“Carnegie Hall, I apologize for what I’m about to do,” said surprise guest Patti Smith last night at a Who tribute concert at the famed New York venue before launching into a snarling punk version of “My Generation,” during which she spit on the hallowed stage at least three separate times. (Iggy Pop did some damage to the very same stage at the Tibet House benefit last week.) Earlier in the night, Bobby McFerrin did the same song, though he used no instrument other than his mouth and the sound of his hand banging against his chest. Patti’s was stronger (mainly because it didn’t bear resemblance to the Cosby Show theme), but it proved that the Who’s vast catalog is strong enough to survive nearly any re-interpretation.
The night — which was a benefit concert for numerous organizations including Music Unites — began with a children’s choir and the house band performing “Overture” and “Tommy Can You Hear Me.” They were followed by Living Colour, who did an absolutely killer funk-metal “Eminence Front.” It was a hard act to top, but Robyn Hitchcock’s acoustic “Substitute” and the Smithereens’ fierce one-two punch of “The Seeker” and “Sparks” came pretty close with an incredibly frantic energy. Bettye LaVette slowed things down with a beautiful torch ballad rendition of “Love Reign O’er Me” that was definitely the vocal highlight of the night.
Mose Allison, looking pretty spry for 82, was the only performer who did an original. He played “Young Man Blues” (which was a staple of the Who’s set list in the 1960s and ’70s) and its recent sequel “Old Man Blues.” Beatles cover band Fab Faux stepped one inch outside of their comfort zone by playing “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Every note and harmony from the Tommy finale was hit with stunning precision. The Gaslight Anthem tore into “Baba O’Riley” Pearl Jam style, while Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould dipped deep into the Who’s catalog for a frenzied cover of “Can’t Reach You” from The Who Sell Out. The night ended with all the performers jamming on a sloppy but fun “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” featuring an unprecedented two primal screams — one by Willie Nile and another by Nicole Atkins, who nailed it better than Daltrey has in quite some time.