Hot Stove Cool Music is the type of event where a singer can completely blank on a verse, sing “da da da” instead and nobody cares. Where a Boston rock legend like the Cars’ Greg Hawkes can casually show up in the last half-hour without advance fanfare. Where the fund-raising is so rambunctious that the shirt off of Hall of Fame sportswriter Peter Gammons’s back can go for a thousand bucks before he even knew it was up for auction.
For its 20th anniversary celebration Saturday at the Paradise, the annual baseball/Boston-music benefit concert remained nearly as freewheeling as ever, as if anyone involved would have it any other way. Emcee Mike O’Malley announced that Hot Stove has raised $13 million in its two decades for Theo and Paul Epstein’s Foundation to be Named Later; an hour or so later, that number had swelled to $17 million, but either way, why mess with success (especially if that additional $4 million appeared in the interim)?
One change was this year’s absence of spotlight sets by ballplayers’ vanity groups, though former Yankee Bernie Williams and former Red Sox pitcher Lenny DiNardo both chipped in on guitar. And Red Sox president Sam Kennedy showed up to take a night-long ribbing for the team’s trade of Mookie Betts. But pickup play works for both baseball and rock 'n’ roll, and with the Boston All-Stars behind them, Will Dailey tore into Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” Sadie Dupuis skittered through Squeeze’s “Another Nail In My Heart,” and hip-hop artist Cliff Notez carried a spacey four-guitar, two-keyboard rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes” with ease.
With Dupuis on board, Band of Their Own brought together at least three generations of Boston rock women and at least two generations of Boston rock Jennifers (including Trynin and Dee). After much breathless anticipation, Cherie Currie was summoned onstage, at which point the onetime Runaway launched into . . . Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.” Never fret: “Cherry Bomb” immediately followed, rockstar-fierce and surrounded by voluminous love.
Fronted by Bill Janovitz and Mike Gent, the Rolling Stones Revue tackled “Exile On Main St.,” and it was the perfect match of material and event, reverent but ragged, from the swinging and rolling “Rip This Joint” (featuring Chris Cote’s low-key tenor shriek) to the horn-drenched country soul of the gorgeous, fiery “Let It Loose.” Members of Belly and Letters To Cleo then combined forces for the swirling pound of “Gepetto” and an unintentionally out-of-phase “Slow Dog” before Letters closed the night with the candy-sneer glare of “Demon Rock,” the fierce and roaring “Here & Now,” and a pair of Cars songs with Hawkes on keys, including a “Bye Bye Love” that charged like a monster. And if Kay Hanley wanted to spend half of the second verse of “Awake” pointing out the couple making out in the back of the room, well, that’s Hot Stove Cool Music for you.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.
HOT STOVE COOL MUSIC
At Paradise Rock Club, Feb. 8