Trimmed to two-and-a-half hours, the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, taped April 8 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, premiered on HBO last night, with an opening, David Byrne, Kimbra and the Roots’ “Fame” tribute to David Bowie, that was unintentionally telling.
While the performance was fine all-around, it was an odd start in that Bowie remains bigger than any of this year’s inductees, while Kimbra was one of only three female performers–none of whom were inductees. But credit Lars Ulrich, himself an inductee as Metallica’s drummer, for his convincing case for the night’s first inductee Deep Purple’s presence.
Proclaiming that the band “changed my life and rock ‘n’ roll,” Ulrich pulled out the stops in noting how Deep Purple projected a “deep stare into the bowels of the arena,” further placing it alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as a group that “every band of the last 40 years traces its lineage to.”
Rob Thomas effectively presented Chicago’s sometimes disputed rock ‘n’ roll bona fides with criteria accented by rhythmic finger pointing. He noted that Jimi Hendrix considered Chicago’s late Terry Kath’s guitar prowess to be better than his own, and proffered, “If you think they’re your mom’s band, I want to party with your mom!” Accepting his trophy, trumpet player Lee Loughnane thanked his ex-wives for “making sure that I keep working,” while trombonist Jimmy Pankow thanked the RockHall for “finally inviting us into your house.”
Inducting N.W.A., Kendrick Lamar knew his stuff and rattled it off so seemingly spontaneously that he made it seem obvious that “the world’s most dangerous group” was in fact rock ‘n’ roll, despite Gene Simmons’ contention in Rolling Stone that rap is rap and not rock. Addressing Simmons, MC Ren declared, “Hip-hop is here forever. Get used to it”–thereby starting a round of contentious Twitter exchanges between Simmons and Ice Cube.
In his acceptance, Cube calculated the distance N.W.A. had traveled “from being so hated, even within the industry.”
“It shows that if you believe in yourself and what you’re doing nobody can stop you,” he said, concluding that rock ‘n’ roll is defined neither by instrument nor style of music, but by spirit: “Now the question is, Are we rock ‘n’ roll? You goddamn right we’re rock ‘n’ roll!”
Black Keys Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were the only lame inductors, awkwardly reciting Steve Miller’s credentials and via Carney, relating the numerous Millers residing in the inductee’s Milwaukee birthplace—though “cans of beer can’t write songs.” They later expressed severe disappointment in Miller’s post-induction press conference comments, in which he castigated both the music industry and the RockHall itself.
Miller had toned it down in his acceptance speech, humbly crediting all his band mates over his career while respectfully asking the RockHall to be more transparent about its always controversial selections and more inclusive of women. As for the latter, a Glenn Frey tribute following the “In Memoriam” segment gave Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter the night’s only female moment, and while they were fine on Frey’s “New Kids in Town,” it echoed the Grammy Awards’ focus on Frey and Bowie among the many other worthy artists who had passed on during the past year.
Kid Rock followed with an excellent intro in which he observed that there wasn’t a band in the room—or in the world—that didn’t think they were a better live band than everyone else—until they went out and saw Cheap Trick: “a club, bar and working band,” he said, “in every sense of those words.”
Bassist Tom Petersson said that Cheap Trick had thought about getting a keyboard player, but that none of them wanted to “sit in the middle seat.”
“I don’t know how Chicago did it!” he said. “They must have had two cars!”
He thanked his parents for “believing in me at all odds,” and hoped that he had passed this on to his own kids.
“Music does matter,” Petersson concluded. “Music has value. Let’s keep rock ‘n’ roll alive for the future generation, making sure that people can continue to make a living following their creative dream.”
As for keeping rock ‘n’ roll alive at Barclays, the only true salute to pure rock ‘n’ roll came after Deep Purple and lasted only a minute or two when Steven Van Zandt announced late songwriter-producer Bert Berns’ induction as a non-performer via the Ahmet Ertegun Lifetime Achievement Award. Berns had a hand in writing and/or producing such 1960s classics as “Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Under the Boardwalk”—songs, no doubt, that every artist being inducted had to have heard at some point.
All the inductees save for N.W.A. performed a pair of hits following their inductions, Cheap Trick generating the most excitement with “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender.” They were joined after by Deep Purple members David Coverdale, Roger Glover and Glenn Hughes, and Chicago members Robert Lamm, Loughnane, Pankow and Walt Parazaider, as well as Crow, Potter, Paul Shaffer, Rob Thomas and Van Zandt on Fats Domino’s 1955 rock ‘n’ roll classic “Ain’t That a Shame”–also a big cover hit for Cheap Trick in 1979. Miller joined in, too, playing a Miller Beer-illustrated guitar gifted to him just prior by Nielsen.
As Prince died after the show was taped, his guitar solo from the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony tribute performance to George Harrison of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was tacked on. And like the opening Bowie bit, it only made the performances in-between–and the new inductees–seem somewhat secondary.