MUSIC REVIEW | Mightiest Artists Unite In 2014-2017 R&R Hall of Fame Concerts
My feelings on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame can be kind of mixed. On one hand, there are quite a few notable artists that have yet to be given the keys to the establishment. (T. Rex, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and Motörhead are a couple I can think of off the top of my head.) However, I cannot help but feel excited when one of my favorites musicians is given the thumb's up to join the same ranks as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, and The Ramones. Not to mention, a visit to their museum in Cleveland is always on my to-do list whenever I visit my relatives in the Midwest.
But I digress. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opens their doors to their new members, it's always a celebration of music, love, camaraderie, and -- above all -- true talent. The annual celebration is quite the spectacle to behold, which is why lovers of the music scene will find themselves rather joyful with the upcoming release of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame In Concert. Capturing the festivities from 2014-2017, the lineup of artists that are brought into the ranks is quite the smorgasbord of various musicians from all lines of genres. From the soft sounds of Cat Stevens and Joan Baez and the loudness of Nirvana and Green Day, to the poetic words of empowerment of N.W.A. and 2Pac and the long overdue welcoming of the likes of Ringo Starr and Yes, this is one collection of specials that reaches multiple volumes.
Things kick off with the 2014 ceremony, with a strong performance from Peter Gabriel as he powers through "In Your Eyes" and "Digging in the Dirt." Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who also joins Gabriel for "Washing of the Water," began his induction speech with a jokey Bible quote from the Book of Genesis, before nervously talking about how much the singer was greatly influential in his life. Art Garfunkel took a hilarious swipe at his former partner Paul Simon as he introduced Cat Stevens, who was the most humble of the honorees before strumming some tear-inducing performances of "Father & Son", "Wild World", and "Peace Train."
The late Glenn Fray gave a special speech to honoree Linda Ronstadt, who is now unable to perform due to her illness, before many of the women whom she inspired took a crack at her catalog. Carrie Underwood surprisingly tore the roof off with "Different Drum," before Emmylou Harris & Bonnie Raitt gently placed it back on with "Blue Bayou." Sheryl Crow gave a good evil glare as she performed "You're No Good," with Stevie Nicks tackling "It's So Easy" as if it were a simple affair. A performance of "When Will I Be Loved" by all the women was also powerful, presenting to the attendees the importance of Ronstadt's legacy for females in the music industry.
A long overdue induction of The E Street Band was presented by the man who leads them on a nightly basis. Bruce Springsteen was mixing both sugar and salt in his speech, talking about the good times and the bad with the band, before showcasing the love he has for practically every member in that massive group. After practically every member went over their 30-second time limit, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band ripped into a fiery rendition of "The E Street Shuffle," a performance that showcased why they're one of the world's greatest live acts.
And then, it was Nirvana's turn. Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe captured what the band truly represented in the music scene: lightning in a bottle. Drummer Dave Grohl (who'll more than likely be inducted a few more times with the amount of bands he's since been involved with) used his acceptance speech to give encouragement to bands everywhere to strive for greatness, with bassist Krist Novoselic being very thankful to the artists that inspired him to get into music. For the night's final performance, a collection of the biggest women in rock took the helm for the late Kurt Cobain. Former Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon ripped through a rendition of "Aneurysm," with St. Vincent rocking to "Lithium" and Lorde feeling the spirit with "All Apologies." The show-stealer was Joan Jett as she took the reins of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with a playful mention that the Blackhearts leader had been snubbed many times over.
Thankfully, that error had been fixed with the 2015 ceremony, with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts being the first band of the night inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Ripping through "Bad Reputation," Jett never showed her age as she laid claim to the title of Queen of Rock & Roll. Returning the favor from the previous year, Dave Grohl provided assistance with "Cherry Bomb" and "Crimson and Clover," a performance that didn't leave a single dry seat in the house. Surprisingly, it's Miley Cyrus's induction speech that was the most heartfelt moment for Jett, as the "Wrecking Ball" singer made it clear how much she meant not just to her, but for women everywhere wanting to be a true rock star.
Zac Brown and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello then played a lively rendition of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's "Born in Chicago," before J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf described the feeling of seeing the group whenever they'd come into his Boston home turf. The legendary Stevie Wonder had the honor of welcoming Bill Withers to the party, with both their speeches being funny, poignant, and full of sincerity. Performances of "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean On Me" (with help from John Legend) demonstrated the song's powerful messages, which have since stayed true to this very day.
To see Green Day being inducted made this reviewer feel rather old, but watching as Fall Out Boy practically fanboy over their love for the trio was simply an adorable sight to behold. After much thanks to their peers, families, and predecessors, Green Day showed why their sound was a refreshing change of pace in a poppy world with performances of "American Idiot," "When I Come Around," and "Basket Case." Soon after, John Mayer had the opportunity to induct Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, with a performance of "Texas Flood" bringing the blues to Cleveland's Public Hall (the only ceremony held there in this collection, with the other three hosted in Brooklyn's Barclays Center).
An emotional Patti Smith gave the finest tribute to inductee Lou Reed, before his wife came on to talk about how such an honor would've brought a smile to the late Velvet Underground frontman. In his own wondrous fashion, Beck stole the show with a rendition of Reed's "Satellite of Love" that was packed with tons of emotion and beautiful melodies. Lastly, Paul McCartney did the honors of bringing his good friend (and final Beatle to get in the Hall of Fame as a solo act) Ringo Starr, reminiscing on the moment when the drummer came in to complete the band that would become the Beatles. Ringo's finale was packed with practically every guest that night, with performances of "Boys", "It Don't Come Easy", and "I Wanna Be Your Man" that would put to shame any musician half his age.
Moving onto the 2016 ceremony, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich welcomed in the long overlooked Deep Purple with much pride and admiration. After a heartfelt speech that touched back at Ulrich first seeing his heroes in 1973 in Copenhagen, the loud rockers took their time to thank and appreciate every person that gave them support throughout their entire careers. Performances of "Highway Star" and "Smoke on the Water" may not have had the energy that Deep Purple had in their youth, but the power and vibe it gave off was a reminder of why the band is thought of as an early pioneer of heavy metal.
E Street Band leader Steven Van Zandt followed with a tribute to Bert Berns, who made many musical contributions to rock and soul in the short 38-year life he had. The family of Berns came up to accept the award, and expressed their gratitude to the Hall of Fame for honoring their father, whose history was even a mystery to them until they dig some digging of their own. With the spirit of a poet, rapper Kendrick Lamar gave the props to one of hip hop's greatest groups: N.W.A. The emphasis on the importance of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren, and the late Easy-E on black youth and culture was ever present in his speech, echoed greatly when it came time for Dre and Ice Cube to take the mic. While some may cry foul at rap artists being inducted, it's clear that the mark N.W.A. made in both music and its industry warranted them a spot in the Hall.
After a rousing speech from Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas, Chicago received their well-deserved dues. After members from past to present (including ex-drummer Danny Seraphine, who was shocking the most rebellious honoree of the night) took their well-deserved credit and brassed it up with outstanding performances of "Saturday in the Park", "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?", and "25 or 6 to 4," which to this day has one of the best bass openings in rock & roll. And who would've guessed that it'd be Kid Rock that'd be the most fun and exciting speaker when he inducted Cheap Trick into the Hall? After over 40 years of being together, their renditions of "Dream Police" and "Surrender" still felt as fresh as they did when they first hit the airwaves. A jam session with all the honorees concluded the show with a rendition of "Ain't That a Shame," which proved that the ceremony is just one big party and that everyone there is having fun.
The 2017 ceremony kicked off with something more classical, before new inductees Electric Light Orchestra tipped their hat to the recently-departed Chuck Berry with a powerful rendition of "Roll Over Beethoven." Their epic sound was easily captured in their performances of "Evil Woman" and indie movie trailer favorite "Mr. Blue Sky". Dhani Harrison was giddy as hell inducting his heroes, who told a heartwarming and funny story about seeing ELO at the age of seven with his famous dad that led frontman Jeff Lynne to practically become a member of his family. Jackson Browne's speech for friend Joan Baez touched on the importance of her protest songs in a world torn apart by humanistic atrocities. Her performances of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" were beautifully spiritual, with the latter featuring wonderful harmonies from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emily Saliers, and Amy Ray.
RUSH members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson spoke proudly for their love for Yes, who influenced their personal sound greatly. With the majority of the members reunited for the first time in over a decade, Yes jammed out with rekindled youth to their hits "Roundabout" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart." In probably the most real speech of the night, Snoop Dogg welcomed his late friend Tupac Shakur into the Hall of Fame. Instead of focusing on Tupac as a rapper, he shared stories about Tupac the human that were filled with both humor and sadness. A special nod to Tupac's mother was also delivered, with Snoop praising her strength during what was sure to be the most toughest time in her life.
Train frontman Pat Monahan had the honor of inducting the San Francisco sounds of Journey into the Hall of Fame, with tales of Santana origins and lightning-striking hits when Steve Perry joined the fold. After humble thanks from past and present members, the band kicked out the jams with "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)", pushing the power in "Lights" and ending with the current a cappella fave "Don't Stop Believin'." Legendary talk show host David Letterman took the reins for the final induction of the night, the Seattle grunge rock kings Pearl Jam. Praising live music for its sheer existence, Letterman praised Pearl Jam not just for their musical contributions, but for sticking it to corporations like Ticketmaster for taking advantage of their fans. Closing out the night, Pearl Jam proved itself as an American rock cornerstone with show-stopping performances of "Alive," "Given to Fly," and "Better Man."
While there's plenty of content in these four ceremonies, it's not exactly complete. Gone is KISS's induction in 2014, which may be due to certain band members' feelings about non-rock acts getting into the Hall of Fame (of which Dr. Dre and Ice Cube rightfully swiped back at). For similar reasons, Steve Miller's 2016 induction is not included, a result about his scathing jabs about the organization (not to mention the embarrassment The Black Keys felt after inducting them, who left the ceremony after they said their speech). Not the biggest losses compared to the majority of the nominations that got in between 2014 & 2017, but it's surely to rile up the biggest completionists.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony make have its back-patting moments, as well as some minor bad blood being skewed over here and there. But when it comes down to it, those who get in greatly are deserving of the honor. Even the most musically prude of individuals would not be able to walk away from this without dealing a fair amount of respect to a good chunk of the artists that are showcased here. And when it gets time to show why they got the nod, they rarely ever disappoint. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Concert not only proves why a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should exist, but also serves as a means to push any up-and-coming artist to strive for their own level of greatness as the likes of Aerosmith, U2, Tom Waits, and Little Richard.
Promotional consideration provided by Michael Krause of Foundry Communications. Available in stores April 24th!