This past Saturday, Madison Square Garden played host to an amazing line-up of bands celebrating the spirit—and, of course, the music—of John Lennon. The former Beatle was gunned down almost 35 years ago (tomorrow will mark that less-than-auspicious date), which made the timing of the birthday celebration (John would have turned 75 on October 9th) somewhat ironic. I’m not sure why the concert was scheduled closer to his assassination anniversary than his birth anniversary, but one of the factors may have been that AMC was recording the show to be broadcast during the holiday season.
Regardless, I am coming up on my own birthday this month, and I figured I could indulge and treat myself to a ticket (they were priced from $100 – $1,000). I somewhat lucked out: After purchasing a presale ticket, I found a much better seat at the same price released the next day during the general sale. (Ticketmaster kindly switched me at no additional charge; the first time ever I felt my “handling” fee was worth it!) I hadn’t realized until I got to the show that the space was a side theater at Madison Square Garden (in fact, I have been there before; it was where Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses had taken place a few years back). Thus, in this much smaller venue, I ended up in an excellent spot for watching (and—as it turned out—photographing) the show.
I hadn’t read much about the concert heading in. I had received a couple email updates (e.g. I knew that Kevin Bacon would be our emcee for the night); I didn’t know that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr would “phone it in,” as it were (both had taped slightly underwhelming messages that played on the large video screens that enclosed the main stage area). Thus, I was able to take the show as it was presented with little anticipation.
The event didn’t really begin well; the merchandise counter was pretty much sold out of Tshirts by the time I arrived (7 PM for a 7:30 show) and stood in line for 20 minutes (only to be told they were out of everything smaller than an XL, which didn’t interest me at $30-35 per shirt). In my other life, I’m a beer writer; MSG has the world’s shittiest beer selection (let’s just say Budweiser was the best they had). No beer for me. I’d also come hungry, but that theater doesn’t serve proper food (MSG has a decent, if pricey, food selection in the main arena). The seats in this space are smaller than coach on an airplane (happily, I had an aisle, so I was only dealing with the “oddball” audience member to one side…
… speaking of: The first person who sat beside me was not supposed to be in that seat at all; he was popping in and out and when finally settled had to be moved when the other patron showed up… 50 minutes late to the concert! Despite being smaller in stature to the man she replaced—he and I definitely were ample for the chairs we had, so we kept bumping each other—she was both annoying for her tardiness and creepy for her nosiness. At one point, she started asking me inane questions about my social media habits—something she utterly didn’t understand—and I had to be blunt and tell her not to talk to me about my work. Other audience members were drunk and disorderly, not understanding that this concert was being filmed…)
Because the show was being recorded, there were some hiccoughs along the way. Kevin Bacon sheepishly admitted to “fucking up” during the first half, requiring a second recording of an earlier introduction. The production crew had another gaffe at the top of the second half, which meant the band Spoon had to play “Hey Bulldog” for a second time (they were awesome, and I was happy to hear the repeat). However, some in the audience were rude and heckling during the set changes, failing to appreciate just how quickly those roadies were working to move bands in and out.
Sporadic tech-issues aside, there were some standout performances. Aloe Blacc’s voice was sublime every time he sang (his take on “Steel and Glass”was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen); The Roots added some hip-hop to “Mother,” and totally rocked out; Willie Nelson singing “Imagine,” was a perfect choice (I had been concerned about the Red Headed Stranger early on when he stood oddly uninvolved during a trio that included Kris Kristofferson and Tom Morello; I was worried he’d either had a recent stroke or all that weed had finally dimmed his presence… no need for concern there as his solo confirmed he still brings it).
And speaking of bringing it, the handful of women who performed were definite highlights. Yoko Ono was, well, Yoko (still wacky after all these years). Felicia Collins (of CBS Orchestra fame) made an already funky “Come Together” sung by none other than Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler the high point of the entire concert. And every time Sheryl Crow hit the stage (both as a soloist and paired with others) reminded me why I listen to music. Her performance of “It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night” early in the line-up brought me a brief moment of fame: I loved that she was wearing John’s iconic New York City T-shirt, and I manged to grab a nice photo of her and tweeted it out. The official John Lennon twitter retweeted me and later Ms. Crow added a like/retweet. I’m still basking in my Internet moment, hundreds of likes, retweets and (a couple of) new followers later.
Despite being so close to one of the saddest days in music history, the John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert was a celebration: one of life, of great music, and of the many musicians that have been shaped by the late great John Lennon. You can watch the show on AMC on December 19th at 9 PM (EST).