The Ally Coalition, founded by Jack Antonoff and his sister Rachel, is a not-for-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, aims to “end discrimination against LGBTQ people by highlighting systemic inequality and LGBTQ-serving organizations and creating opportunities for fans and entertainers to advocate for equality.” Its fourth annual “Talent Show” benefit, held at New York’s historic Town Hall, featured acoustic performances from Lorde, Jack’s band Bleachers, Kacey Musgraves, The National, Spoon, Andrew Dost and Shamir along with comedians Aparna Nancherla, Phoebe Robinson, Jacquieline Novak and others.
Rachel proudly announced at the top of the show that the event had raised some $193,000 for the organization, and the three-hour-long show had a fun and familial vibe — except for one moment.
During Lorde’s four-song set with Antonoff, after they’d performed a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me,” Lorde said to the crowd, “You’re all so nice. I wish every show this nice.”
A crowdmember shouted out something unintelligible. She asked him to repeat it.
“In Israel it’s nice,” he shouted, a clear dig at Lorde’s apparently conflicted decision to cancel a scheduled concert in the country in protest of its policies toward Palestinians (which even saw her called a “bigot” in a full-page ad in the Washington Post).
Stung, she recoiled, but Antonoff stood up and said “Woah, hang on. We’re here raising a sh—ton of money. F— the negativity.” He briefly said the evening was not about that, then put his arm around Lorde and said, “You know who’s nice? [This person] right here,” to applause.
The two performers bantered a bit trying to regain their momentum — at one point Antonoff quipped, “That motherf—er better donate $10,000!” — until Lorde capped the moment by saying, “I’m sure the Israeli people are very nice and I can’t wait to meet them one day.”
However, they channeled at least some of the emotion into a fiery version of “Green Light” that saw Lorde bounding up from the piano seat she’d shared up until that point with Antonoff to the front of the stage to finish the song.
The rest of the evening was far more benevolent. Antonoff opened the show at the piano and performed “Good Morning” unaccompanied until he was joined briefly at the end by Bleachers saxophonist Evan Smith.
Kacey Musgraves performed two songs from her forthcoming album, which she described as “kind of a new color” and in places shows more of a pop than country influence. She closed with the thematically appropriate “Follow Your Arrow” — a song that, as she said, she’s performed hundreds of times but still managed on this night to forget the lyrics at three different points. “Don’t tell me to stop smoking weed!” she said to a crowdmember. “You’re not my grandma!”
Trans singer Shamir performed two songs — “Straight Boy” and the hilarious “’90s Kids” on acoustic guitar in his trademark high falsetto. Andrew Dost — aka “the other guy from Fun” — played three songs, covers of Nilsson’s “Turn on Your Radio” and Judee Sill’s “Waterfalls,” and a song whose title he did not mentioned from a forthcoming “new project.”
Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Alex Fischel played a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” that featured a strikingly accurate impersonation from Daniel, then he picked up a guitar for their own songs. The National performed three songs, all embellished with horns: “Blame It on Me,” “I Need My Girl” and “Fake Empire.”
Lorde, wearing jeans with a billowing white shirt that had wing-like ruffles on the arms, sat at the piano next to Antonoff for a version of “Call the cops” for which they were accompanied by a violist. Although seated, her trademark arm gestures and emphatic vocals were in full flight. Then, they performed a song that “we’ve nivah played before except at soundcheck today” — a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” that had many audience members enraptured and spawned many envious posts on social media. They also played a cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “You Got It,” with Antonoff comically deadpanning Roy Orbison’s part on the chorus.
The set segued into a slightly shambolic Bleachers performance that led off with a cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” a tribute singer Dolores O’Riordan, who died of undisclosed causes last week; keyboardist Mikey Hart had toured with the Cranberries. The group then tore through a pair of their own songs, including the new song “Alfie” before, amid many thanks, Antonoff brought nearly all of the evening’s performers onstage for a finale — a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.”