The Iconic Holy Temple of Rock and Roll, as Billy Joel once described Madison square Garden, was to be our final destination of this very special tour. The last time we came here was as Dire Straits in February 1992 and before that, October 1985 when Billy Joel guested. My recollections of that night are well faded but I remember one thing especially, the atmosphere. When I walked out front during Bonnie Raitt’s set tonight, I immediately felt the same surge through my veins and relaxed immediately. “This is going to be a good show”, I thought to myself. Prior to that, there were uncharacteristic nerves. I’m not quite sure why as after playing 85 shows, that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Maybe it was Bonnie’s presence or just the pressure to ensure it was a flawless show to finish the tour with? Go out with a bang… but whatever it was, thanks to this New York crowd, it was gone.
Here, in New York city, or even across the U.S. for that matter, I’m not sure there is a venue that could match everything that MSG has on offer. It’s what we Brits would call a ‘Tardis’, it looks so much larger from the inside and as Mr. Joel said, it is iconic. The journey from our hotel on 57th Street was interesting as Google maps was suggesting that it was quicker to walk. Midtown Manhattan was still manacled by the effects of the UN general assembly this week and the NYPD deemed it necessary to block of enough streets as to cause virtual gridlock. In fact, last night, walking to a restaurant, we were prevented from crossing 5th Avenue for 10 minutes as that president chap drove by in his motorcade. Anyway, we left the hotel and walked along 58th street to meet the cars, if they’d tried to get to the hotel entrance, it would have been another half an hour added to the journey such is the way the Streets and Avenues run.
Eight Avenue traffic heads North and Seventh, South, as we all know yet today it was slow going down to 32nd, around the venue and into the dock. The inching crawl took about 30 minutes and we were met at the gate by a sniffer dog who cleared the SUV for entry into the building. We climbed the steep ramp and had a mandatory bag search. My suitcase jam-filled with American sweets and foodstuffs (for the boys back home) caused mild amusement. It was destined for the wardrobe case. There’s a bit of space that we can ship personal items home making the check-in at JFK a little easier.
Great gaggles of local crew were sitting around on chairs chatting about either The Mets, The Yankees, The Jets or the Knicks and even more were driving fork lift trucks, mostly in reverse, as all you could hear was incessant beeping. The one thing that the MSG doesn’t lack is manpower. The union ensures there’s a man in every corner, sometime two or more. Our backline crew barely lift a thing in these places, the good news is, that know what they’re doing. It may be expensive but they know their shit. We headed for the dressing rooms which were perfect in every way. Loads of comfy couches, relaxed lighting and what looked like brand new clean toilets. We waited for Dave hall, our Stage Manager to give the word then headed up to the stage for our last sound check.
Arriving on stage at sound check, Bonnie Raitt looked every bit as stunning as the last time I saw her on stage with us in 2006 in LA. Her characteristic White flecked Red curly hair and her signature dark wood Stratocaster. We sound checked the song we had been secretly running in sound checks for the past month in preparation for this evening, ‘Wherever I Go’. I have to say that when Bonnie came in singing her verse, I nearly fell off my chair. What a voice. I’d forgotten. She, with her trademark bottleneck slide on her middle finger, exchanged gorgeous solos with Mark on the play-out and we ran the song another couple of times, goosebumps appearing periodically on my arms. Bonnie was quite taken with our band, in particular with Tom and Graeme who played the softest, coolest ‘pads’ in the song. Not easy to do. At one point she said, “My band is gonna sound like mud wrestling after this”. “I don’t think so Bonnie, your band is awesome”.
Ready for the show, Bonnie’s band sound checked and we said hi to a few of the guys in the band. Ricky Fataar is Bonnie’s drummer. An amazing player and we all particularly enjoyed watching him. Aaron Neville’s son, Ivan, was guesting on keyboards too. He’s quite a player. The next couple of hours seems to pass quickly as the arena filled and Bonnie and her band took to the stage. It was a great set and a perfect warm-up for what was to come. We were ready.
Donning our in-ear monitors for the last time, we hugged, lots, and I mean lots, and headed for the stage. Paul Crockford made his customary Union Jack-embroidered ‘boxing’ announcement and we were off. The energy on the stage was insane but not unexpected. The smiles were everywhere and the band simply relished every note and moment. There was some emotion for all but actual tears were not in evidence. Not so for some of the crew, I learned afterwards. Mark thanked the ‘best crew in the world’ in the middle of the set and we continued on towards the climax of the show. The encores.
Even in my wildest dreams as a teenager, I would never have imagined this moment. Age, 59, singing the intro to Money For Nothing at Madison Square Garden, looking out to a sea of camera phones lighting up eleven thousand smiles. The 85 performances prior to this one seemed like mere warm-ups as the drums kicked in and Mark’s angry, hollow-toned Les Paul fired up on 11 out of 12 cylinders. Then, BANG. That riff. What made it all the more poignant was that in the audience tonight was Neil Dorfsman. Neil engineered and co-produced the album Brothers in Arms and it was he and I who went back into the control room one evening after dinner in Montserrat in December 1984 during recording and added the ‘Dinosaur’ synth part to a track which was destined for the bin. The next day, Mark heard the new energy and added the guitar riff and the rest is as we say, history. We all came back on stage, this time with Bonnie for the second encore , ’Wherever I Go’. OMG at MSG seems an appropriate statement…it was beautiful.
Nothing could be more appropriate as we ran our final song of the evening. ‘Going Home. None of us wanted to. The after show party was nothing but joy. All the guests were blown away by the show. Too many names to mention and as usual, never enough time to say hi to everyone. We were soon ushered out by the tired MSG staff and we all piled into the vans and headed for the hotel and a final session at PJ’s pub, open ‘till 4am, around the corned from the hotel. As I write this on an ageing British Airways Boeing 777 midway across the Atlantic, all that remains for me to say is THANK YOU. I mean of course thank you to Mark for enabling this astonishing collection of gentlemen musicians to shine in a way that couldn’t happen anywhere else. Thank you to the fantastic crew who really do ALL the work. We just gallivant around on stage having a ball. Thank you to all our families and loved ones who have supported us throughout and allowed us to be away from home for the best part of 6 months. And of course, last but by no means least, thank you to the fans, to every single one of you who bought a ticket, and came to a concert, sometimes more than one. Your support has been well and truly appreciated by every one of us. As for what happens next, let’s not worry about that now. Let’s just relish this moment and enjoy life with music in it because ‘a life without music, is no life at all’.