I think I might drop by to volunteer. Anyway...
I've never been to the Beacon Theater before. It's large - 3500 seats, and we were on the *second* balcony. So we saw tiny little people there on the stage.
John Hodgman hosted, with his sidekick Jonathan Colton. John Hodgman is the "I'm a PC" guy, although he was also plugging his book, The Areas of my Expertise . Jonathan Colton is a musician whose music would *kill* at filksings. He wore a coonskin cap for the occasion.
It was billed as Words vs Music - comedians vs. singers. First up was Jon Stewart, introduced by a few words of verse by Colton. (Yeah, it was very Jo(h)n heavy. Also David heavy.) Except that as soon as the crowd figured out who was being introduced, they started cheering and hooting and shouting. No one else got that reception. No one. Not even David Byrne. Once we settled down and Stewart gave a few pointed remarks about Mel Gibson, he read from the new edition of America: The Book , which has been annotated by a real history professor so as show how highly inaccurate it is. Also so that people who already own it will buy it again.
He read a chapter aloud, with Ben Carlin, his executive producer, reading the professor's words (under a projected picture of the professor.) Whenever he read something and there was no comment, he gloated. The remarks by the professor were dry and he clearly got the joke.
This was followed by a folksinger named John Roderick, from Alaska via Seattle. They were okay - folky but nothing memorable.
When Colton sang his song about Zombies and got the audience to sing along - that was memorable. Just saying.
Next was a singer we'd never heard of, but the crowd certainly had, named Sufjan Stevens. He was very good. His songs are original and complex, and arranged for a fairly large (six/seven piece) acoustic band.
We were. Underwhelmed, though. The songs felt over-arranged and it was impossible to hear him sing properly. The last one in the set, which was stripped down to three or four pieces, was much better. We enjoyed that one. It fit better.
Still, someone to keep an eye on.
In between, Dave Eggars talked about the charity and showed a short film.
And then there was an intermission to collect money - if more than 5K was collected, Sufjan and David Byrne would sing a duet. (Also -$20 for a hug by Dave Eggars, and $100 for a backstage viewing of "The Daily Show", open to one person.
Bit of comedy for that - the woman who wanted that had only $80 since she gave the rest to Dave Eggars. She then sold her own hug for the remaining $20...
After the intermission, Sarah Vowell and Eric Bogosian came out for a monologue on her "Favorite Explorer" - a German map maker who went with Jame Fremont and Kit Carson to map out the Oregon Trail. He hated every minute of it, and wrote all of his complaints down in his diary. Okay, monologue isn't quite right, but Vowell did the talking, Bogosian just read exerpts from the diary in the correct accent.
And then came David Byrne, with one keyboardist, one drummer, one percussionist (many types of drums) and a bass player. He sang two country songs, two Talking Heads songs and one song he just - well, he wanted to write a song with banal, objective lyrics and a chorus of vehement hatred. No explanation, no reason for the change. It was brilliant.
And they'd collected over $15K, so we had the duet. And there was the difference between good (Stevens) and great(Byrne). They sang "Fisherman from Saginaw", and it was done well by both, but when they sang solo parts - one voice was slight, one was powerful. And there was just that bit more. It's hard to describe, and harder for Tone Deaf Woman, but it was there.
And that was that.
We very much enjoyed the night - it's been years since we'd gone out for an evening like that, and even the less good people were still good and worth the price, and the benefit was worthwhile.
And we spent the cab ride home discussing art and why David Byrne is an artist (his description of his final song, and how it was exploring the way a song is written) and Sufjan Stevens may not be. and that was almost the best part.