Sunday, January 10, 2010

DVD Review - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live

A Christmas gift I just cracked open this week was Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live, a four DVD set that features numerous induction speeches, reunions, all-star jams and band performances over the 25 years of the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

The problem with this set is how it is positioned. According to Eric Clapton, hall co-founder Robbie Robertson cajoled Clapton into supporting the hall by saying "Magic happens here."

Well, maybe.

The magical moments touted in the promo for this set all revolve around the all-star jams that inevitably happen at the end of the evenings. "Where else can you see Mick Jagger jam with Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Paul McCartney?"

Well, nowhere else. But the problem is, those all-star jams are train wrecks, every time. They pick a three-chord song that everyone can hack along to. They have 25 guitar players onstage - all huge stars who could rip killer solos under different circumstances but here are all sloppy side-men at best.

A bunch of mega-stars cramped onto a small stage, with no one in charge and no one calling the shots. Of course the singers don't know the words to other stars' songs so you get Springsteen with that apey grin of his looking at Jagger like "Man isn't this awesome?! Hey what's the next line?" Paul Shaffer tries his damnedest to conduct this behemoth into something slightly organized.

Yeah it is awesome - for Bruce. But the rest of us, not so much. So don't buy this for the all-star jams 'cause it's a bunch of hype.

OK I got that off my chest. Now for the good stuff and there is a lot of it.

Predictably the good bits happen when things are a bit more organized. For example, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne with George Harrison's son rip out a fantastic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps with Prince (yes, Prince) on lead guitar at the end. I posted that video a while ago here and it is truly, dare I say, magical.

Santana with guest Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) is unreal. They do Black Magic Woman - a song I grew tired of about 20 years ago - but with Gregg Rolie back on vocals and keys, and Santana doing his usual job of leading his slaying band through a blistering arrangement. It's something I will watch again.

Eddie Vedder fronting the Doors is very cool, as is ZZ Top's set - yep, ZZ Top. In their own words "35 years, the same three guys playing the same three chords." But they are excellent and get two songs on the set where most bands just get one.

Springsteen's set with the E Street Band is high energy and is probably a real treat for Bruce fans, as it's when the group got back together with Bruce after a very long hiatus. Robbie Robertson playing The Weight with Rick Danko and Garth Hudson (and guest Eric Clapton) is nice, but it would have been better had Levon Helm shown up.

An excellent-sounding Crosby, Stills and Nash are joined by Tom Petty, who does a fantastic Neil Young impression on guitar for For What It's Worth. AC/DC deliver a nice Highway to Hell, and Metallica destroys the place with Master of Puppets, complete with two bass players onstage - Robert Trujillo and the man he replaced, Jason Newsted.

Good as they are, the Metallica bit underscores another issue I have with these shows. They are not in a concert hall. They take place in what looks like a banquet hall. The whole floor is loaded with round dinner tables with tuxedo'd industry luminaries and Yoko Ono seated, and anyone else who ponied up $15,000 a head or whatever.

That is a rough crowd to play for. Only a few performers are able to get everyone out of their seats -- a feat in and of itself became some of the attendees look old enough to require help to stand upright from a seated position. I wonder if that is why REM's Peter Buck literally throws his amp offstage at the end of Man On The Moon - a weird moment and not magical at all.

There are a lot of cool behind the scenes bonus clips like John Fogerty walking Springsteen and Robertson through old CCR songs he hadn't played in years. Cool footage of Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart talking to Paul Kantner, Jack Cassidy and Jorma Kaukonen before the Jefferson Airplane takes the stage. To say Kaukonen looks nervous is a vast understatement! Someone get him a bag.

The bonus footage also includes many complete induction speeches such as Pete Townsend lobbing insult after insult as he inducts the Stones. Or Paul McCartney inducting John Lennon, looking very out of place as he takes credit for everything from the Beatle haircut to introducing John to Yoko. But I watched all the bonus footage too, because I love shit like this.

One last gripe -- no matter how good Springsteen is, he is the Phil Collins of the R&R Hall of Fame. Meaning, he is ubiquitous and jams with - oh, everybody. Let's vary it up a bit, huh?

So in sum -- I will watch about half of these performances again and the other half I will skip. If you can get this set at a discount, it's worth it for the handful of great moments. But don't buy the hype - it ALL ain't magical.


Seano said...

What an interesting take,Isorski. I was eyeing this while in line at Borders..and now I know I can skip it or youtube what I want to see. I can see how seeing Paul Shaffer's over important bald head bopping in and out of every all star jam might make me nauseous as well...thanks!

Don Capone said...

"But the problem is, those all-star jams are train wrecks, every time."

Don't forget, the alcohol factor! All these guys get together and party and eat, then jam at the end. It's just for fun. In the early days of the Hall, the inductions weren't even televised.