rolling Stones greatest hits set, Hot Rocks 1964-1971.
The mega-selling collection was the basis for The Music of The Rolling Stones, a multi-artist benefit concert for such worthy causes as Fixing Instruments for Kids in Schools, The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and The Center for Arts Education, among others.
Producer Michael Dorf’s events are an annual highlight of the New York concert scene, and this one was no exception. It featured a well-chosen selection of contemporary and vintage acts performing every track from the double album, in sequential order.
There was one notable exception: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” performed by Italian singer Jovanotti and members of TV on the Radio, opened the show. That’s because the song’s ethereal harmonies were provided by a large youth chorus and, as Dorf pointed out, it was “a school night.”
There was something for everyone in the eclectic line-up. Oldsters were satisfied by such performers as Marianne Faithfull (who has no small connection to the Stones), the ageless Ronnie Spector, Jackson Browne, Art Garfunkel and Ian Hunter, among others. And young hipsters could see such relative newcomers as Peaches, The Mountain Goats and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Unlike with such previous Dorf-produced tributes to artists like R.E.M. and Neil Young, the performers had no recourse to obscurities or deep album cuts. Every song featured was iconic and instantly familiar, which presented both advantages and challenges.
Many of the acts were content to hew stylistically to the originals, with varying degrees of success. David Johansen brought his punk swagger to “Get Off My Cloud.” Ian Hunter and the Rant Band rocked “19th Nervous Breakdown” in classic ‘60s style. Angelique Kidjo’s blistering vocals delivered renewed urgency to “Street Fighting Man.” On the other hand, Juliette Lewis — introduced as “singer, actress and no stranger to controversy” — brought little to “Satisfaction” other than a sexy attitude and sequin hot pants.
The show’s most interesting moments derived from the artists reinterpreting the material. Peaches sang “Heart of Stone” with such high-pitched desperation that it seemed like she was having her 19th nervous breakdown. The Mountain Goats’ hypnotic “Paint It Black” featured percussion and piano in lieu of the original’s famous sitar. The Carolina Chocolate Drops made “Midnight Rambler” seem like a vintage Appalachian ballad. But the highlight was the British band Gomez’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which veered from swampy blues to psychedelic rock while shifting musical gears and tempos in exhilarating fashion.
Several acts went the acoustic route. Steve Earle, informing us that it was the first song he ever learned on guitar, did an effectively slowed-down “Mother’s Little Helper.” Jackson Browne sang a similarly low-key “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and later collaborated with Marc Cohn and Roseanne Cash on a soulful “Wild Horses.” And Taj Mahal successfully deconstructed “Honky Tonk Woman” into its country blues roots.
There were definite missteps. Glen Hansard’s sweet, gentle persona was totally unsuited for “Under My Thumb,” even if that’s why he was probably chosen to perform the politically incorrect number in the first place. Art Garfunkel’s tremulous “Ruby Tuesday” was a vocal high-wire balancing act which one feared he was going to fall off. And Rickie Lee Jones’ jazzily slurred, solo acoustic “Sympathy for the Devil” was notable only for its sheer eccentricity.
Marianne Faithfull, the only performer allotted two solo spots, sang her classics “As Tears Go By” and — as the show’s “bonus cut” — “Sister Morphine,” with her now darkened, deeper voice only adding to their emotional resonance.
The show ended with an encore featuring the entire line-up jamming onstage to a joyously ragged “Tumbling Dice.” Sadly, the evening’s real stars, songwriters Mick and Keith, failed to make an appearance.
- Jovanotti and members of TV on the Radio, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
- Ronnie Spector, “Time is on My Side”
- Peaches, “Heart of Stone”
- Rich Robinson, “Play With Fire”
- Juliette Lewis, “Satisfaction”
- Marianne Faithfull, “As Tears Go By”
- David Johansen, “Get Off My Cloud”
- Steve Earle, “Mother’s Little Helper”
- Ian Hunter and the Rant Band, “19th Nervous Breakdown”
- The Mountain Goats, “Paint It Black”
- Glen Hansard, “Under My Thumb”
- Art Garfunkel, “Ruby Tuesday”
- Jackson Browne, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
- Gomez, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
- Angelique Kidjo, “Street Fighting Man”
- Rickie Lee Jones, “Sympathy for the Devil”
- Taj Mahal, “Honky Tonk Women”
- Rosanne Cash, “Gimme Shelter”
- Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Midnight Rambler”
- Jackie Greene, “Brown Sugar”
- Marc Cohn, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, “Wild Horses”
- Marianne Faithfull, “Sister Morphine”
- Ensemble, “Tumbling Dice”
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