If you had told a teenager in 1994 that, one day, the surviving members of Nirvana — the ultimate grunge-rock progenitors — would be joined on vocals by slacker-rock icon Beck for the classic “In Bloom,” you’d be wise to step back from the likely head explosion. But that’s exactly what happened at the Palladium last night as part of a special “Dave Grohl & Friends” set, the pinnacle point of the Art Of Elysium fundraiser Heaven Is Rock & Roll, which also featured a subdued, short set from fellow ‘90s icon Marilyn Manson, a punk-rock blast from the recently reunited rockers L7, and a greatest hits sampling from Cheap Trick.
This year’s 13th annual Art of Elysium gala (which raises money for programs that bring arts programs to underserved communities) was curated by Linda Perry and Kerry Brown of WE ARE HEAR, the record company/management/record store organization that has, of late, become the go-to spot to organize incredible one-off charity events. In this case, they created a venue that served as an ode to CBGB’s, with black and white rock posters of artists like Blondie and the Ramones flanking the Palladium stage and massive, for-sale canvases dedicated to KISS and Elton John surrounding the guests, which included a veritable who’s-who of actors, models, and musicians including Rufus Wainwright (pictured below with Perry), Jack Black, Mandy Moore, Moby and Bella Hadid.
Perry and Brown’s goal was to change up the normal fussiness of a gala, which extended from everything to the laid-back dress code to the food. “When people walk into [a gala], they’re used to circle tables and the rubber chicken and fish dinners,” Perry said on the red carpet before the show. “We wanted to f–k things up a little bit and just have fun.”
That meant long, rectangular tables topped with late-night snacks like pizza and cookies from celebrity chef Eric Greenspan and touches like Jimi Hendrix impersonators taking photos with attendees during cocktail hour, as well as custom guitar picks as table giveaways. It was also an excuse for special sets — not just Grohl’s, but Manson’s as well, which was a short, stripped-down two-song affair featuring Perry and Shooter Jennings, both on keys, playing through “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
“I wanted to do something that was cool for the arts,” Manson said of his involvement with the charity event. “I am a painter — and Linda Perry’s great.” Unfortunately, his short set didn’t include any new songs from his forthcoming collaboration with Jennings, although he says fans can expect the album to sound “like the Rolling Stones and Diamond Dogs,” a combo far from both his industrial rock edge and Jenning’s outlaw country roots.
Following speeches about The Art of Elysium’s work, delivered by organizers, volunteers, beneficiaries and honorees Topher and Ashley Grace (who met seven years ago at an Art of Elysium event), L7 kicked things off with a short-but-brutal set that included a raging “Shitlist.” It featured bassist Jennifer Finch wading into the audience, much to the joy of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who strummed her strings as Finch hoisted the instrument over her head. Manson’s short set followed, with a pause before the main event: Grohl, Novoselic, and Pat Smear, the surviving members of Nirvana, joined onstage by Beck and St. Vincent, née Annie Clark, with Clark singing lead on the opener, “Lithium.”
Depending on whether you count a 2014 ultra-secret surprise show following a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, it was only the third or fourth time that Grohl, Novoselic and Smear have played Nirvana songs in public since 1994, the year frontman Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Other than that private show, it was by far the most intimate: only a few hundred fans filled the $250-per-ticket GA balcony to capacity, while the floor was exclusively reserved for VIP tickets that cost $2,500 and up (tax deductible, naturally).
The five-song set also included “Been a Son,” which Beck said he saw Nirvana proper play at the Palladium with a massive mosh pit during the band’s ascent; the aforementioned “In Bloom” (with Beck prematurely starting the first verse and trying to catch Grohl up to his mistake), and the set-closing cover-of-a-cover of David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World,” which saw Clark and Smear harmonically song’s iconic guitar solo, as well as the show’s most unexpected highlight: Grohl’s 13-year-old daughter Violet (pictured below) singing the hit “Heart Shaped Box,” conjuring up Cobain’s signature vocal grit with each “hey/wait/I’ve got a new complaint” chorus.
The gala joyously ended with a Cheap Trick set that found the band blasting through four of its best-known songs, but even the night-closing singalong of “Surrender” seemed anticlimactic after the history-making that preceded it. Still, if this is heaven, sign us up!