Friday, April 19, 2013

Musings from the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony

The 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show was for the most part a five hour thrill ride with a really boring middle segment. Of course the whole reason I was there was for Rush but there was a lot of talent in the theater and overall (except for that middle piece) it was a well-paced, well-produced night.

Rush fans were by far the most prevalent in the audience. There were acres of Rush shirts and, shall we say, lots of energy.

Take for example the first ten minutes of the show. Rolling Stone founder and target for the ire of many a Rush fan Jann Wenner strolled out to give a fairly canned intro/welcome speech. He was booed by the audience. It will be interesting to see if they fix that in the HBO broadcast next month. What they won’t be able to fix is how absolutely BATSHIT the audience went when Wenner read down the names of the inductees and got to Rush.

It was absolutely deafening. The entire house rose to its feet and screamed for at least two or three minutes while Wenner stood there, amazed. I don’t know that the Hall has seen anything quite like it, to be honest. I do think he got the message.

I turned to the guy next to me, who was crying by the way, and said “well, that sure felt good.” And it did. Lots of pent up frustration – maybe in some cases a lifetime – was released in that moment. It was group therapy.

Then the show got underway. Randy Newman kicked it off with a fun version of I Love LA, with guests Tom Petty, John Fogerty and Jackson Browne on guitar. They each took a verse. Don Henley inducted him, and once I realized that Paul Shaeffer’s band included Waddy Watchel, Jim Keltner and Tom Scott, I realized that the SoCal music scene from the 70s was well-represented.

The next few inductees were either not performers, or not alive. Producer Lou Adler was inducted by a very funny Cheech and Chong, and was then serenaded by Carole King, who he had produced. The late Donna Summer and Albert King were inducted and then followed up with some fine live music too.

For King, blues guitarist Guy Clarke Jr. and John Mayer ripped some spot-on electric blues numbers. For Summer, a killer Jennifer Hudson seriously shredded some of Summer’s biggest hits. I never would have paid to go see Hudson but I am glad I saw her sing, because she is talented.

Then things got a little wonky. Oprah Winfrey showed up to everyone’s utter shock to induct Quincy Jones, who gave the longest piss break worthy speech ever. I got back and still had to wait ten minutes for him to wrap it up. I mean, yes, the man has had a six or seven decade career and ought to be inducted for his work with Michael Jackson alone, but MAN was he long-winded.

Next it was time for Public Enemy. Whew, where do I start? Spike Lee started the speech and then oddly handed it over to Harry Belafonte who quietly rambled about things. What? I dunno I was Tweeting.

Public Enemy gets up and Flava Flav (dude who wears the giant clock around his neck) talks and talks and rambles and talks some more and at some point you realize this guy has a screw loose and then you wonder if he is just kidding? By the end the crowd was loudly encouraging him to WRAP IT UP.

He basically filibustered the ceremony.

Chuck D’s speech was respectful. He made a comment about people who say rap does not belong in a rock hall of fame and rightly pointed out that it all came from the same place, which was blues. Given Flava’s train wreck it was ironic that Chuck D’s speech was really the one that unified all the performers in the house, who he name-checked, including Rush. I got the sense there was a mutual respect there.

Public Enemy performed and it was fine. I mean I don’t know them so it was nice to see but I didn’t care that much. They did do a really cool thing which was to use records from the other inductees in one of their jams. Scratching the Tom Sawyer intro and also the same with an Albert King lick.

Now we are about four hours into it but we all know it’s about to get good. Heart is up. Chris Cornell inducts them with a very respectful and funny speech. It’s perfect. Ann and Nancy Wilson’s speeches seem a little canned but are fine. Original guitarist Roger Fisher slightly asses out in his speech because he basically knows he fucked up big time to get kicked out of that band. He tries to show love to the band but he calls them ‘these people.’

Things seem to be running long so they cut the mic before the rest of the original guys can speak and then it’s live Heart.

I have never seen Heart live. They open with Nancy Wilson on acoustic for the intro to Crazy on You. Most of the original band is together for the first time since the late 70s and they sound really good. The dueling guitar harmonies are spot on, Ann’s voice is excellent if a tad aged and honestly, it’s pretty magical.

Then everyone leaves and we get acoustic Ann and Nancy on Dreamboat Annie. It’s very gorgeous and well executed. But then I realize the original guys are not coming back. The current band plus Cornell and Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell join and do Barracuda. It’s pretty epic. I am totally sold on Heart and can’t wait to see them live this summer. They still have it. You have to wonder how weird it was for that original group to get back together and rehearse and perform. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that.

Now of course we are ready for Rush. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters do the induction speech and it is funny as hell, but it’s also intense. You can tell Dave feels the way the rest of us do, that it’s about time this has happened. He jokes about getting turned onto 2112 by a ‘cool older stoner cousin’ and how everything changed from there.

His overall premise was ‘when did Rush become cool?’ and the answer was, they have always been cool! However, he also razzed them about the kimonos on the back of the 2112 album sleeve. The camera cut to Neil Peart and he was laughing and shaking his head. It was nice to see Neil get honored. In fact, Hawkins doted pretty heavily on him and of course the crowd was right there too – we want to give Neil his props, maybe even more so because he is so modest.

Rush’s speech was interesting. Neil led off with a very ‘prepared’ and verbose speech that was OK. Geddy was shorter and more heartfelt. He said something like, “we’ve been saying for years that this doesn’t matter, but you know what? It kind of does matter.” And everyone went nuts.

***update*** - it was Neil who said that, and after viewing on YouTube, it was a really nice speech. Sorry, my mind was foggy at 2 a.m. when I typed this!

He [Geddy] also gave a shout out to the fans and all of us attending, and you could tell he was moved at the turnout. Rush fans really are some of the most devoted. It’ll be interesting to see if that comes through on the HBO broadcast.

Alex Lifeson? Well, he started his speech with “blah blah blah” and stayed that course for about a minute too long. But it was funny and irreverent, and, well, very Alex.

Then the lights dimmed and we all noticed a small drum kit in front of Neil’s. The intro to 2112 rang out and Grohl, Hawkins and the Foo Fighters bass player launched into 2112, as Rush – complete with wigs and white jump suits a la 1977. It was funny but they really nailed the song. Right near the end, Rush came out and joined them so you had six guys playing. They did not go into Temples – at that point, the crew quickly got the Foo’s gear off and Rush did incendiary versions of Tom Sawyer and Spirit of Radio.

I was thinking how many people in the audience, certainly the majority of the industry and music folks seated up front, had never seen Rush. They have likely heard those two songs but never live. I am so glad Rush really brought it, to show those people what the hype is all about. There is really nothing quite like live Rush and they kicked ass. It was celebratory, and rightly so.

The end jam was way more organized than I expected. It started with Neil and Geddy laying down a groove, over which half of Public Enemy did a rap – so we did get a Rush/PE jam, which was really cool to see. Then they did Crossroads - it was Rush, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Hawkins on second drums, two of the Public Enemy guys, and on guitar Fogerty, Grohl, Clark Jr., Cornell and Tom Morello. They all traded verses and guitar solos and then it was over.

It was so neat to see Rush share the stage with others. They just never really seem to do that, so it was very cool to have the mix of folks up there. I’ll be pretty high for a few days from this. It was well worth the trip and I’ll be eager to see how they execute an edit for the HBO broadcast May 18.

***update*** - There are already Youtubes of the night up!

Grohl and Hawkins' awesome induction speech:

Rush acceptance speech. See what I mean about Alex?

Foos do Rush

Heart rip Barrauda with Cantrell and Cornell They were super tight about photos in the venue so I only have a few from before the show. In the back of the theater I happened to catch Ann and Nancy Wilson getting into the venue:

The front of this guy’s jacket was laden with hundreds of Rush buttons. People were taking their photo with him like he was a rock star. Classic.

Isorski at the Hall of Fame. Photo taken by a guy like me, who came to LA by himself to pay homage. There were tons of us there, all wandering around outside waiting for the doors to open. Ha ha!


TAD said...

Great write-up! & what a thrill to be there! You got it all across really well, great work!

Donald Capone said...

GREAT recap! Man, I'm jealous--wish I had been there. So good to finally see Rush finally het into the HOF.

Anyone else notice Neil and Tom Hanks are starting to look alike?

David said...

I've been determinedly not getting excited about the whole HOF thing. Rush has been passed over so long that their absence was a joke and the institution itself has been devalued. Cue hundreds of arguments rehearsed over many years. ...But then I listened to Dave Grohl's speech. I think I was wrong. To paraphrase someone or other, it is a big deal!

Rush in the Hall of Fame. Excellent!