Haiti needs help. As one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it needed help before the earthquake and now more urgently than ever assistance is required. The Haiti Relief Benefit on January 23rd, put together by NYC’s The Bowery Presents and BrooklynVegan (a valuable resource for NYC concert info), was a night of live music and comedy at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Attendees were fortunate to see the talents of musicians, like Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), and Britt Daniel from Spoon as well as comedians, Wyatt Cenac of the Daily Show, Janeane Garofalo and Zach Galifianakis, with Leo Allen and Bobby Tisdale as the evening’s hosts.
The show time was 8pm, but the queue for will-call tickets was lengthy. By the time I got in, I only got to catch the last song from singer-songwriter John Shade kick-starting the night with his debut performance. The two comedian hosts replaced Shade and declared that it would be a big night for Katrina before revealing that Tisdale has a history as a formidable tap-dancer. Tisdale reluctantly admitted to his grade school activity, and agreed to perform so long as he could take off his pants. And returning from side-stage de-pantsed, Tisdale performed his dance routine with his feet guarded behind a cloth. Fortunately their comedy routine concluded and they introduced the next main act.
Cenac came on stage wearing a red knit cap and sporting very heavy eyelids. He started with a couple of jokes about variations on Medieval Times restaurants and men’s penis cars versus women’s church hats or “vulva chapeaus”. His funny routine then built around a bit about first moving to NYC and ending up at the Westminster dog show. After furtively obtaining a pamphlet from the KKK dressed folks outside, Cenac realized they were PETA protestors unfortunately caught in a dry cleaning mistake. He then went on to ridicule the PETA website for comparing their “animal rights movement” to the Civil Rights movement. In no way were their comparisons of images of slaves or prisoners with animals in cages morally commendable, to which I would agree.
If the hosts returned, I do not recall. But the next performer was one of the main draws, Britt Daniel of Spoon, straight from another set elsewhere. He introduced Stephen Patterson of the White Rabbits on drums and began his short set with John Lennon’s “Isolation”. He followed with “Who Makes Your Money” from new album Transference and “I Summon You” off Gimme Fiction. Though he left the stage saying little, the crowd could not help but feel happy for seeing this critically acclaimed individual in a small space.
Janeane Garofalo however was talkative and highly entertaining. She wore a jumpsuit that showed off her tattooed arms with one bicep bearing the female image from the “We Can Do It” World War II poster. Garofalo joked about the L train subway line and the idea that the hipsters on board are rather interchangeable and could swap their copies of McSweeney’s or glasses if the train stalled. But her experience and involvement with liberal radio Air America made a showing as she tossed jokes at the expense of the Republican Party as well.
The laughs continued as Zach Galifianakis took stage next, wearing a brown cap and blue sweater and frequently looking down at the floor as he paced the stage. He makes jokes that are often absurd one-liners or bizarre statements, but he is hilarious. Following his success in the movie The Hangover, Galifianakis’s fanbase has grown exponentially and for this night his name was top billed on the flyers. He noted that he had been doing benefits for Haiti even before the earthquake which, even if not true, is highly commendable as he acknowledged the country’s past.
He mocked the decision to name a band Hoobastank and joked that the evening was really a benefit for the movie The Tooth Fairy, so Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) could afford a new Bentley. He also brought up a girl from the audience for a little chin-wag. Poking fun at her boots he rapidly and repeatedly asked are those boot boots or are they Ugg boots? She was quieter in her responses so he joked that he was “Just trying to get something out of her” i.e. her tampon. Unflinchingly, he simultaneously apologized and then asked her if she had seen a movie he just remembered, There Will Be Blood.
But after reminding the audience what the night was really about (The Tooth Fairy) he relinquished the stage so it could be prepped for music. Garofalo, along with the hosts, occupied the transition period by giving away some beaded jewelry handmade by Garofalo. This raised my ire, not because I did not get any or because it looked like the same folks in the front were recipients, but because no one suggested selling them to support Haiti relief efforts! While the hosts did express concern and in fairness got some up to the folks in the balcony and the sides, their impromptu giveaway seemed rather inappropriate.
While Annie Clark stood on stage adjusting her guitar, some made a catcall to “Show us your bush!” Blushing, she replied that it was the weirdest thing anyone has said to her. When finally set up and straight-faced, she joked that she planned to do only Pearl Jam covers. But instead she opened with a very heartfelt rendition of Nico’s “These Days”. When Clark announced her next song was requested with a promise of fine wine via Twitter no one ‘fessed up. So she played The National’s “Mistaken for Strangers” anyways. Vernon accompanied her for a third and final song before the hosts came out and offered to sell a setlist for $20 for charity (unfortunately one of the few times the issue was directly addressed).
Vernon requested a slightly thinner crowd to sing along to the mellow “Hazelton”. Announcing his next song, a cover of John Prine’s “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone”, Vernon was surprised someone in the audience hollered in recognition and described how he lived in the I-94 area the song is about. When his best friend, Brad Cook (of Megafaun) came out, Vernon described how they slept in the same bed the previous evening but “Didn’t even touch bums” to laughs. Cook accompanied Vernon on his laptop for the song, “Flume” which closed with Vernon twiddling with his effects pedals and amp. Mahalia Jackson’s “Satisfied Mind” was his final song before he introduced a special guest for the evening.
Shara Worden, of My Brightest Diamond, came onto stage for two songs with Colin Stetson, who played the largest saxophone imaginable. The first song was one she had just recorded earlier for Stetson’s album and was very dour and emotional. Her second was a bluesy cover of Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”? that was equally tremendous and emotional.
For the climatic finale, Vernon, Clark, Cook and a drummer (that someone commented on BV site as being Jon Mueller) took stage as the megagroup, Songer-Singwriter. Their first cover was an amazing version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” with Clark and Vernon alternating verses. They followed with Tom Petty’s “ Face in the Crowd”, equally impressive, and then came to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. “Jolene” took an instrumental turn, driven by the pedal effects, and was at times devastatingly loud. But still there was no denying its quality. Vernon announced Annie Lennox’s “Why” as the final song and invited everyone to sing-along.
For about $40 a ticket, the show was worthwhile particularly for seeing the supergroup assembled that night. The well-rounded night of laughter and amazing music raised at least $20,000 for the Red Cross, which is very respectable for three and a half hours time. But one needs to realize that creating awareness about Haiti, or other natural disasters, is not the responsibility of celebrities. Sending money to charities on a regular basis is important, just a one-time donation is not enough. As he wrapped up his set, Galifianakis reminded the audience to not ignore the rest of the world. Unfortunately, he also had to chastise those folks who briefly laughed and considered it part of his act.
Music Downloads for your Donations:
http://www.musicforrelief.org/ – Unreleased music from major artists including Peter Gabriel’s “Heroes”
https://secure.pearljam.com/store/product.spring?sku=6250 – Eddie Vedder Single “My City of Ruins”
www.msf.org/ – Medicins Sans Frontieres
http://www.icrc.org/ – Red Cross