Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones, Billie Eilish Among Star-Studded Global Citizen ‘One World Together At Home’ Performances


Rolling Stones
(Screenshot )

The Rolling Stones performing remotely as part of Global Citizen’s “One World Together At Home” concert on April 18.

If there can’t be Coachella and Bonnaroo, arena or stadium tours by the Rolling Stones, Billie Eilish, Elton John or Taylor Swift among so many others or really any in-person live performances whatsoever during this cursed COVID-19 pandemic, tonight’s Global Citizen “One World: Together At Home” concert was a much needed respite from the dearth of live entertainment and interminable quarantining.

Curated in part by Lady Gaga, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert and broadcast by their respective networks (NBC, ABC and CBS), as well as streamed on myriad social media and streaming platforms and broadcast to more 175 countries, the two-hour show featured impressive and primarily single song performances by some of the biggest musicians on the planet in the name of supporting frontline health care workers and the World Health Organization raising some $127 million for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, according to Global Citizen.

In addition to aforementioned stadium and arena seat fillers in McCartney, Eilish, the Stones, Elton, Gaga and Swift, there were also Lizzo, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Vedder, Andrea Bocelli, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, Billie Joe Armstrong, Kacey Musgraves, Maluma, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Sam Smith, Burna Boy and Chris Martin, among others. Performers and A-level celebrity speakers alike gave heartfelt thanks to the heroic health workers and other frontline responders who in this crisis have put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others.

Most had no choice but to scale back their performances recorded from their homes or studios and most often solo. But at such high levels of talent and musicianship, these mostly riveting performances betrayed exactly why these artists have attained superstar status. Though the sounds and images were of varying quality, and most were prerecorded and not livestreamed, these artists mostly transcended the format’s limitations and by and large the productions were solid. The event could have used more hip-hop, country, hard rock, jazz and electronic luminaries; a few could be seen on the preceding six-hour “One World At Home” stream, but not enough were featured on this pop-heavy broadcast.

Sir Paul McCartney

Sir Paul McCartney

That said, seeing Sir Paul McCartney anywhere anytime is thrilling – but playing an organ in what looked like a windowless studio during a quarantine offered a jolt of excitement. Here he did a looser and bluesier take on “Lady Madonna,” which he introduced by noting that his “mother Mary was a nurse and midwife during and just after the Second World War.” This he said, gave him great respect for the “doctors, nurses and other medical staff who keep us healthy.”  During his performance pictures of health care workers whose photographs poignantly appeared beside him.

Stevie Wonder’s tribute to his friend the late Bill Withers playing “Lean On Me” before heading into his own ballad “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” like so many of the night’s performances had special meaning and resonance for today. Similarly, Lizzo’s inspired choice of “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song Sam Cooke turned into a civil rights anthem took on an entirely new meanings with lines like “now I know I’m able to carry on,” and “it’s been a long time coming” as her powerful voice reached impossibly high notes.

The Stones may have had the night’s best performance, with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts performing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” separately, but re-combined one-by-one on a four-quadrant split screen. Jagger, the 76-year-old spark plug, pranced about with a strapped acoustic; Richards was seated rather elegantly on his couch straddling an acoustic; Wood performed on a balcony with his Stratocaster; and Watts seemingly played a crate in his living room but hitting inanimate objects like a chair that seemingly made no noise and betrayed pre-recorded drums. The song’s middle a cappella breakdown and subsequent crescendo on this night was transformed into the perfect family room singalong. 

Billie Eilish, who at 18 years old was the show’s youngest superstar, was joined by her brother Finneas on organ and sang a cover of Bobby Hebb’s awesome 1966 soul classic “Sunny.” She introduced the song by saying it “always warmed my heart and made me feel good and I wanted to make you guys feel good.” Eilish’s gorgeously pure tone and the song’s slower tempo made the track sound more jazzy than the original. The organ, however, was mixed a bit loud dominating the mix. Her postponed arena tour will easily be one of the biggest tours when we’re up and running again.

Eddie Vedder’s exquisite version of “River Cross” from Gigaton, Pearl Jam’s new 2020 release, featured the Pearl Jam frontman on a classic pedal pump organ from what looked to be his candle-lit studio with a nearby drum kit and other instruments. The song was recorded using an 1850s era organ, which may have been the same instrument used in this searing rendition.

In addition to classic covers by Eilish and Wonder, the night seemed to have a predisposition for classic songs. This included: Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” which John Legend and Sam Smith played beautifully; Lady Gaga performed “the song Smile” by Charlie Chaplin and which Nat King Cole later popularized; the slightly mawkish “People” sung by J. Lo, and which Barbara Streisand made famous; Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” which Keith Urban impressively replicated himself three times over before signing off with his kids and wife Nicole Kidman; and Nat King Cole’s “What A Wonderful World,” performed by royal pop couple Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello.

Between performances were tributes and gratitude, often by enormous celebrities, to those on the frontlines working for others, including healthcare workers, teachers, delivery people, grocery store workers, police and firemen and citizens across the globe making sacrifices for the sake of the greater good.  This included praise from Oprah Winfrey, First Ladies Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Usher, LL Cool J, David and Victoria Beckham, Ellen DeGeneris, Shah Rukh Khan, Alicia Keys, Bill and Melinda Gates, Awkwafina, Priyanka Chopra, Pharrell, Idris and Sabrina Elba and Kerry Washington among others.  



After thanking the many heroes, Beyoncé, and later Alicia Keys, made note of the disproportionate deaths of COVID-19 in minority communities. After pointing out that minorities make up many of the delivery workers, mail carriers and sanitation employees, Beyoncé said, “This virus is killing black people at an alarmingly higher rate here in America. A recent report from my home city, Houston, Texas showed that for COVID-19 deaths within the Houston city limits, 57% of fatal cases are African-Americans. Please protect yourselves, we are one family and we need you and we need your voices your abilities and your strength all over this world.” 

Though the show avoided partisan politics, most of the artists called for improving the health care system for everyone while looking to raise funds for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, a United Nations global agency President Trump controversially defunded last week.

The show’s finale, featured a lush rendition of “The Prayer” performed by Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga, John Legend with pianist virtuoso Lang Lang. The song was originally recorded by Dion and Bocelli for the film “Quest for Camelot” and won both Academy and a Grammy Awards.

Picture This

Picture This
Earlier in the day, a six-hour warm-up of sorts streamed on social media and streaming platforms and was part of this exceedingly ambitious, One World: Together at Home” concert. The show featured predominantly non-superstar musicians (though there were a few like John Legend) and sometimes lower production values, the ability to hear incredible performances by artists not often seen was excellent.

From the two-three hours I witnessed, this included foot-stomping Irish rock band Picture This doing their new single “Troublemaker;” Black Coffe and Delilah Montage on point pop dance track “Drive” was another highlight; Zucchero’s excellent rendition of “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime;” a scaled down Killers doing a phenomenal version of “Mr. Bright Eyes;” Finneas doing a beautiful performance of “Let’s Fall In Love For the Night” (he really is Billie Eilish’s not-so-secret sauce), Christine & the Queens showcasing her powerhouse vocals on “People I’ve Been Sad;” Australia’s Delta Goodrem doing a fantastic version of “Together We Are One; “Adam Lambert’s over-the-top version of “Superpower” was something to behold; and Kesha’s powerful rendition of “Praying” took it all to another level. 

While none of these performances over the course of eight hours (!) could ever come close to matching the experience and frisson of seeing any of these artists live or being at a festival, if one has to be quarantined “One World: Together At Home” concert wasn’t a bad way to go at all.