“We had all kinds of grand ideas,” Bono said onstage at Carnegie Hall, early in an October 4th concert honoring Irish singer-songwriter-provocateur Gavin Friday. Bono was recalling his teenage years in Dublin, running through the streets with Friday and the future members of their bands, U2 and Friday’s tribal punk surrealists the Virgin Prunes. “We invented these great events in our imagination,” Bono went on, noting that Friday, at one point actually had the temerity to say, “Why don’t we all play Carnegie Hall?”
They had to wait awhile, until Friday’s 50th birthday (officially on October 8th), but it was worth it. Dubbed “An Evening With Gavin Friday and Friends” and curated with eclectic bravura by Hal Willner, the show — presented by the charitable foundation (RED), with proceeds going to fight AIDS in Africa — was a riotous three-hour party, with a to-hell-with-genre rollcall of the many friends Friday has made in his art-rock pop-art film-score and noir-theater travels.
Rufus Wainwright, Scarlett Johansson and Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Armisen joined Friday for the come-hither cartoon “Mr. Pussy,” from Friday’s 1995 album, Shag Tobacco. (Armisen came out dressed to the purple nines — as Prince.) Friday and falsetto-soul singer Antony duetted on a pair of ballads, including a Memphis-brass-soaked reading of “He Got What He Wanted” from Friday’s 1989 solo debut, Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves. Friday and Virgin Prunes devotee Courtney Love were just on the right side of out-of-control in a pounding version of Magazine’s “The Light Pours Out of Me.” Queen of the post-punk furies Lydia Lunch played the same half of the night as Lady Gaga (who came out in next to nothing — she made Love look demure). And a metal-machine-noise assault by Laurie Anderson (violin), John Zorn (saxophone) and Lou Reed (guitar distortion) eventually resolved into the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” with Friday, Bono and a cheerfully pickled Shane McGowan of the Pogues trading verses.
Bono was not just passing through between stadiums. He, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. were on and off stage half a dozen times; U2’s Friday covers included “I Want to Live” (done with techno drive and Joshua Tree-like space) and the crusted-glam bomb “King of Trash.” Bono also took a solo spot, turning on his Irish Sinatra for the Shag Tobacco elegy “The Last Song I’ll Ever Sing.” The Edge’s brother, guitarist Richard Evans, joined Friday and singer Guggi in a mostly-intact Virgin Prunes reunion (the group broke up in 1987). Their overlapping vocal harangue in “Sweethome Under White Clouds,” with JG Thirwell of Foetus guesting as a third voice, sounded like the Beastie Boys at the End of Days.
Other celebrants included Joel Grey, who reprised his most famous role — the emcee in Cabaret — to effortless-knockout effect (Friday is a German-cabaret obsessive), and Irish writer Patrick McCabe. A lover of women’s voices, Friday gave Martha Wainwright the spotlight for “You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart” (originally recorded by Sinead O’Connor for the soundtrack of 1994’s In the Name of the Father) and shared tender mercies and vocal mischief with Andrea Coor and Maria McKee (she and Friday were a saucy delight in “The Ballad of Immoral Earnings” from The Threepenny Opera). The silent star of the evening was composer Maurice Seezer, Friday’s longtime songwriting partner. He finally took a bow at the very end.
But Friday, who always thought he belonged in Carnegie Hall, sang and acted out his lyrics as if he owned the place, swaggering across the boards, gesturing at the stars and jabbing his forefinger at the front rows with a panache that was part opera star, part Dublin punk. “Do we really need these pop stars?/There’s not enough of me!” he crowed in “Caruso,” a dynamic pairing with singer Eric Mingus. It was a song about the power and pleasures of transformation, sung by a man who took on every role in reach tonight — friend, lover, heathen, glitter boy, Irish poet — and was indisputably himself and in control in every one.