25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2010, Volume 17, #12
Written by John Metzger
Wed December 1, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
Last year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrated its 25th anniversary in style. Not only did the institution finally decide to monetize the cache of footage it had collected from its annual induction ceremonies, but it also staged a pair of blockbuster concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The result of the latter event was a jaw-dropping display of talent that paid homage to the history of rock music via a series of inspired collaborations and impassioned performances. Even in the wake of decades of mammoth summer festivals and benefit shows — from Woodstock to Live Aid to Bonnaroo — everyone who witnessed the event, whether it was in person or on television, agreed that nothing quite like this had ever before been staged.
Undeniably, it must have been daunting to be responsible for organizing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concerts. Essentially, the goal was to assemble a core group of performers and ask each of them to host a segment that was devoted to a particular style of music. Because it is an all-inclusive amalgamation, rock ’n‘ roll is inherently messy and difficult to classify. Nevertheless, although the dividing lines inevitably were blurred over the course of two nights — how could they not be? — the slate of house bands largely succeeded in staying within their predetermined boundaries.
Joined by a revolving assemblage of other artists, the main acts were tasked with distilling roughly 60 years of rock ’n‘ roll history into a two-concert showcase. Seated alone at his piano, Jerry Lee Lewis opened each of the performances with a single song: Though it is absent from The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts, a three-DVD overview of the proceedings, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On was tackled on the first night; Great Balls of Fire appeared during the second act. Although his vocals may have been frail, Lewis’ ornery spirit was certainly alive. After performing Great Balls of Fire, he not only kicked over his piano bench, but he also returned to toss it aside.
Crosby, Stills and Nash transformed several of their Woodstock-era songs into huge, arena-worthy anthems. With Sting by his side, Stevie Wonder folded the brassy power of his own Higher Ground into the reggae-inspired groove of The Police’s Roxanne. Paul Simon paid homage to doo-wop and early rock by performing The Wanderer with Dion DiMucci and by ceding the stage to Little Anthony and the Imperials for a sparkling, a cappella rendition of Two People in the World. Joined by Art Garfunkel, Simon also tackled several expected but nonetheless magnificent gems from their collaborative canon, including Bridge over Troubled Water and The Boxer. Aretha Franklin delivered pristine replications of her Motown classics (Baby, I Love You, Don’t Play That Song, and Chain of Fools). Filling in at the last minute for Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck tore through Let Me Love You Baby with Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix’s Foxey Lady with Billy Gibbons.
The best sets of the two-night engagement were anchored by Metallica, U2, and Bruce Springsteen. Metallica delivered a pair of its own thunderous compositions (For Whom the Bell Tolls and Enter Sandman), and it demonstrated its dexterity by supporting Lou Reed (Sweet Jane), Ray Davies (All Day and All of the Night), and Ozzy Osbourne (Iron Man/Paranoid). In one of the show’s biggest surprises, Metallica also offered a credible cover of Bob Seger’s Turn the Page. Elsewhere, Springsteen and U2 unleashed a mixture of original material and cover tunes with their customary gusto. Mick Jagger, The Black Eyed Peas, Patti Smith, and Springsteen made appearances during U2’s suite of songs, while soul legends Sam Moore and Darlene Love, classic artists John Fogerty and Billy Joel, and guitarist Tom Morello surfaced during Springsteen’s showcase.
There is no doubt that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s objectives for these concerts were enormously broad. Consequently, it is safe to assume that no matter how well things went, there were bound to be valid criticisms leveled at the event. Sure enough, the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concerts were as noteworthy for the songs and acts that were included in the presentation as they were for those that were forgotten or minimized.
Bob Dylan, for example, was invited multiple times to perform at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concerts, but he refused to participate. Consequently, save for Stevie Wonder’s rendition of Blowin’ in the Wind and a snippet of Talkin’ New York that was deployed during a photo montage, Dylan’s songs were noticeably absent from the festivities. Complicating matters, this portion of Wonder’s set was excised from the subsequent HBO broadcast as well as the three-DVD collection of highlights that recently was issued by Time Life. The Allman Brothers Band suffered a similar fate — Midnight Rider had been covered by Crosby, Stills and Nash but was left out of the widely distributed program — while the Grateful Dead was ignored completely. Songs by Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Neil Young, James Brown, and even Elvis Presley were also missing entirely or used only in passing.
Surprisingly, The Beatles’ canon was reduced to two tracks — interpretations of Here Comes the Sun and A Day in the Life by Paul Simon (with help from David Crosby and Graham Nash) and Jeff Beck, respectively. Likewise, the only acknowledgment of The Beach Boys’ accomplishments occurred when Our Prayer was piped through the public address system during another introductory photo montage. Meanwhile, although U2’s momentous legacy is indisputable, it does seem a little unbalanced that the outfit was allowed to tackle seven of its own songs — even if some of them were utilized as clever segues — at the expense of so many other worthwhile selections.
There are, of course, plenty of good reasons why the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concerts took the shape that they did. Whenever an event of this size and scope is assembled, there always are egos to stroke and performance-rights issues to resolve. All things considered, the organizers assembled the best shows that they could, even if they didn’t present quite as broad a spectrum of rock’s storied history as they had hoped. In the end, the events were crowd-pleasing, inspired, and uniquely spectacular. Likewise, the cuts that were made to present the festivities on HBO were justified. It just would have made more sense to include the entirety of the affair, as it actually happened, on the resulting DVD collection. ½
Of Further Interest...
The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts
is available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2010 The Music Box