As co-headliner and WhyHunger board member Joe D’Urso said from the stage of the Acoustic Cafe in Park Ridge, Nov. 19, it may have been the first benefit concert for WhyHunger — which was co-founded by Harry Chapin — at which no Chapin songs were performed. D’Urso and 10 other musicians played 33 Tom Petty songs, round-robin style, in the gym of Our Lady of Mercy Academy, to kick off WhyHunger’s annual Hungerthon.
The setting was fitting, said Gaines, because when Petty wrote about love, he often evoked the wide-eyed excitement of junior high students falling in love for the first time.
The high-spirited, revelation-filled show was split into two halves, with Gaines, D’Urso, Richard Barone, Don DiLego and Isabella Rose appearing together (with WhyHunger board chair Seth Saltzman helping out on piano) after a set by Bobby Mahoney, Christopher Brown, Peter Calo and the duo Annalyse & Ryan. Calo backed Brown on a couple of numbers during the first set, and during the second set, many of the songs became impromptu group efforts.
It was a “holy crap” moment, Mahoney said, just to look at the gem-filled list of songs to be played, and several other performers echoed that sentiment. (You may feel the same thing, looking at the setlist below.) I think Petty’s death, in October, has inspired many people — both musicians and fans — to relisten to and/or re-evaluate his music, and it’s really struck many of them, me included, how incredibly good he was, for so long.
Since there were so many song slots to be filled at this show, and since some of the performers delved into the Petty songbook in preparation for it (without necessarily just going with the best known material), there were lots of fairly obscure songs in the setlist. Richard Barone turned to Petty’s 2006 Highway Companion album for two of his songs, “Saving Grace” and the sweetly philosophical “Square One,” and Isabella Rose reached back some 30 years earlier for her strikingly hypnotic version of “Luna,” from Petty’s debut album. D’Urso and Brown both drew from Petty’s 1996 soundtrack for the movie, She’s the One.
Gaines was the only artist to perform a song not actually written by Petty himself: Thunderclap Newman’s hippie-era anthem “Something in the Air,” which Petty and the Heartbreakers played live, and included as a bonus track on their 1993 Greatest Hits album. D’Urso turned to Petty’s other group, Mudcrutch, for “I Forgive It All,” which fit the show perfectly as the last, benediction-like song before the grand finale, a group version of “Free Fallin’.”
Highlights of the first set included Mahoney’s driving “You Wreck Me” and Calo’s “Breakdown,” which featured an added section of Calo’s own devising. Annalyse & Ryan did a great job of evoking the tension of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (a Top 10 hit as a Petty-Stevie Nicks duet in 1981).
DiLego’s quietly soulful “Southern Accents” was a standout of the second set, as was Gaines’ crisply rocking “I Need to Know.” Barone improvised gorgeous guitar solos for several of the other artists, and Saltzman helped fill out the arrangements, gracefully and unobtrusively.
There will be another WhyHunger benefit — this one featuring Springsteen covers — at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. The lineup will include D’Urso and his band Stone Caravan, Mahoney and his band The Seventh Son, JoBonanno & the Godsons, Joe Rapolla & the Perfect Square,Jon Caspi & the First Gun, Dan Amato & the Sentimental Gentlemen, Stella Mrowicki and DJ Lee Mrowicki. For information, visit wonderbarasburypark.com.
For more information on WhyHunger and the Hungerthon, visit whyhunger.org.
Here is the Nov. 19 setlist, and the lead singer for each song. Below that are four videos. Thanks to Gail Prusslin for posting the videos, and to Amy Volchok for the photos.
“You Wreck Me” (Bobby Mahoney)
“Into the Great Wide Open” (Annalyse & Ryan)
“Angel Dream” (Christopher Brown)
“Louisiana Rain” (Bobby Mahoney)
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Annalyse & Ryan)
“The Last DJ” (Christopher Brown)
“American Girl” (Peter Calo)
“I Won’t Back Down” (Peter Calo)
“Even the Losers” (Bobby Mahoney)
“Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Annalyse & Ryan)
“Room at the Top” (Christopher Brown)
“Breakdown” (Peter Calo)
“Wildflowers” (Don DiLego)
“You Took My Breath Away” (Richard Barone)
“The Waiting” (Jeffrey Gaines)
“Time to Move On” (Isabella Rose)
“Yer So Bad” (Joe D’Urso)
“Southern Accents” (Don DiLego)
“Square One” (Richard Barone)
“Listen to Her Heart” (Jeffrey Gaines)
“The Wild One, Forever” (Isabella Rose)
“Walls” (Joe D’Urso)
“You Don’t Know How It Feels” (Don DiLego)
“Saving Grace” (Richard Barone)
“I Need to Know” (Jeffrey Gaines)
“Hometown Blues” (Isabella Rose)
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” (Joe D’Urso)
“Learning to Fly” (Don DiLego)
“Refugee” (Richard Barone)
“Something in the Air” (Jeffrey Gaines)
“Luna” (Isabella Rose)
“I Forgive It All” (Joe D’Urso)
“Free Fallin’ ” (Ensemble)
JEFFREY GAINES: “THE WAITING”
RICHARD BARONE: “SQUARE ONE”
JOE D’URSO: “YER SO BAD”
ENSEMBLE: “FREE FALLIN’ “