Rod Stewart was a no-show — he had the flu. Axl Rose was also a no-show — he had assholitis. But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony for the class of 2012 at Public Hall last night was still one of the foundation’s best outings in recent years.
You can thank the cast of relatively young rockers who made it into the Rock Hall last night as part of the 27th class, including Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Donovan and the late Laura Nyro represented the old-school.
Green Day kicked off the five-and-a-half-hour show with “Letterbomb,” where Billy Joe Armstrong dropped a dozen or so bombs of the F variety, partly to nudge the older, overdressed people sitting in the audience and partly because that’s just what he does.
Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart then said a few words, giving Cleveland some love, though his shout-out to governor John Kasich was met with a round of boos. Jann Wenner’s cliché-stuffed speech after that was just boring.
Then the good stuff rolled out. ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill inducted late bluesman Freddie King and then joined Derek Trucks for a trio of King’s songs. King’s daughter Wanda accepted his award and gave one of the night’s best speeches, a funny and affectionate tribute to her father.
John Mellencamp inducted Donovan, taking a playful swipe at the Chili Peppers in his speech. The Scottish singer-songwriter’s own speech was a bit more pretentious, but mockingly so … we think. He sounded a bit rough on the acoustic “Catch the Wind” but settled in for a rousing “Season of the Witch” with Mellencamp.
Bette Midler inducted late singer-songwriter Laura Nyro with a typically Bette-like speech that went on a little too long. And of course she got teary by the end of it. Sara Bareilles performed a lovely cover of Nyro’s “Stoney End.”
Don Kirshner’s non-performer award was presented by Carole King, but the audience was getting a little restless for some rock & roll at this point. So when Steven Van Zandt took the stage to induct the Small Faces and Faces, the fans were on their feet.
Little Steven’s detailed account of the bands’ twisty history was one of the night’s best. Even with a few members absent – Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane have passed on, and Stewart was out sick – the groups’ performance was also one of the show’s greatest. Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall took over vocals on a trio of songs, including “Ooh La La” and “Stay With Me.”
Smokey Robinson inducted a bunch of “groups and bands” that were ignored when their leaders were inducted years ago. Members of Buddy Holly's Crickets, James Brown's Famous Flames, Bill Haley's Comets, Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, and Robinson's Miracles accepted their awards onstage.
They deserved the honor, no doubt, but it was a long and kinda rambling segment (seemed like everyone had something to say).
Good thing Chuck D (along with LL Cool J) was up next to inject some life back into the show with his personal and poetic induction of the Beastie Boys. Unfortunately, MCA (Adam Yauch) couldn’t make it (he’s battled cancer over the past couple years), but Mike D and Ad-Rock – dressed in suits and mostly serious – read a note from him. It was a nice moment, even if they seemed to forget that they were in Cleveland, and not NYC, last night.
The Beasties themselves didn’t perform since MCA wasn’t there, but they sent the Roots, Kid Rock, and Travie McCory, dressed in matching green track suits, to perform a medley of their songs, including “So What’cha Want” and “Sabotage.” It was the show’s most exciting moment.
Green Day returned to the stage to induct Guns N’ Roses. Armstrong defended Axl Rose’s decision not to be there (he had written an open letter to the Rock Hall earlier in the week declining his induction, proving once again he’s one of music’s biggest dicks), as the audience erupted with boos.
Slash, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and Matt Sorum also said a few words without really getting into the whole Axl mess. They were gracious, hinting at the band’s dysfunction. As McKagan pointed out, “Don’t matter who’s here. It’s about the music.” Then Myles Kennedy from Slash’s band joined GNR onstage for “Mr. Brownstone,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and “Paradise City,” sounding a little like Axl and making us wish the whole time that the real thing was up there.
Robbie Robertson then inducted engineers Cosimo Matassa, Tom Dowd, and Glyn Johns. And like the older, neglected groups and bands that were inducted earlier, they deserved their awards. But the show reaching the five-hour mark by now, and the crowd was getting a little restless.
Good thing Chris Rock was next, inducting his pals the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the night’s funniest speech, which he treated more like a stand-up routine (“They have black ties on their dicks tonight,” he said).
A couple of former members of the band (which has been through almost a dozen guitarists over the years) showed up, as did original guitarist Hillel Slovak’s brother, who accepted the award for his late sibling.
The band’s speeches seemed to drag on — maybe because they were the last inductees of the night, or maybe it’s because everyone was getting a little sleepy by now. Flea choked up during his.
They played three songs, including “By the Way” and “Give It Away,” before calling Slash, Armstrong, George Clinton, and the Faces’ Ron Wood onstage for the night’s obligatory jam of “Higher Ground.” Anthony Kiedis also called for some of the night’s other presenters and inductees – including Smokey Robinson — to join them onstage, but we’re guessing most of them were in bed by then. –Michael Gallucci