Photo by Emanuel Wallace
LL Cool J backstage at the Rock Hall inductions
The Rock Hall brought out all the stops for its return to in-person inductions Saturday night in Cleveland with a show that, both because of the induction class and guest stars, instantly became one of the most memorable and enjoyable ceremonies held in the hometown of the hall of fame and museum.
Plenty has been written about all the highs of the evening. Here, according to no one except this humble writer, are four lows.
1. Stop Trying to Involve Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr in Every Induction
Paul McCartney was tasked with inducting the Foo Fighters to the Hall of Fame. His speech was... not great. After stirring and immensely personal speeches given by Drew Barrymore on behalf of the Go-Go's, Angela Bassett on behalf of Tina Turner, Taylor Swift on behalf of Carole King, Dave Chappelle on behalf of Jay-Z, Dr. Dre for LL Cool J, Lionel Richie for Clarence Avant, and all the others, McCartney's speech was little more than a chance for him to talk about the Beatles again and had all the personal charm of a BMV interaction. (The broad strokes of the speech: Both he and Dave Grohl were part of a big group that went on to be part of another big group after the first group ended. Wait, those weren't even the broad strokes. Those were the specifics. How deeply meaningful!)
It seemed like a choice made simply to get a Beatle on the stage for the all-star jam, which was "Get Back," selected, I'm assuming, as a nod to inductee Billy Preston, who played keyboards on the original recording.
It would have been cool, especially given the next complaint, to see Jay-Z perform with the Foos, for instance, or literally any other combination of stars that didn't lean on a Beatles song or appearance to keep the audience interested.
2. Kind Of a Real Bummer Jay-Z Didn't Perform.
The intro video teeing up the Jay-Z segment of the proceedings, which featured Barack Obama, LeBron, Sean Combs, Beyonce and a Who's Who of hip-hop, was great. Dave Chappelle's induction speech, also great. Not seeing Jay-Z perform was a let down, and after watching LL Cool J give perhaps the performance of the night, alongside guests Eminem and Jennifer Lopez, it felt like one giant missing piece in the evening.
3. The Crowd's Reaction to Jay-Z's Speech
After all the well wishes and thoughtful words, Jay-Z got to the mic and emotionally said, "That's a lot. Trying to make me cry in front of all these white people!"
Perhaps it was the lack of a performance, perhaps it was an almost complete lack of Black people in the audience, as noted by Jay himself, perhaps it was some combination of that and other things, but while Jay-Z got laughs off a couple of good jokes, he didn't seem to receive the adulation or attention bestowed on anyone else during the evening, which was a shame because his speech was riveting and raw.
4. A Cleveland Crowd and a Post-Midnight Timeslot for the Foo Fighters Was a Predictably Bad Combination
Cleveland crowds can be — and this is a generalization but it's kind of universally acknowledged — low energy and inattentive. Cleveland crowds like to talk during shows. Cleveland crowds don't really like to dance at shows. Cleveland crowds can clap at the end of a song with the best of them, but Cleveland crowds tend to be a little less than demonstrative during them.
The Foo Fighters played three songs, and as the last inductee of the night, were playing in front of a tired crowd that was past its bedtime and already exhausted from four hours of speeches and performances. When Grohl asked the crowd to sing along to the chorus for "My Hero," the answering voices came back with all the energy of a call and response at a high school mass.
Rolling Stone described the moment as a "lusty crowd sing-along." Sitting in the upper deck, it was anything but.
Still, and this is worth repeating: A fabulous production, an all-star roster of talent, and one of the best inductions in recent memory.