(Photo: Rich Russo)
On the same day that House Speaker John Boehner effectively delayed a planned aid package designated for Hurricane Sandy victims, a chorus of musicians, led by Steve Earle, took the politician to task last night in Asbury Park, NJ’s Paramount Theater during “On The Beach- A Sandy Relief Concert.”
“That Boehner’s got some ‘splainin’ to do. Especially if he finds himself near New York or New Jersey!” Steve Earle growled after opening with his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” a tale of a desperate man riding the highway with a chilly warning to the police ‘Please don’t stop me.’ Earle added “All I could think when I decided to sing this tonight was imagining the guy in this song meeting up with John Boehner.”
Preservation Hall Jazz Band musical director and tuba player Ben Jaffe acknowledged the community aspect of music: “It’s meaningful for us to be here. My Morning Jacket helped us after Katrina, so we’re here to give you support. The politicians have got to figure it out. Because all this hard work makes the world a better place.” My Morning Jacket leader Jim James echoed those sentiments, adding, “Events like Sandy make us all stronger. This is our fourth Sandy benefit and I’m honored to be part of this great night of music.”
The politically and socially conscious Earle also debuted a new song “Burnin’ It Down,” which will appear on his upcoming studio album. “This one is going to piss off a lot of people. And I can’t wait!” The narrator in the song is a man down on his luck and upset about jobs going overseas and corporate behemoths moving in to small localities and destroying the area’s flavor. “Thinking bout burning it down boys/Nothing’s gonna be the same in this town/Thinking ‘bout burning the Walmart down.”
Amidst the Sandy-tattered boardwalk ruins of this Jersey Shore town, it wasn’t all political talk for the entire 6-hour plus concert. Indeed there were great moments of musical inspiration, collaboration and sheer joy.
Nicole Atkins grew up on the very streets hardest hit by the storm. “I wrote “Neptune City” about wanting to get out of this town. Now all these years later I can’t imagine growing up in a better place than the Jersey Shore. I’m so glad my friends and neighbors are able to come out tonight and have fun instead of dealing with contractors, dust and pets throwing up.” Atkins possesses a voice that can easily move from Thom Yorke angst to balls out Robert Plant to melancholy Roy Orbison, as ably demonstrated on “Maybe Tonight” and “The Way It Is.”
A giddy Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem was like a teenager all over again at the prospect of sharing the stage and then getting to see both Steve Earle and My Morning Jacket. He delivered a passionate solo set on a tuned down Martin acoustic guitar, including “Blue Jeans, and White T-Shirts” which references local Asbury spots and ends with the haunting lyric “Sleep on the beach all night,” apropos for a historic venue that sits on the beach.
Hosted by Jersey native and MTV personality Matt Pinfield, the night also featured concise sets by Joseph Arthur and several noteworthy artists who are local to the Jersey Shore – River City Extension and noted photographer/concert co-organizer Danny Clinch and his band Tangier Blues Band. Representatives from local charities benefiting from the event’s proceeds (including RebuildRecover and Food For Thought By The Sea) were on hand outlining their initiatives, while concert organizers Tim Donnelly and Tony Pallagrosi thanked the very people whose lives were affected for attending.
No strangers to the destruction a hurricane can wreak upon an area, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band delivered the night’s high points with a cathartic release of authentic New Orleans Dixieland brass and percussion-infused jazz. The band clearly commanded respect from all the musicians, as several of them sat in or had the band join them throughout the evening, including a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” during headliner My Morning Jacket’s set, which included Atkins taking a lead vocal and Clinch delivering a blistering harmonica solo.
The message of hope and musical healing was best exemplified in the collaboration between Preservation Hall and Steve Earle. Both worked together on Treme, the post-Katrina New Orleans TV series, with Earle writing the tune “This City” for the show. Its chorus of “This city will never wash away/This city will never drown” spoke volumes about the grassroots efforts and can-do attitude of all involved with the evening’s events.