Following a successful first year, ABOVE GROUND, a musical showcase benefitting MusiCares and presented by legendary musicians Dave Navarro and Billy Morrison, came back this week to the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood for its second bout. Once again, Navarro and Morrison rounded up some of the industry’s best names to help them perform two full albums—The Stooges’ first album and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust—and raise funds for an important cause.
MusiCares was founded in 1993 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Its main mission is to provide resources to those within the music community who are suffering from a range of issues—personal, financial, mental—with provisions for mental health aid. Navarro and Morrison found several creative ways to raise money for the organization, which they incorporated into the ABOVE GROUND benefit concert. A number of famous street artists were invited to create special pieces that were auctioned off during intermission. Ticket sales from the event and proceeds from the art auction will go to benefit MusiCares.
The personal nature of the event was clear to fans when Navarro bared his soul, revealing his personal struggle and how he was contemplated taking his own life two years ago. Through the help of organizations like MusiCares and the support of his friends, he was able to turn his past pain into a calling to help others in the same situation. At one point during the performance, Navarro invited audience members to participate in a chant he learned from a 17-year-old boy who he “talked off the ledge.” Similar stories were shared throughout the night, illustrating just how vital an organization MusiCares is and why it was so important to the performers in attendance that it was supported.
The night wasn’t all serious, though. It was, at its core, a fun time to celebrate music as an art that brings people together. A star-studded lineup of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists graced the stage, each performing one or two songs from the hit albums, all of which Navarro and Morrison accompanied. First up was The Stooges’ album and opening with “1969” was Billy Idol (coincidentally, Billy Morrison is Billy Idol’s guitarist. A double Billy, if you will) and Steve Stevens.
Juliette Lewis followed with two high-energy performances—“I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun.” She was dressed in a black and pink tank top and jeans, a bandana holding her short brown hair together as she whipped her head back and forth. She danced and jumped across the stage, interacting with both Navarro and Morrison and paying a visit to the drummer as she hit his cymbals with her mic.
Wayne Kramer of MC5 later came out and performed “Real Cool Time," and Billy Morrison provided the vocals on “Ann” with Dave Kushner of Velvet Revolver on guitar. Donovan Leitch came out to sing “Not Right” and Al Jourgenson finished out the album by providing the vocals on “Little Doll.” Before performing, Jourgenson invited the audience to remember his recently passed friend, Ric Ocasek. As a special treat, Morrison had Jourgenson perform “Search and Destroy,” which was not originally on the Stooges’ first album, along with musical guests Billy Duffy of The Cult and Twiggy. The audience was showered in silver sparkling confetti as cannons on either side of the stage exploded as the first note of the song was played.
Intermission came and Dr. Drew and the event’s host, comedian Tom Arnold, came out to start the street art auction. The artists were brought out to introduce their pieces. Art by Navarro and Morrison, avid visual artists themselves, were also sold during the auction.
A few moments later, the album that I had been waiting for—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust—began. Super excited, I took advantage of my short height and slowly squeezed my way to the very front right next to the backstage wings. From there, I could see everything that was going on. Bowie was well-represented as bassist Carmine Rojas, who played with Bowie in the '80s, and pianist Mike Garson, who was with Bowie since 1972, played on several performances.
First up was “Five Years” with vocals again supplied by Billy Morrison. Franky Perez of Deadland Ritual came out to sing “Soul Love” accompanied by Mat Schumer on sax. Schumer stayed around for “Moonage Daydream” with vocals by Billy Idol for his second performance of the night. Gavin Rossdale, fresh off a tour with his band Bush, came out and performed “Starman” to the excitement of all the women in the audience, both young and old. Mixi Demmer of the band Stitched Up Heart, clad in an out-of-this-world silver sparkling get-up, gave a stunning rendition of “It Ain’t Easy.” We were serenaded by the deep, full, impressive vocals of Laura on “Lady Stardust” a song that, through Navarro and Morrison’s admission, is very difficult to perform vocally. Laura performed it with ease, however—a true testament to her abilities as a singer. The female energy didn’t stop there. Orianthi came out and performed “Star” with musical guest Billy Duffy.
Navarro added even more personal touches to the night by inviting Jane's Addiction band members Perry Farrell, Etty Lau Farrell and Chris Chaney along with drummer Brandon to the stage to perform both “Hang on to Yourself” and the song I was most eager to hear, “Ziggy Stardust.” It holds a truly special place in my heart since it’s one of the few songs my newborn daughter would fall asleep to. Rock & roll was really kicked up a notch with a performance by the always-entertaining, magnetic Jack Black who came up to sing “Suffragette City.” Clad in a colorful schoolboy-esque outfit and rocking a tiny backpack, he infused the song with his signature Jack Black touch.
Steve Vai, guitar wizard/legend/extraordinaire was the special musical guest on this song and the last one of the evening. The night ended with the final song off the album, “Rock n Roll Suicide,” with vocals provided by Franky Perez. It was a poetic, appropriate ending as it served as a gentle reminder of the reason why we had all gathered there that night—to lend our support to those in the music community who were suffering. During Perez’s performance, a slideshow played in the background with pictures of artists who lost their lives to suicide.
What struck me most during my time there was the amount of passion and heart that was poured into both the performance and the event. You could really see how each artist on stage truly loved their craft. But more than that, they loved it so much that they were determined to use it for good.
Photo Credit: Alex Kluft