On Wednesday night, more than a month after Hurricane Sandy rocked the East Coast, some of the world’s greatest musicians rocked out at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of the 12-12-12 concert to benefit victims of the storm. Before the show began, $30 million had been raised from ticket sales, which ranged between $150-$2,500, and sponsors, with all proceeds donated to the Robin Hood Relief Fund—the same foundation that organized the Concert for New York City after 9/11. The sold-out show was televised live, streamed online, played on the radio and in theaters. Producers estimated that as many as two billion people could experience the show live. (See the 12 most iconic images from Wednesday night’s music marathon)
And just as victims banded together to rebuild their communities, legends banded together and performed a series of unforgettable duets over the best part of six hours. New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, and the E Street Band, kicked off the show with “Land of Hope and Dreams,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “My City of Ruins,” and fellow New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi, wearing a long-sleeved leather shirt, joined him on stage shortly after to help “The Boss” belt out his classic “Born to Run.” About 90 minutes later, during Bon Jovi’s own set—which included an audience sing-a-long to “Livin’ On A Prayer”—Springsteen came back, and the two performed “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” taking turns shouting the reassuring refrain “it’s alright, it’s alright” into the microphone.
Dressed in black, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, performed a down-tempo duet of the Pink Floyd classic “Comfortably Numb.” At the beginning of the song, Waters was so moved that he gave Eddie a kiss on the side of his head, and the two shared a moving embrace at the end. Regarding the kiss, Waters told the press backstage, “that was weird. I rarely ever do something like that.”
After midnight, Coldplay’s Chris Martin’s and Michael Stipe’s rendition of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” was just the calm before the Beatles’ Sir Paul McCartney and former members of the band Nirvana stormed the stage for a historic reunion—which Twitter has already nicknamed “#Sirvana.” McCartney and former Nirvana members Dave Grohl (also the Foo Fighters’ founder), Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear surprised the crowd with a new jam, “Cut Me Some Slack,” from Grohl’s upcoming documentary Sound City. Before the Nirvana crew hit the stage, McCartney serenaded the audience with material from his own back catalog, such as “Blackbird,” “Helter Skelter,” “Live and Let Die,” and “My Valentine”—a surprise duet with Diana Krall.
Artists also gave their classics a more contemporary feel by adding Sandy to their lyrics. During “My City in Ruins,” Springsteen sang, “Now my home was here on the Jersey Shore…” instead of “the Meadowlands.” The “Piano Man,” Billy Joel, mentioned Staten Island at the start of “Miami 2017” (“I’ve Seen The Lights Go Out on Broadway”). And The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend switched out “It’s Only Teenage Wasteland” for “It’s Only Sandy Wasteland” as they belted out “Baba O’Reilly.”
As the British rock duo played their set, fluorescent U.K. and American flags were projected on a screen in the background, supporting Mick Jagger’s general observation that the “12-12-12 concert” may be the “largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled” at Madison Square Garden. “If it rains in London, you’ve got to come and help us,” he added. Jagger led The Rolling Stones, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, in “You Got Me Rocking” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”—racing back and forth across the stage in a leather blazer.
Kanye West’s performance was the only act that seemed all over the place, as songs like “Gold Digger” and “The Good Life” did not seem appropriate for a charity concert. In fact, viewers may remember his outfit—a hoodie, leather skirt, black leggings, and white sneakers—more than his medley of hits.
To keep the mood upbeat between the performances, a host of notable names dished out a number of zingers during the telethon. “You really can’t swing a dead cat in here without hitting a celebrity,” NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams remarked to actor Ben Stiller at the phone bank. English-born Chris Martin admitted that the crowd probably would rather see a certain U.K. boy band more than his own band: “I know you really wanted One Direction, but it’s way past their bedtime.” Adam Sandler gave Sandy a piece of his mind in a parody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”: “Sandy screw ya / We’ll get through ya / Sandy screw ya / We’ll freakin’ Kung Fu ya.” The evening ended with Alicia Keys, who was brought up in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, singing her New York anthem “Empire State of Mind,” with the likes of firefighters, police officers, doctors, and nurses joining her onstage.
Jokes and songs aside, celebrities were not immune to Sandy’s wrath either. Native New Yorker Susan Sarandon lost power at her Manhattan apartment and home in Westchester. Billy Crystal was crushed to see floodwaters ravage Long Beach, Long Island, where he grew up. And Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora said his mother has been living with him since her house in the Jersey Shore community Point Pleasant got “trashed.” These kinds of stories only inspired the musicians to sing louder and longer. As Steve Van Zandt, E Street Band member and Sopranos actor, told the press, “When we run into trouble, we run towards it.”
Cue “Born to Run.”