Saturday night's sold-out Haiti benefit event at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg felt more like an indie jam session among friends than a concert with a serious social agenda.
Billed as "A Night of Comedy and Music to Benefit Haiti" -- a fundraiser for the Red Cross and a Port-au-Prince orphanage, arranged by concert promoter Bowery Presents and music blog Brooklyn Vegan -- the event saw Spoon's Britt Daniel, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, St. Vincent, and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden all perform short solo sets. But the night's undeniable highlight was a joint performance from St. Vincent and Vernon, who covered tunes by Dolly Parton, Tom Petty, and Neil Young!
Early on, Daniel took the stage for a three-song set. Joined on drums by Steve Patterson of Brooklyn band White Rabbits -- whose recent record was produced by Daniel -- the Spoon rocker covered John Lennon's 1970 song "Isolation," and played "Who Makes Your Money," off Spoon's latest release, Transference, and Gimme Fiction gem "I Summon You."
Janeane Garofalo and Zach Galifianakis followed. "I was doing Haiti benefits before the quake, before everyone else jumped on," the Hangover actor cracked. "Y'know, they were having problems before this!"
Next, indie rock pixie St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, covered Nico's "These Days" and the National's "Mistaken for Strangers." Then she paused to invite Vernon onstage and address the crowd. "Someone Tweeted at me and said that if I played this next song, they'd give me some epic bottle of wine." With Vernon on backup vocals, she broke into "The Party," a tune off her latest album Actor. (For the record, @mikesteinborn owes someone a bottle of red from 1923.)
Vernon and Clarke then switched roles. The towering rocker covered Midwestern folky John Prine's 1978 track "Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone," delivering it with a distinct drawl. Brad Cook of Megafaun joined for "Flume," tapping a MacBook to add electronic flourishes to the For Emma, Forever Ago opener.
After a brief set from Worden -- who covered Blind Willie Johnson's "Lord, I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes" and Prince's 1982 B-side "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" -- St. Vincent and Vernon returned to the stage with an ad-hoc ensemble.
"We got this band together today," Vernon said of the quartet, which also included Cook. "We're called Songer Singwriter."
Their set started with a cover of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," followed by a rendition of Tom Petty's "A Face in the Crowd," featuring a rippin' lead guitar solo from Vernon and Cook on vocals.
A cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" dove into a five-minute freak out of reverb-y noise, with Clark pounding, twisting, and manipulating her pedal setup, as Vernon swayed his axe into his amp. The night came to a close with a cover of Annie Lennox's 1992 debut single "Why," showcasing Vernon's haunting vocals.
Vernon praised fans for coming together to enjoy "all this bullshit in the name of charity," especially considering that the show was announced just two days before. But "bullshit"? Hardly. The entire lineup, especially Vernon and Clarke, delivered performances worthy of the cause they set out to help -- and over $20,000 was raised.