From the Big Apple to the Big Easy: Madison Square Garden Concert captures for posterity a Sept. 20, 2005, benefit held in New York City for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Its humanitarian mission alone is reason enough to heap praise on the event -- the show generated millions of dollars for Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, Habitat for Humanity and other entities -- but the marquee talent isn't too shabby, either.
Let's face it: It's tough to go wrong with a lineup that includes (but is not limited to) Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Allen Toussaint, Jimmy Buffett, Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers, Dave Matthews, John Fogerty, Bette Midler, Diana Krall, Lenny Kravitz, Cyndi Lauper, the Meters, the Dixie Cups and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Whew. Like the concert itself, this two-DVD set is handsomely produced and featuring some terrific music – even if 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley seems a rather sedate choice as the show's designated master of ceremonies.
In a nifty bit of sonic gumbo as befitting the Crescent City, the concert's organizers pay homage to New Orleans' considerable and diverse music legacy. Toussaint takes to the keyboards to accompany Costello and other singers covering his songs. Lauper joins Thomas and the Dixie Cups for the percolating "Iko Iko," while Diana Krall lends her smoky vocals to Fats Domino's classic "I'm Walkin'."
The full rundown, in chronological order, is as follows:
1. The ReBirth Brass Band – "Jazz Funeral – Dirge/Celebrate"
Ed Bradley introduces Allen Toussaint
2. Allen Toussaint – "Southern Nights"
3. Aaron Neville – "All These Things"
4. Lenny Kravitz – "Hercules"
5. Elvis Costello – "On Your Way Down/Yes We Can Can
6. Clarence "Frogman" Henry – Ain't Got No Home
7. Jimmy Buffett – "Fortune Teller"
8. Aaron Neville – "A Change Is Gonna Come"
9. Cyril Neville – "Big Chief"
Jessica Lange introduces the ladies of the Big Easy
10. Irma Thomas – "Time Is on My Side"
11. Cyndi Lauper & Allen Toussaint – "Last Train/I Know (You Don't Want Me No More)"
12. Irma Thomas, the Dixie Cups & Cyndi Lauper – "Brother Jake / Iko Iko"
13. Bette Midler – "I Think It's Going to Rain Today"
Scarlett Johansson introduces Elton John
14. Elton John – "Levon"
Ed Bradley introduces the blues performers
15. Ry Cooder – "My Girl Josephine"
16. Buckwheat Zydeco – "Rock Me Baby"
17. Lenny Kravitz – "When the Levee Breaks"
18. Irma Thomas – "Backwater Blues"
Ed Bradley introduces Jimmy Buffett
1. Jimmy Buffett – "Pascagoula Run"
2. Jimmy Buffett & Dave Matthews – "Heart of Gold"
3. Jimmy Buffett – "Son of a Son of a Sailor"
4. Jimmy Buffett – "Fins"
5. Jimmy Buffett – "Margaritaville"
6. Jimmy Buffett & Paul Simon – "Sea Cruise"
Former President Bill Clinton introduces John Fogerty
7. John Fogerty – "Born on the Bayou"
8. John Fogerty – "Proud Mary"
Ed Bradley introduces the jazz performers
9. Dave Bartholomew & Elvis Costello – "The Monkey"
10. Diana Krall & Troy Andrews – "I'm Walkin'"
11. Kermit Ruffins – "St. James Infirmary"
Paul Newman introduces Simon & Garfunkel
12. Simon & Garfunkel – "Mrs. Robinson"
13. Simon & Garfunkel – "Homeward Bound"
14. Simon & Garfunkel with Aaron Neville – "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Ed Bradley introduces the Neville Brothers
15. The Neville Brothers – "Carry the Torch
Ed Bradley introduces the Meters
16. The Neville Brothers & the Meters – "Hey Pocky Way"
17. The Neville Brothers & the Meters – "Amazing Grace"
18. The Neville Brothers, the Meters & Guests – "When the Saints Go Marching In"
19. The ReBirth Brass Band & the Dirty Dozen Brass Band – "When the Saints Go Marching In (Brass Band Reprise)"
With such an excess of luminaries, it's inevitable that some stars will shine brighter than others. Diehard Parrotheads will probably disagree, but Buffett's set feels rote to this reviewer, with the exception of a rousing version of "Fins."
Among the highlights of the three-hour-plus show are performances from Thomas, Simon & Garfunkel and a barn-burning appearance by Creedence Clearwater Revival mastermind Fogerty. In a nod to blues enthusiasts, Kravitz, Cooder and Zydeco take the stage together for a smattering of blues standards. Then there is the inimitable Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which brings its infectious hybrid of jazz and funk to collaborations with Costello and Krall.
While there are perhaps a few too many self-consciously ironic songs about rain and storms (yeah, yeah, we get it already), most of the New Orleans-based musicians give stirring, poignant performances. Aaron Neville lends his gravity-defying falsetto to a powerful rendition of "Amazing Grace." The great Clarence "Frogman" Henry takes the microphone for his 1956 hit "Ain't Got No Home," and I'll be damned if the guy -- who was 68 at the time of the show -- doesn't still know how to sing like a girl and sing like a frog.
There isn't much else to say about the DVD. It's rock 'n' roll, jazz, blues and a generous dose of R&B. What else do you want?
Shown in full-frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the picture quality is thoroughly solid -- clean and clear, boasting realistic skin tones and vivid colors. The production also deserves kudos. Its presentation is straightforward, with little time wasted on extraneous cutaways of the Madison Square Garden crowd.
Viewers can choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The 5.1 is superb quality – a big, fat, juicy sound that does justice to the passel of musical acts.
No extras are included, but with three hours of music stretched over two discs, who needs 'em?
Perhaps the best reason to purchase From the Big Apple to the Big Easy is that 100 percent of net proceeds from the DVD sale go to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. Consider the musical talent involved just an added bonus.