The Boston Strong benefit concert that streamed over the web Thursday night was notable for appearances by homegrown artists ranging from Aerosmith to the reunited New Kids on the Block. But the most talked about act of the night was Dane Cook... and not because America suddenly fell in love with him all over again.
The hostility toward Cook toward the end of the show became rampant enough that the comedian became a trending topic on Twitter — out of sheer contempt. He's always been a polarizing comic, but what caused him to become a social media supervillain on a night devoted to charity and good vibes? Just this: The web feed being viewed by millions went dead as soon as he took the stage and came back on as soon as he left, leading to rampant speculation that he had disallowed organizers from sending his set over the web like everyone else's.
Eventually Cook confirmed it himself, sounding blithe about the rampant contempt directed his way: "Hey everyone sorry my set was not a part of the live stream or televised! I didn't want any of the new material to hit the airwaves yet! I can't wait to share it soon!"
If the marathon bombings made Bostonians mad, Cook's "Dane Cook move" (as one angry tweeter put it) might have been the one thing that could have enraged locals even more. Jeff Howe, a sports writer for the Boston Herald, unleashed a series of tweets bashing the comic. "Couldn't imagine turning on a city the way @DaneCook did tonight. I know that's not how it goes here in Massachusetts... I'll admit, I used to think he was hilarious, but turning your back on your state makes you look like a squirrel... Why use a tragedy to tease your career?"
Other Boston residents or sympathizers joined in on Twitter: "I have loved Dane Cook since day 1, but I am just speechless on what he did tonight. Feel betrayed"... "If this rumor is true about Dane Cook blocking the stream of his performance for a charity show, he should rot in hell asap"... "Dane Cook right up the with Onizneb as the shame of Massachusetts"... "We will always forgive Doug Flutie for the gym shorts, but we will never forgive Dane Cook for being Dane Cook"... "If Dane Cook wasn't just censored and he blocked it himself, he has become public enemy number 1"... "I hear Dane Cook earned $100,000 for Boston charities by auctioning off his exit from the stage"... And so on.
Cook did allow himself to appear on camera for the all-star finale, joining Aerosmith for the the classic rock song "Dirty Water" and wielding Steven Tyler's mic stand, apparently unaware of the fact that he'd just become the most discussed alleged evildoer in America. As one tweeter wrote, "Watching Dane Cook sing and dance oblivious to the fact Boston hates him is the funniest thing he has done in years!"
At first, viewers figured there might be technical difficulties when the feed dropped out moments after Cook came on stage, since the first third of the five-hour-plus concert was plagued by streaming difficulties that rendered the show virtually unwatchable. That buffering disaster caused untold thousands to tune out of the broadcast and stirred up its own social-media firestorm, until the streaming finally smoothed out at about the time Jason Aldean took the stage two hours into the show.
Most viewers might have sensed they weren't missing much during those early stretches. Boston opened the show with Tom Scholz ripping off Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and two ringer-singers ripping off the late Brad Delp. Extreme reunited for a two-song acoustic mini-set. A pair of locally renowned comics mainly established that people like to mine Boston accents for laughs even in Boston. Things picked up with a raucous set by the J. Geils Band, led by the ageless Peter Wolf; presumably only a tiny percentage of fans bothered that J. Geils is not a participant in this reunion of his namesake group.
Twitter comments during the two hours of tech difficulties were almost as withering as they later were for Cook: "The Boston Strong live stream makes the Rangers' power play seem effective"... "They should have a concert to benefit the Boston Strong Concert disaster"... "Hey Live Nation! Great job on using servers from 1995 for the Boston Strong concert tonight!" Some of the websites hosting the stream began issuing statements telling frustrated would-be viewers that they weren't to blame for the fiasco. Eventually some fans arrived at a near-fix: You could stream uninterrupted audio from the website for SiriusXM's Margaritaville channel, while watching a video stream with the sound muted to watch accompany still frames of the concert.
But things finally got ironed out on the technical side, either because of a behind-the-scenes solution or hundreds of thousands of people just giving up, or both. Aldean brought the arena-rock — disguised as country — to the proceedings, with no one seeming to mind his lack of a local connection. "I’m not from Boston but I’m a huge Red Sox fan if that makes any difference to y’all," he declared, showing that he's one farm-owner who really knows how to milk it.
It was nice that organizers went out of their way to make sure different genres like country were represented, though one performer noticed that different genders didn't seem to be as important. "I also took note that I seem to be the only female performing artist!" Carole King pointed out late in the show. "Maybe next time?"
Fortunately, they did bring in some performers who could sing like girls. New Kids on the Block rocked their vintage falsettos, with Jordan Knight in particular spending an extended amount of time in a place that seemed potentially painful for a middle-aged man on "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)." Regardless of your feelings about the high notes, the NKOTB set proved an obvious sentimental highlight for the evening, sandwiched in a '80s/'90s nostalgia lineup between Bel Biv Devoe and Boyz II Men. The latter crew talked about being called by co-organizer Donnie Wahlberg and begged to come up to the last minute — presumably because Wahlberg knew the Boyz' rendition of "One Sweet Day," a salute to departed loved ones, would be an honest tearjerker at an event honoring the fallen.
And then, proving that the roster was designed to cover every demographic — or every demographic over 50, anyway — it was time for the 1970s-style triple-play of Carole King and James Taylor (together) and Jimmy Buffett (on his parrot-headed own). Sweet boomer James showered the people with love, before dueting with King on "Up on the Roof," a song "that Carole and Gerry Goffin wrote back in 1903 or something." Her version of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" looked to be bringing some in the audience to tears, which might seem an odd thing for a ballad about a teenaged one-night stand. But somehow, uncertainty about the next day translated to uncertainty about mortality, and it oddly fit the circumstance.
During Aerosmith's climactic set, Tyler referenced that same tune: "The first song I ever made out to — or sucked face to — was 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' by Carole King... That's how I got my heart broken... Then Boston got its heart broken a couple months ago... But if they think they can keep us down, then they can... dream on." Steven Tyler, king of segues!
While King and Taylor had provided the emotional climax to the show considerably earlier with "You've Got a Friend," Aerosmith naturally provided the climax-climax with a force-of-nature set, even if there wasn't much sentiment to be found in the sight of Tyler throwing around a mic stand that had "Lick Me" emboldened on the bottom.
He pointedly invited NKOTB out for a cover of the Beatles' "Come Together" before most of the benefit's cast finally emerged for the Standells' "Dirty Water." On that last number, Tyler even managed to work in just what the evening had been missing: a conch shell solo.
Of course, what was really MIA was Dane Cook's performance, and viewers couldn't help but chuckle over how short-lived the good mood that he seemed to be in during the finale would be, once he had a chance to get off-stage and hear how he was being vilified for being a comedy skinflint at this charitable occasion.
But the blackout of his performance allowed other people to try their comedy chops: "Glad to see Dane Cook is performing John Cage's 4'33" [referring to a famous avant-garde composition that consists entirely of silence]... "On the plus side, Dane Cook appeared without doing other comedians' material for the first time in his life"... "Be honest.... RT this if you saw Dane Cook was trending and kinda hoped he was dead."
Up next: a telethon for Cook's battered reputation and ego?