Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper Toast Lennon's Legacy at Concert

Jillian Mapes / November 15, 2011

"I looked to Yoko [Ono] for how to carry oneself as a widow," Patti Smith told concertgoers Friday (Nov. 12) at the 30th annual John Lennon Tribute Concert at New York City's Beacon Theater, just before ripping into "Oh Yoko!"

Ono was not at the performance, a benefit organized by Theatre Within for the Playing For Change Foundation, but that deflected little from the many artists who were there to pay tribute to the long-deceased Beatle. Jackson Browne, who shares a birthday (Oct. 9) with Lennon, got by on "Revolution" with a little help from his friends -- specifically, the Playing For Change Band, a large group ensemble that features musicians from around the world. While Browne's solo performance of "Help!" track "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" was an excellent choice for the acoustic legend, he hit a home run with "Revolution," accompanied by Playing for Change's vocal harmonies and wailing harmonica.

Other stars, however, did not fare as well. Cyndi Lauper appeared ill-prepared for her performance, forgetting the words to "Across the Universe" even after telling the crowd that the "Let It Be" cut "got her through" when she was a teenager. Dressed in an all-leather get-up, the "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" singer referenced a piece of paper, assumedly the lyrics, during her rendition.

"A Day in the Life," her duet with Browne, started off better, with Lauper joking that she was playing John and Jackson Browne filling in as Paul McCartney -- roles that fit their personalities well. But the musical results were less than stellar, as Lauper stumbled over her words again (although the fact that they attempted the elaborate, orchestral song was a feat in the first place).

Most of the night's musicians impressed with their Lennon tributes. An androgynously dressed Aimee Mann gave a beautifully understated rendition of "Jealous Guy," while blues guitar legend Taj Mahal and his daughter, Deva Mahal, shined with a soulful, powerful version of "Come Together." Folk singer-songwriter Martin Sexton's chill-inspiring performance of "Working Class Hero" -- the most emotionally moving showing of the night -- embodied the sincerity of the original.

There were also unconventional tributes throughout the night. YouTube juggling sensation Chris Bliss distracted the crowd during "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," while Joan Osborne and Maura Kennedy dueted on the track. The absurdity of the number seemed oddly fitting for a psychedelic song such as "Lucy." Alejandro Escovedo's sobering rendition of "Help!" brought new meaning to message behind the upbeat track.

The show's finale of "Give Peace a Chance" again found Lauper tongue-tied on her specific verse, but the group's celebratory effort made this an afterthought. Spirits were far too high, even in celebration of a musical visionary who had died far too young.