It might have taken five hours of self-congratulatory speeches, but the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame closed out an epic night of inaugurations, well wishes, thanks and tributes with a true headbanging rock n’ roll performance thanks to the timeless music of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.
Thursday night’s event at Barclays Center boasted the highest Hall Of Fame fan attendance yet, and early in the night the impact was much more folksy than rock n’ roll. Peter Gabriel and Cat Stevens both performed after their inaugurations, and while Cat’s performance was notable both for its quality and rareness since musician’s retirement, the soft chords of Wild World and Peace Train were more soothing than rocking.
Tom Morello introduced KISS with all the spit and fire of his Rage Against The Machine music, but ultimately the polite speeches from Gene, Paul and Peter, and a somewhat rambling one from Ace failed to live up to the hard-edged, fist-pumping introduction. A glaring absence was felt when the four original members of KISS walked off the stage without a single note played.
While Linda Ronstadt was not in attendance for her induction, tribute was paid by an all-star cast of Carrie Underwood, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks. Impressive to be sure, but not quite what the black t-shirt clad rock fans in the upper levels of Barclays had come for.
The night’s brisk-paced ceremony was then hijacked by The Boss himself, and the following hour was all Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Springsteen is nothing if not a charismatic and captivating speaker, and nothing interrupted his lengthy introduction besides howls of “Brrruuuuuuuuuce!” Each member (and former member, and relatives of deceased members) of the E Street Band took their time at the podium as well, and by the time the group broke into The E Street Shuffle, the first of three songs including a lengthy, spectacular solo-filled jam on Kitty’s Back, the night might as well have been a full-blown Springsteen affair.
A noticeable exodus of fans began streaming towards the exits once the E Street Band finally finished, which worked just fine for those of us in the nosebleeds who then snuck into the rarified air of the lower sections and their $500+ seats. With the show massively behind schedule, Hall & Oats were nice enough to keep their speeches brief, and instead poured their hearts into their three song set of She’s Gone, I Can’t Go For That, and You Make My Dreams, complete with a brilliant saxaphone solo.
Quickly approaching the midnight hour, it was finally time for the headlining, top billed act of the night: the one and only Nirvana (or 2/3rds of the band). With KISS’s determination not to perform established weeks ago, those of us who had come to hear heavy power chords and overdriven volume were more than ready to relive grunge music’s greatest songs. Kurt Cobain may have been famously anti-establishment, but as his mother said from the podium, 20 years ago he would’ve have hated this, but last night he would have loved it.
And there was just enough for fans to love, too. Joan Jett ripped through Smells Like Teen Spirit with David Grohl and Kris Novoselic playing the generation-defining hit live for the first time in decades. (See my shaky video in the left sidebar - anyone who has a cleanly shot video clearly wasn’t rocking out like they should have been.)
Sticking with the theme of female singers, Sonic Youth frontwoman Kim Gordon went wild singing Aneurysm, literally rolling around on the stage as she screamed, and yet that was still topped by Annie Clark’s burning vocals on Lithium. For those of us too young to have ever experienced Kurt and Nirvana in person, Thursday night’s show was the closest we’ll ever get to the arena Nirvana experience. The young Lorde came out for All Apologies, as Kris switched to the accordion used for the Unplugged concert and ended the night on a mellow, wistful note.
And just like that it was all over, with an anticipated all-star jam never materializing despite teasers from Ace Frehley and others. One has to hope that the E Street band’s time-gobbling speeches aren’t to blame, since at the very least a rendition of Rock n’ Roll All Night was expected from the massive musical royalty all gathered in one spot.
I probably won’t go to a future Hall Of Fame ceremony again. Rock stars speaking is very different from rock stars performing, and five hours is far too long for what HBO will drill down to 3 hours when it airs next month. Frankly, I was bored more than half the show and the alcohol was cut off hours before it ended.
But I’m still glad I went last night, to pay tribute to Kurt and Nirvana, and to a lesser extent the original members of KISS, drama-laden as they may be. The rush as Dave Grohl’s drums kicked in on Smells Like Teen Spirit was instantly one of my most treasured concert moments, and that alone made the night worthwhile. This music might have been created by those on stage, but it belongs to all of us and always will.
Long live rock n’ roll!