Whether or not you found NBC’s Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together benefit telethon as “enormously entertaining” as host Matt Lauer promised it would be, it was a celebrity-packed hour of television that effectively reminded everyone of how devastating the damage has been while calling for action. A lot more people now know to text REDCROSS to 90999 or go to iTunes.com/redcross to donate money to disaster relief — plus we got to see Jimmy Fallon rock out with music legends. “Jimmy Fallon is a bold man to take the lead vocals from Steven Tyler, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel,” Jon Stewart said of the all-star performance of “Under the Boardwalk,” which brought a little levity to the show.
The commercial-free hour began on a dark stage where Staten Island native Christina Aguilera sang a stripped-down rendition of “Beautiful,” with the message that “every single one” of the 50 million people affected by Sandy “matters.” Her vocals were reliably gorgeous and fairly subdued (though it just wouldn’t be Xtina without some questionable choices, like the pink ponytail and magenta blazer).
Lauer followed by rolling out a montage of the destruction Sandy wreaked all over the Eastern Seaboard. It looked like a disaster movie. We’d seen a lot of those news clips before, but the extent of the damage is still shocking. “The Jersey Shore looked like Armageddon,” Lauer said in the narration, “The famous boardwalk, a sunken wreck.” That prompted “native son of New Jersey” Jon Bon Jovi’s haunting acoustic performances of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and “Living on a Prayer” with guitarist Bob Bandiera and Lorenza Ponce on the violin.
Later, a joke-free Tina Fey introduced heart-breaking footage of Ann Curry on the scene in Staten Island. Billy Joel launched into “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Down on Broadway),” which was the first full-on rock performance of the night. It featured nice lyric changes, like “Staten Island drowned, but we went right on with the show.”
Crazy-haired Jersey Shore native Danny Devito announced Aerosmith who did “Dream On,” which has seemingly become required at all celebrity telethons and Idol Gives Back episodes. Sting sang an effortlessly perfect “Message in a Bottle,” and Mary J. Blige brought some much-needed estrogen to the night with a soft version of “The Living Proof.” But the most impressive performance of all may have been Kevin Bacon, who showed us how easy texting REDCROSS to 90999 can be with some truly lightning-quick fingers.
A devastating montage of destruction, set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” led us to the finale: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing a spirited rendition of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” spliced in with “People Get Ready” and a Jake Clemons sax solo. Springsteen ended the night with a call-out — “God bless New York, God bless the Jersey Shore.”