BOSTON — Rock, pop, metal, country-punk, straight-up stand-up, radio standards and ... Margaritaville? Genres and generations may separate them, but the all-star lineup of Boston Strong: An Evening of Support and Celebration united Thursday night for the sake (and entertainment) of a healing Hub.
The event: Hometown heroes New Kids On the Block, Aerosmith, James Taylor, the J. Geils Band and Dropkick Murphys were joined by Jason Aldean, Jimmy Buffett, Carole King and others at TD Garden for a sold-out concert in support of the One Fund. The charitable effort for the Boston Marathon bombings has raised $37.6 million to aid survivors and victims' families.
"We are Boston Strong!": Matt Siegel, aka "Matty in the Morning" of local radio station Kiss 108, roused the packed room with his powerful opening statements. "This could be my proudest moment!" he crowed, praising the first responders, runners, cops and EMTs as each call for applause was met with a growing wave of cheers. The camera panned to Jeff Bauman, the young man who became the face of the marathon bombings when he lost both his legs in the April 15 blasts, before a moving opening reading by poet Richard Blanco.
More than a feeling: Quite possibly the most aptly chosen opener in the history of big-name benefits, Boston launched into a deafening take on The Star-Spangled Banner before plowing through the more revered hits of their catalog, including closer Foreplay/Long Time and, of course, the gravity-defying More Than A Feeling.
Comedy in canary: There's something to be said for the therapeutic powers of a good laugh, and Cambridge native Lenny Clarke (attired in neon-yellow trousers) cracked jokes that barely shied away from "too soon" territory, impersonating famed Watertown boat owner David Henneberry ("He's in my boat about a half a block away from where ya stopped lookin!'") and roasting Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
Sincerity, unplugged: An acoustic rendition of jukebox staple More Than Words coaxed a rapt crowd into an arena-wide sing-along within two bars of Extreme making their Boston Strong entrance. The band favored bongos, handclaps and steel strings for their two-song set, complimenting the crowd on their singing and rallying skills.
Roses for the Garden: The J. Geils Band's Peter Wolf pranced onstage and his backup singers followed suit, as did a hip-shaking epidemic that spread from the front row to the bleachers. By the first chorus of Love Stinks, a bouquet of red long-stemmed roses appeared onstage, and Wolf flung them aimlessly into the first rows (after pulling two for his singers), much to his peers' delight.
Biggest disappointment? Though the J Geils Band elevated expectations with their brassed-and-sassed showdown of a performance, the stage cleared without a whisper of Centerfold.
The country club: Clad in a cowboy hat and met with the shrill screams of country-loving ladies in the audience, Jason Aldean brought a bit of love to Boston via Nashville twang. A couple of Boston shout-outs rendered him a local for the evening, a notion cemented as soon as Aldean admitted to being a huge Red Sox fan. Country rapping might be an acquired taste, but Aldean's ferocious take on Dirt Road Anthem garnered hands in the air, reaching out in applause and adoration.
A family to be proud of: Before bringing former New England Patriots offensive lineman (and marathon first responder) Joe Andruzzi onstage, Donnie Wahlberg, one of the event's key planners, touched on the emotional thread tying the evening together. "We've had many reasons to be proud throughout the years: We have the Red Sox, we have the Patriots, we have the Celtics, we have the Bruins. When something unspeakable happens ... we have shown we're not just one of the greatest cities on this earth; we're one of the greatest families on this earth."
Boston's banner boys: Dropkick Murphys, a last-minute addition to the lineup, put out an EP to support the One Fund and led off with one of its songs, the uncharacteristically solemn and emotional Don't Tear Us Apart. How the Garden didn't cave in from the riotous stomping throughout I'm Shipping Up to Boston is mystifying. NKOTB bolted to the stage to belt out the chorus, embracing their brethren before transitioning to their own set.
True Kids On the Block: The New Kids, attired in bedazzled Bruins jerseys, took hold of the Garden with the same tenacity they would've 25 years ago. (The "all that I needed, Boston!" change-up during the breakdown of (You Got It) The Right Stuff was a sweet touch, too.)
Best middle-school dance ever: Leave it to the NKOTB dreamboats to bring out the first big surprise of the night, an unexpected Bell Biv DeVoe cameo.
3:57: A revealing moment from New Kid Joey McIntyre, who ran the Boston Marathon this year: "I finished 3:57, 10 minutes before it happened, but I don't care where you were that day — it happened to all of us that day. It sounds like a cliche, but I'm telling you, love conquers hate every single time."
Second surprise in the NKOTB set: Boyz II Men were brought out for a tribute to those fatally wounded in the blasts, inviting the crowd to sing along on a touching performance of One Sweet Day by both groups.
Mostly sweet harmonies: With Carole King on the piano and James Taylor perched with his guitar, a serenade starting with Sweet Baby James provided a welcome contrast to the boisterous introduction by sportscaster Chris Berman. So Far Away rightfully merited a standing ovation, as did the voluptuous harmonies of Shower the People. Their pairing on How Sweet It Is was vanilla at best, but the crowd seemed to love it.
Hardly wasting away: Though Parrotheads associate Jimmy Buffett with Hawaiian shirts and oasis-ready ditties, perfect tropical tidings, New Englanders embraced Buffett as one of their own. Beach balls were bouncing, choruses were called back as though they were written by the crowd itself and Buffett's broad smile was matched by the Garden's sunny disposition.
The Poop Emoji: Only Dane Cook can get away with posing as one of the popular illustrated iPhone characters and get a room full of deliriously tired people to laugh about it. Boston welcomed the mischievous Arlingtonian back to his home turf with open blue-and-gold-clad arms.
'Sweet Emotion': If Buffett was taking us on a coconut-scented mental escape to the coast of Mexico and Aldean brought redneck sensibilities to downtown Boston, Aerosmith ripped us back to reality and a lineup anchored by rock legends with the drop of their first downbeat. Conducting the crowd like a mike-wielding Mephistopheles, Steven Tyler traipsed the length of the stage, his telltale howl and serpentine moves hypnotizing both the laws of physics and logic at the same time. It's crazy to think that Tyler hasn't lost a shred of his showmanship skills in the decades he's been at it — but, hey, when a man dances like the devil, there's a good chance he made a good deal with him, too. And with Tyler, we can never be sure.
Shredded: A white piano was wheeled out for Dream On, and Joe Perry and Tyler did what they did best: stick to the metaphorical guns of their ax and pipes, shredding each part as close to the breaking point as they could get without shredding either.
Because we love that dirty water: A Boston event of this nature wouldn't be complete without a boisterous sing-along, and Tyler, rallying everyone onstage for a final number, successfully lead one of the most perfectly executed takes on unofficial Bostonian anthem Dirty Water. Dane Cook and Jordan Knight gleefully canoodled with Tyler's mike stand before Peter Wolf borrowed it for a verse, and the lineup took its final bow together, their beaming faces reflected the joy emanating from the arena of elated people before them. It's no small feat, using your talents to cheer up a city that's picking itself up from a surreal tragedy, but the Boston Strong crew went above and beyond when it came to doing their part for the cause.