Just after 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 4th, Paul McCartney finally uttered the phrase that the 6,000 people in New York’s Radio City Music Hall had been desperate to hear for more than three hours. “At this point,” McCartney said, “we’d would like to introduce to you – someone you know, ladies and gentlemen, Billy Shears!” When Ringo Starr bounded onstage – to sing “With a Little Help From My Friends” with McCartney and his band –the crowd finally witnessed the closest thing to a Beatles reunion in 2009.
The much-anticipated coming together of McCartney and Starr was part of “Change Begins Within,” a benefit for the David Lynch Foundation’s drive to bring meditation to troubled public schools. With his modern-Eraserhead hairdo and helium voice, the idiosyncratic director was the evening’s master of ceremonies. As Yoko Ono, Bill O’Reilly, John McEnroe, Jennifer Aniston, Martin Scorsese and other famous types watched from the audience, celebrities you’d expect (Mike Love of the Beach Boys) and wouldn’t (Jerry Seinfeld, Howard Stern) gave testimonials to the power of meditating.
The nearly four-hour show included performances by acts born around the time the Beatles made their famous visit to India in 1968. Playing solo, Eddie Vedder sang a lovely “Rise” from the Into the Wild soundtrack. Ben Harper and the Relentless7 pulled off a simmer-to-boil “Up to You Now,” from their new White Lies for Dark Times album. Vedder and Harper teamed up for the evening’s most unlikely cover, a note-for-note remake of the Bowie-Queen collaboration “Under Pressure”.
Yet nostalgia for another era of pop, when rock & roll and spiritual enlightenment were a seemingly natural fit, permeated the concert. Backed by Harper and his band (and with Jim James of My Morning Jacket singing along), Donovan happily resurrected “Season of the Witch”, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and “Hurdy Gundy Man”. Sheryl Crow covered George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” with Harper sitting in to recreate Harrison’s slide guitar licks.
Still, it was co-headliners McCartney and Starr who everyone truly yearned to see. Ring’s own mini-set – “It Don’t Came Easy,” “Boys” and “Yellow Submarine,” in which he too was backed by Harper and the Relentless7 – came first. Then McCartney and his touring band knocked out nearly an hours’ worth of solo hits (”Band on the Run,” “Jet”) and Beatles classics (”Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Drive My Car,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Let It Be,” “Lady Madonna”).
Although it would’ve been nice to see Starr bash along with the latter songs, all seemed to be forgiven with his and McCartney’s sweetly laconic “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Afterwards, Starr finally took a seat behind an extra drum kit to thump along on “Cosmically Conscious”, a chant-like ditty McCartney wrote during the Beatles’ Indian pilgrimage. Vedder, Crow and nearly everyone else sang along, then stayed for the encore, “I Saw Her Standing There.” As McCartney aimed to hit the song’s famous whooping “whoooo!” and Starr bashed away while bobbing his head, the legend of the Fab Four finally took the stage.