Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp teamed up for two duets; Debbie Harry and DMC (Darryl McDaniels) collaborated on an epic rap collaboration; and the Eurythmics reunited for a set at Sting and Trudie Styler’s 30th annual Rainforest Benefit at the Beacon Theater in New York City Monday night (Dec. 9).
The event was hosted by actor Robert Downey Jr., who showed vocal chops of his own with a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and cracked several ’80s themed jokes while gently chastising the crowd about cell phone use. The evening also featured performances by Sting, James Taylor, Bob Geldof, Shaggy, Ricky Martin, MJ Rodriguez, Adrienne Warren (star of the new Tina Turner Broadway musical “Tina”), Joe Sumner (Sting’s son, who fronts his own band, Fiction Plane), and Zucchero with a house band that included musical director Narada Michael Walden, bassist Will Lee, guitarist Felicia Collins, and former Rolling Stones backup singer Lisa Fischer, who shined brightly with a front and center showcase on Sting’s “We’ll Be Together.” The solo classic also served as the centerpiece for the evening.
Formerly held at Carnegie Hall, the event changed to the Beacon Theater because, Sting told Variety, “It was booked. I had my birthday here eight years ago, and I loved it. It’s more of a rock and roll venue.”
Ever the gentleman, Sting credited his wife, Trudie Styler, with handling all the logistics of the bill. “Behind every man is a good woman,” he said. “We are creating a community here with people who are concerned about the same issues we are, and it’s a lovely feeling. We are only going to solve this problem as a community.”
And while Sting served as a master of ceremonies, joking with Downey or taking a moment to remember performers from past Rainforest lineups who have passed away, it was Styler who made the call to action with a passionate speech that took a swipe at Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro’s accusations that actor Leonardo DiCaprio is responsible for the destruction of the Rain Forest. “You can’t make this s–t up,” she said.
The lineup of socially conscious artists included Band Aid organizer Geldof, who couldn’t resist seizing the moment to make a political plea. “Welcome to Boomerstock,” said Geldof, who performed the Boomtown Rats hit, “I Don’t Like Mondays.” (He cracked afterward, “I’m so f–king sick of doing that song.”) “We’re the old guys and girls with guitars and keyboards that still think it’s possible to change things,” he added. Although he did not name President Donald Trump by name, he did express hope that “by next year you will be rid of that man” before launching into a cover of the anthemic, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.”
Other highlights included Mellencamp delivering a captivating acoustic version of “Jack and Diane” before summoning Springsteen to join him for a taut “Pink Houses.” With both men trading verses and bringing the house to its feet. Mellencamp was particularly spry, working the crowd while Springsteen went to work on guitar. The two later united for “Glory Days” (Springsteen sound-checked “I’m on Fire,” but it was cut for time), that was still ebullient despite a missed cue and Springsteen declaring, “We f–ked up!”
Debbie Harry made a statement during her brief set, donning a red cape that read “Stop F–king the Planet” (she wore a similar black jacket with the same message on the carpet). She was joined by rapper DMC of Run DMC mid-way through the seminal 1980 hit, “Rapture,” with DMC rapping to leave “the Rainforest alone.”
James Taylor was delightfully engaging with the crowd, seated simply with an acoustic guitar for “Your Smiling Face” and cheating a little bit with the theme with “a song from the early Sixties” with a sweet interpretation of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin penned hit for The Drifters, “Up on The Roof.” He even joined DMC in a a quick mic moment on the RUN DMC/Aerosmith collab “Walk This Way.”
Shaggy fully embraced the theme with Eddy Grant’s 1982 hit “Electric Avenue.” Said the Jamaican star: “As a Caribbean boy, Eddy Grant was somebody I looked up to!”
But it was the Eurythmics reunion of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart that stole the show with a trio of pop perfection, opening with “Would I Lie to You,” an exquisite “Here Comes The Rain Again” (appropriate for the rain drenched New York City evening), and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Lennox owned the moment with rock star precision, her voice a fine tuned instrument against Stewart’s lustrous instrumentation. It begged the question–could this act be repeated?
Speaking to Variety on the red carpet, Lennox explained that, although the duo hadn’t performed together since 2014, the invitation to reunite for the cause was too important to pass up.
“Sting and Trudie were visionaries back in the day and this is going to be the last concert of it’s kind, but I believe the Trust will continue, so for us to finally be here tonight is a historical event,” she said. “It’s hugely significant because we all know, as do most people with any intelligence understand, what is happening in the Amazon at the moment and the huge destruction that has been going on for decades. … I just feel so privileged to be a part of it tonight, and be able to contribute a very small part to what I hope will be a huge fundraising event and will continue to make a supportive impact especially on the indigenous tribal people whose lives have been devastated and all the animals. The benefit of the jungle is it is the lungs of the planet, and we are all a part of this big picture.”
In a way, the event was a reunion of artists from the 1987 album “A Very Special Christmas,” which included contributions from Sting, Springsteen, Mellencamp, Run DMC and The Eurythmics, all holiday staples as radio station everywhere.
The show concluded with a group cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (with a reprise of DMC’s freestyle rainforest rap) a treat for invited guest Neal Schon who sat in the crowd (“There’s a lot of good friends here,” Schon told Variety earlier), which included actors Chazz Palmentari, Val Kilmer, Clive Davis, Julie Chen, Brian Stokes Mitchell, billionaire hedge funder Ray Dalio, “Lion King” writer Irene Mecchi, and Chic legend and produce Nile Rodgers, who praised Sting’s efforts on the red carpet.
“I performed here with Sting for many years,” Rodgers recalled. “The last time was six years ago, and I unfortunately had two bouts of cancer since I played last, but I am here and I am well and I am cancer free,” he said. “I have been supporting the cause for a long time and it’s sad to me that we still have to do this. It seems like the world is slow to get the message.”
Sting is set to receive the Global Citizen Artist of the Year Prize, honoring a creative individual or group who uses their platform and their work to create change not only through conversation but meaningful impact. The Rainforest Foundation could get another financial shot in the arm, as the award includes a $150,000 prize paid to the organization through which the individual has achieved impact. Set to air 8 p.m. Dec. 20 on NBC from London’s Royal Albert Hall, the “Global Citizen Prize” special will also feature appearances by Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Raphael Saadiq, Stormzy, Chris Martin and H.E.R with presenters Connie Britton, Emma Bunton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jason Derulo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Leona Lewis, Himesh Patel and Kal Penn.