Dark Was The Night @ Radio City Music Hall

04May09
David Byrne and Dirty Projectors

David Byrne and Dirty Projectors

To have a whole bunch of your favorite performers assembled under one roof to just play for you for three hours isn’t a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday evening, especially when, two hours before the show, you did not even have a ticket and just planned on a night of watching TV. So, yeah, I can say that it turned out to be a pretty nice change in plans.

The Radio City Music Hall event featured a bunch of artists who recorded songs for the Dark Was The Night 2-disc compilation CD benefiting the Red Hot Organization, a global HIV/AIDS awareness group. Brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner played a large part in producing the album, which was released in February, and I imagine they played a big role in assembling the evening’s lineup, which included David Byrne, Bon Iver, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Dirty Projectors, Dave Sitek, Feist, The National, and My Brightest Diamond.

Dirty Projectors kicked off the show, and the highlight of their 4-song set was when David Byrne joined them for “Knotty Pine,” a song recorded for the album. This collaborative effort set the tone for the night, in which many of the performances included some combination of the musicians listed above. For example:

Feist + Bon Iver = “Train Song”
Bon Iver + Matt Berninger (The National) = “Big Red Machine”
David Byrne + Feist = “Waters Of March”
My Brightest Diamond + The National = “Feeling Good”

In addition to performing during The National’s 4-song set (Slow Show, England, So Far Around The Bend, Crybaby??), the Brothers Dessner were on the stage a lot, offering their guitar work to a bunch of songs.

In a night of too many artists I worried that I’d be sad when a band left the stage after playing just three or four songs. The only time that happened was after My Brightest Diamond sang “Feeling Good,” the song made famous by Nina Simone. First off, it seemed that almost immediately after she opened her mouth, many in the audience were thinking “Who is this woman and why don’t I know her?” After wowing the crowd and giving me chills, lead singer Shara Worden left the stage and I said out loud “That was it?” Luckily she came back to lend her voice to The National’s new song (called something like “Crybaby”) and Bon Iver’s “Flume.”

I have to say that Bon Iver was the highlight of the show. OK, maybe I am a little biased having enjoyed their performances many times in the past, but I think many in the crowd would agree. After opening with “Brackett, WI” off of Dark Was The Night, the band went on to play “Blood Bank” and “Big Red Machine” (also off of the compilation). I don’t think I have seen Justin Vernon really rock out onstage, mainly because he always seems to be seated while performing. But he went all out on “Blood Bank.” Then he took a seat for “Flume” during which he was joined by members of The National and My Brightest Diamond.

The number of performers onstage for any given song varied throughout the night. During Dave Sitek’s “With A Girl Like You” I counted 22 people onstage. But that scene drastically changed when Feist took to the stage. Appearing solo, with merely a guitar, Feist’s voice had no problem filling the enormous Radio City Music Hall. I definitely walked away from the show hoping to get a chance to see her perform again soon. Another performance of note was David Byrne’s drum section (think STOMP with drums, not trash cans), which was fun to watch.

To end the night, Sharon Jones brought her moves and The Dap Kings for an energetic set which included familiar songs like “When I Come Home” and “100 Days, 100 Nights.” The show ran a little over three hours, with one intermission. Between sets, the stage crew made quick adjustments to the equipment setup on a darkened stage while short Red Hot Organization videos played on the two jumbo screens. There were no last minute surprise guests, which actually was ok because the show was pretty jam-packed as it was.

Since it was a charity event, I sat there thinking it was a perfect moment for a “We Are the World” type of group sing-along. What actually happened was the entire group of performers ended the evening with a traditional rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” only to be quickly one-upped by Sharon Jones’ funkified version, which sent viewers on their way.

The whole concert is set to be streamed on NPR in the next week or so. And you can find the full track list for Dark Was the Night here.

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