Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, April 18, 2015

Getting high with a little help from a friend.
Last things first:
Paul McCartney played with Ringo Starr last night, and there was an echo of magic in the air. Just before that, Stevie Wonder and John Legend combined to create unforgettable performances of Bill Withers's most famous songs. The induction ceremony lasted 5 hours, this was the first I've attended. These high points in the wee hours will stay with me for a long time.

Beck arrives and greets fans. 
Beck performed "Satellite of Love" in tribute to Lou Reed.
Cleveland Public Hall hosted the ceremony; as several speakers noted, the venerable hall hosted The Beatles in 1964. From the windows of the narrow hallway outside our seating area, we could watch the stars coming in. Steve Van Zandt... Green Day... Ringo Starr... Beck... Stevie Wonder. Several fans unfurled a huge "Ringo We Love You!" banner (which he acknowledged later from the stage), and produced some vintage screams when he arrived. The biggest group of fans was there for Green Day.

Joan Jett launched the show with a bang... literally. First she ripped in to "Bad Reputation," a rock and roll anthem if ever there was one, and a song most of the audience probably hadn't heard since the last time they saw "Shrek." Then, "Cherry Bomb" with Dave Grohl guesting, complete with cheesy bomb effects at the end. Want a badass opening to a Rock and Roll show? Here you go, and thank you, Joan. For the bonus round, she brought out Tommy James to join on "Crimson and Clover," with Miley Cyrus also coming on stage. Sure, we noticed that the sound sucked, the room was pretty dark, and the video screens were in bizarre locations (the center screen above the stage was so far back it was occluded by stage props, and the live "screens" for the sides were actually the walls of the hall).

Those songs were so hot, we didn't much care about the technical details.

Joan Jett and Tommy James
Still. this was an induction ceremony, and there were induction speeches, and acceptance speeches. Miley Cyrus was first up, with a reverent induction for Jett, including anything from sexual attraction to an apocryphal story of Joan Jett at the men's side of the Western Wall (hell, it might even be true). It was funny, it was articulate, it was even pretty succinct.

But then, everyone gets to speak; if the inductee has passed away, the honor goes to a spouse or a sibling or a child or to multiple children. And many of them go beyond their allotted time.

Visible to most of the arena.
Ignored by most of the speakers.
Jett performed before her induction (a good move, I thought), but the remaining acts were inducted before performing. So, in the hour and a half following Jett's set, just two songs were performed. Maybe that pacing worked back when the ceremony was a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, but with a paying audience of several thousand people, perhaps there are approaches to focus the live show more on the musical performances. For example, could they give out (yes, I said "give out") a DVD compiling the video tributes and the comments of the spouses and siblings and children of the deceased? Could they use the recaptured time to give the living inductees a chance to perform more than 3 songs?

Green Day was up 4th. More fans, more vocal fans, were there for Green Day than for any other inductee. Green Day are very popular, still at or near the height of their popularity. For me, this was the first time seeing them live, so it was a pretty big deal. They were good, they were exciting, they were fun. Billie Joe had fun with his fancy outfit while finishing "American Idiot." They played 3 short songs, and...then they were gone. And so were their fans. Some never came back.
Green Day.
Show over? No, just Green Day.
Fans leaving the seating area halfway through the show.
For 10 minutes after Green Day finished, the show stopped as fans departed, and then the show resumed with the induction for The "5" Royales.. Who thought it would be a good idea to follow Green Day with The "5" Royales? It wasn't a good idea, for anyone. The "5" Royales were inducted to many empty seats.

Bill Withers provided the unexpected comedy of the evening. After Stevie Wonder gave the induction speech, Withers noted that being inducted by Stevie was "like a lion opening the door for a kitty cat." Better even than Withers's acceptance speech, were the performances that followed. First, Stevie Wonder with "Ain't No Sunshine," and then John Legend with Stevie for "Use Me," and a riveting "Lean On Me."

The video before the induction speech for Ringo provided an excellent explanation by several top drummers as to why Ringo was so influential as a drummer. After seeing several of them demonstrate the beats to "Come Together" and "The End," I half hoped we'd see something other than songs on which Ringo sang; after all, he wasn't being inducted for his singing.

Paul McCartney inducted Ringo (or "induced," as he said). Paul was generous and charming, and, well... he was Paul. Then Ringo spoke, and it was like peeling away the years. As Ringo was spinning a yarn, Paul playfully tapped on his watch; Ringo responded, "After the things I've sat through tonight! Blah blah blah. I got some stories." He told stories, he was funny, and he gave his best advice for aspiring bands: "When you're in a van, and you fart, own up... Make a pact that you'll own up to it. We did and that's how we got on so well."

They played Ringo songs. "Boys," fronted with Green Day (too bad for any so-called fans who didn't come back). Then, after an inordinately long set change, "It Don't Come Easy" and finally the big ensemble, including the two Beatles, closed the night with "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "I Wanna Be Your Man," and Paul and Ringo holding hands center stage.
Billie Joe Armstrong, Joan Jett, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Joe Walsh.
Others on stage at this moment included Stevie Wonder, Patti Smith, Tom Morello, Beck, Bill Withers, and Miley Cyrus.
Friends for life.