By Scott T. Sterling

“People ask me why I do this,” a sweaty and shirtless Billy Morrison announced to the packed Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles last night, gesturing to the disparate collection of rock stars surrounding him onstage. “I do this because I love music. Everyone you see on this stage loves music. That’s why we do it.”

With Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour) Billy Idol, Courtney Love, Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, Mark McGrath and more joining him and co-host, guitarist Dave Navarro, Morrison presided over a most ambitious undertaking: the Above Ground benefit, a rock show celebrating both The Velvet Underground’s seminal 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and Adam and the Ant’s pioneering 1980 album, Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Both albums were played in their entirety by Morrison, Navarro and their invited cast of rock royalty to honor and raise money for MusiCares, the nonprofit dedicated to providing a safety net of critical assistance for musicians in times of need, with an emphasis on mental health and drug addiction treatment.

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The show kicked off with the band launching into Kings of the Wild Frontier, with former MTV host (and Navarro's one-time Panic Channel bandmate) Steve Isaacs charging through the album’s first two tracks, “Dog Eat Dog” and “Ant Music.” A pair of female acrobats dangled over the stage from suspension hooks pierced through the skin on their backs.

Navarro dressed for the occasion, sporting a freshly cut mohawk and a thick stripe of white makeup across the center of his face in classic Adam Ant style.

Franky Perez stepped to the mic to sing “Los Rancheros,” with Morrison welcoming original Adam & the Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni to the stage to jam on the track he recorded more than 36 years ago.

Billy Idol bounded onstage for “Feed Me to the Lions,” with Pirroni sticking around to play his original guitar parts.

Corey Taylor made his considerable presence felt throughout the Kings of the Wild Frontier set, striding onstage in a porkpie hat, red plaid blazer over a Cramps "Smell of Female" t-shirt to sing “Ant Invasion.”

Taylor’s distinctive vocals cut through the thick mix, imploring the crowd to “make some fucking noise!” in his unmistakable Slipknot growl.

Navarro invited “our friend,” controversial Eagles of Death Metal frontman, Jesse Hughes, to the stage for an ominous take on “Killer in the Home.” Clad in a bright red three-piece suit and customary cop shades. Hughes' cool and controlled delivery played like an outlaw Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music.

Corey Taylor returned to roar through the album title track, losing himself in the song’s tribal chant. He would grace the stage once more for “Jolly Roger,” enthusiastically committing to the song’s swashbuckling pirate theme.

Mark McGrath sauntered onstage, camping it up for the crowd before launching into “Don’t Be Square (Be There),” with actor Donovan Leitch raging through “The Magnificent Five.”

Billy Duffy of the Cult and A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel served up a twin-guitar attack for the industrial grind of “Press Darlings,” with Billy Morrison shedding the guitar to handle lead vocals.

The Kings of the Wild Frontier set culminated in a raucous rendition of “Physical (You’re So),” a song that Morrison exclaimed “just made him want to fuck” when he first heard it back in the early ‘80s. Billy Idol sang lead, with longtime foil Steve Stevens on guitar alongside original Ant Pirroni. Navarro turned up the drama by displaying his own prowess in hook suspension, hanging over the crowd through metal hooks piercing his back.

An extended intermission found Dr. Drew, former Thelonius Monster frontman and current drug couselor Bob Forrest and Steve-O onstage extolling the virtues of MusiCares, featuring a celebrity auction and Steve-O (proud to announce a decade of sobriety) inspiring the crowd to place higher bids by lighting his head on fire and getting naked.

In stark contrast to the dense and beat-crazy blast through Adam & the Ants storied debut, the mood shifted dramatically for the second set featuring The Velvet Underground & Nico.

The album’s druggy sonic minimalism and lyrical nihilism made for a moodier second set, kicked off by Macy Gray, resplendent in all red, slaying “Sunday Morning” with her expressive and soaring vocals.

The crowd was clearly excited to see Courtney Love, who strode to centerstage to croon “I’m Waiting for the Man” (“I’ve been to rehab at least once!,” she shouted before the song) with Billy Duffy on guitar and Eagles of Death Metal's Jenny Vee on bass.

Navarro again dressed the part, sporting white face paint reminiscent of Lou Reed on the cover of Transformer with a stylish fedora pulled low over his eyes.

Courtney Love followed with an impassioned reading of Nico’s “Femme Fatale,” swaying to the song’s gentle melodies as she worked the Belasco stage.

The show delved into the album’s sexual overtones with a provocative version of “Venus in Furs,” with Siobahn Fahey of Bananarama and Shakespere’s Sister on vocals. The performance was augmented by a softcore BDSM sex show featuring a latex-clad woman flogging a bikini-clad “slave” with a pair of leather whips.

Macy Gray and violinist Lili Hayden highlighted a surprisingly soulful version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” with Hayden displaying her vocal talents on “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”

“This song changed the lives of Dave and I,” Morrison joked, sharing a knowing laugh with the guitarist as Billy Idol delivered a harrowing version of “Heroin.”

Idol attacked “Run Run Run” and “There She Goes Again” with an evangelical zeal, emphasizing the swinging rockabilly elements of the music.

“This is where shit gets weird,” Morrison cracked before inviting Franky Perez back onstage for “The Black Angel's Death Song."

Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads made a memorable appearance for the album’s closer, “European Son,” singing lead vocals, playing keyboards and assaulting and electric drum kit for the chaotic noise-jam.

With Morrison declaring that the show couldn’t end on that song, he invited all of the guests back onstage for a wild and loose run through “White Light/White Heat,” the title track of The Velvet Underground’s second album.

With Steve Stevens shredding solos, Jerry Harrison on rhythm guitar, go-go dancers straddling Billy Morrison and Courtney Love, Billy Idol and Jesse Hughes huddled around one mic on backing vocals, the show culminated in that timeworn tradition of an all-star rock and roll jam. It was an appropropriate ending for a wildly ambitious and charitable undertaking that Morrison, Navarro and company accomplished in admirable fashion.

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