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Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Eurythmics Revisit the 1980s at All-Star Rainforest Fund Benefit

The 13 best moments from a wild, unpredictable night, including a rare heartland-rock summit between Springsteen and John Mellencamp

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Andy Greene Dec 11, 2019

The 30th annual Rainforest Fund benefit concert featured unforgettable performances by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, James Taylor, and more. Photo: Kevin Kane/Getty Images

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Bob Geldof has organized some of the most incredible all-star shows in rock history, including the original Live Aid in 1985 and its follow-up, Live 8, in 2005. But even the man that reunited Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Who seemed stunned by what he was seeing near the end of the 30th-anniversary celebration of Sting and Trudie Styler’s Rainforest Fund benefit at New York’s Beacon Theater on Monday evening. The Eurthymics had just wrapped up an extremely rare reunion set when Bruce Springsteen came onto the stage and called out John Mellencamp to help him sing “Glory Days.”

As the two Eighties icons traded lines back and forth, sometimes singing into the same mic with their arms around each other, Geldof sat near the end of the stage with his iPhone aimed squarely at the heartland rock summit, a look of absolute joy on his face. Host Robert Downey Jr. repeatedly begged the crowd to put their phones away for the night and enjoy the show in real time, but Geldof was one of about 2,000 people who completely ignored that directive even though he was sitting about five feet away from Iron Man himself.

It was one of several unforgettable moments at the Rainforest Fund benefit, which also featured James Taylor, Debbie Harry, Shaggy, DMC, Ricky Martin, MJ Rodriguez, H.E.R., Joe Sumner, Adrienne Warren, and Zucchero along with killer band that included musical director Narada Michael Walden, bassist Will Lee, guitarist Felicia Collins, and former Rolling Stones backup singer Lisa Fischer.

Here are 13 of the best moments.

Robert Downey Jr. Channels Robert Palmer
The theme of the night was ostensibly the music of the Eighties and Nineties, and Robert Downey Jr. (who released an under-the-radar album in 2004) kicked things off by breaking into Robert Palmer’s 1986 classic “Addicted to Love.” Alongside him were backup singers that perfectly recreated the looks and the moves of the models from the original Palmer video, down to their bright red lipstick and bizarre, robotic sway. He was never listed as one of the performers for the evening, but it seemed like he was unable to resist the chance to join in on the fun.

The Eighties Phoned the Theater
In his opening monologue, Downey Jr. briefly pretended to address the rainforest crisis in in the most dull way imaginable when he got a call on a giant Zack Morris cellphone he said was from the decade of the Eighties. “Enjoying Reaganomics, are we?” he asked. “Yeah, I know I get fired from SNL. But don’t worry. Everything works out just fine for me. If you’re so smart, guess who is president right now? Clint Eastwood? Keep going … OK, deal with your self-important denial while we deal with the ramifications of your behavior. OK, little brother? Gotta fly.”

James Taylor Brings Things Back to the Seventies
James Taylor didn’t have a lot of big hits in the Eighties, so it wasn’t surprising he played his Seventies favorites “Your Smiling Faces”, “Up on the Roof”, and “Secret o’ Life.” “I’m going to play for you a song that I see as sort of the quintessential New York statement,” he said prior to “Up on the Roof.” “It’s a song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin for the Drifters. It isn’t technically from the Eighties or Nineties. It’s actually from the early Sixties, but I cut it again in the Eighties.” It sounded so majestic, especially paired with images of the New York skyline on the screens behind him, that we won’t even complain he was off by a year. (His version came out on 1979’s Flag.)

Bob Geldof Begs for Peace
Bob Geldof walked onstage looking like Jon Bon Jovi’s older understudy and kicked into a powerful rendition of the Boomtown Rats’ 1979 classic “I Don’t Like Mondays” before telling everyone he was “fucking sick of doing that song.” (That certainly wasn’t apparent when he was singing it.) “Welcome to Boomerstock,” he then said. “We’re the old guys and girls with guitars and keyboards that still think it’s possible to change things.” He ended with a passionate cover of Nick Lowe’s 1974 anthem “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding)” and a plea to vote Donald Trump out of office the next year. It was the most overt political statement of the night and one of the best overall performances.

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Shaggy Takes Everyone to “Electric Avenue”
Shaggy could have easily busted out his 1995 classic “Boombastic” to win over the crowd and honor the theme of the show, but he instead opted for Eddy Grant’s 1982 hit “Electric Avenue.” It brought everyone to their feet, even David Geffen in the front row and Julie Chen Moonves, one row behind him, who seemed to know every single world. “As a Caribbean boy, Eddy Grant was somebody I looked up to,” he said, “because he was one of the first that did it. And this was such a smash Eighties song!”

Debbie Harry Raps with DMC
Wearing a red cape with the phrase “Stop Fucking the Planet” written on the back, Debbie Harry opened her set with Blondie’s 1980 hit “Call Me,” which lead directly into their pioneering hip-hop song “Rapture.” She did the famous “Fab Five Freddy told me everybody’s fly” rap herself before DMC came out to deliver a little freestyle about the rainforest. Both artists played a critical role in introducing hip-hop to the country in the Eighties, so it was wonderful to briefly see them together.

DMC “Walks This Way” With James Taylor
DMC didn’t have the benefit of Aerosmith or even Reverend Run by his side, but he still pulled off a stellar “Walk This Way” that had everyone in the Beacon Theater waving their hands in the air. James Taylor even got into the spirit of things from the side of the stage, causing DMC to run over and put the mic in his face for one incredible moment where their voices locked on a single “walk this way.” Maybe it’s the start of the new rap supergroup JT DMC.

Sting Gets “Together” With Lisa Fischer
Lisa Fischer may have parted ways with the Rolling Stones in 2015 for reasons that have never quite been explained, but she remains one of the greatest backup singers in the business. She proved that when she duetted with Sting on his 1987 hit “We’ll Be Together” and nearly upstaged him. Annie Lennox sang on a 2004 remake of the song and did it with Sting every night of their tour that year, but he wisely kept her backstage so she could prep for her big moment later in the show.

Ricky Martin Parties Like It’s 1999
One would think that Ricky Martin is just as sick as “The Cup of Life” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” as Bob Geldof is as “I Don’t Like Mondays,” but he delivered them with incredible joy and energy during his mini-set. He then spent the rest of the show hanging out near the side of the stage and singing along to all the other songs even though he was nowhere near a microphone. It’s been 20 years and Martin still seems to be getting a real kick out of this whole fame thing.

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Mellencamp and Springsteen Unite
John Mellencamp had the misfortune of breaking through to the mainstream just a few years after Bruce Springsteen hit, causing many lazy rock writers to compare the two and create the false impression they were somehow rivals. Anyone who still thinks that’s the case was proven wrong when Mellencamp brought Springsteen out after a solo acoustic “Jack and Diane” to duet with him on “Pink Houses.” More than a few Michael Scott types probably think that Springsteen wrote that song, so watching them sing it inches apart, trading off lines and laughs, was just incredible.

Eurythmics Reunite
With the exception of their performance of “Fool on the Hill” at a 2014 Beatles tribute show, the Eurythmics have been completely dormant since 2005. But somehow or another, the duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart completely stole the show, rising above even Bruce Springsteen, with a three-song set of “Would I Lie to You?,” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” and, of course, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Lennox’s voice didn’t show the tiniest hint of wear and Stewart hit every subtle guitar note on a tender, gorgeous “Here Comes the Rain Again.” They haven’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite appearing on two recent ballots, but this performance alone proved that this gross injustice needs to be addressed very soon. They should also seriously consider another tour.

Springsteen Plays the Hits
At the 2010 Rainforest Fund benefit, which was also Eighties-themed, Springsteen played a soul-infused rendition of the Bryan Adams classic “Cuts Like a Knife.” This time around, he stuck to his own songs by duetting with Mellencamp on “Glory Days” and then leading the house band through on an epic “Dancing in the Dark.” While we would have loved to see him try out something by Duran Duran, Toto or Haysi Fantayzee, those two numbers did just fine.

Bruce Stops Believin’
Like they did in 2010, everyone from the evening wrapped things up by playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’” The stage was packed with singers, but it was hard not to notice that Springsteen didn’t look too thrilled by the whole thing. He also didn’t seem to know many of the words outside of the chorus. Maybe, like the rest of us, he’s simply heard this song too many times. Maybe he was just tapped out by this point or he’d spent enough time reliving the Eighties and was ready to call it a night. Whatever the case, everyone else made up for his lack of enthusiasm and it was the perfect end to a long, surreal evening of Eighties nostalgia. How can they possibly top this one the next time the show comes around?

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