With the passings of Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek this past week, aging music fans received not only the latest reminder of their own mortality, but that of their beloved rock and roll as well. Which is why it is so comforting to know that another closely related, aging institution - The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - contnues to preach the word that although rock's commercial viability may be on life support these days, its continued artistic and creative vitality is anything but.
Musical historian and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt makes specific reference to this in his 2010 speech inducting the Hollies - one of many included over the course of 11 discs on Time-Life's sprawling new Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: In Concert boxed set. Referring to the Grammys and American Music Awards as "nice folks, but mostly bullshit," Van Zandt goes on to say that for us, "this is pretty much it" and that the level of BS at the annual Rock Hall induction ceremonies is comparitively low.
By contrast, Iggy Pop takes a more direct approach, leading his newly inducted Stooges through a raucous, unhinged set that ends up going completely off the rails. At one point, the onstage mayhem spills into the first row of tables at the Waldorf-Astoria, with a few of the suit and tie crowd visibly shaken by the sight of shirtless, senior citizen Iggy screaming "I Wanna Be Your Fucking Dog" in their faces. At another, he yells "Let's get some rich people up here, Let's get some jewelry up here." Nothing says rock and roll quite like the sense of danger Iggy Pop still brings to the table even at this late stage of the game.
These are just two of the many highlights found on Time-Life's Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: In Concert boxed set. Covering roughly the past decade, eight of the eleven discs here feature both performances and induction speeches from the classes of 2010-2017 - a particularly diverse group of inductees including the prog-rock of Yes, Genesis, and Rush; the eclecticism of Tom Waits, Lou Reed, and Peter Gabriel; the hip-hop of Public Enemy and N.W.A.; and the 1990s grunge of Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
As you would expect, the performances are a mixed bag with both hits and misses, sometimes occuring within a single set. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon manages to completely botch "Aneurysm" with the surviving members of Nirvana, right after Joan Jett absolutely nails "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Dave Grohl returns the favor during Jett's own induction the following year by helping her rip through a charged version of the Runaways classic "Cherry Bomb." The original Alice Cooper band tear the house down with help from Rob Zombie, while Tom Waits pulls off the impossible by transforming the posh Waldorf-Astoria into something like a dingy, seedy jazz-piano dive for his own transfixing set.
The induction speeches, while often being the sort of self congratulatory exercises one might expect, also provide a few unexpected moments. On the one hand, if Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman ever decides to give up music, he might very well consider a second career as a stand-up comedian based on his remarks. On the other, watching the great Leon Russell recall how Elton John rescued him from his post rock star life in the ditch is positively heartbreaking. Seeing Steve Perry graciously reminisce alongside his former Journey bandmates is also a heartwarming moment (even if his decision not to join them for their onstage performance was an equally curious one).
The remaining three discs on Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame In Concert comprise the 2009 two-night 25th anniversary all-star concert from Madison Square Garden - including the original four-hour HBO TV special, along with a bonus disc of outtakes from the concert not seen on the original broadcast. Each segment centers on a particular genre or historical period, making for some truly amazing, once-in-a-lifetime musical pairings of talent.
For the hard rock/heavy metal segment, Metallica lead Lou Reed, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ray Davies through metallicized versions of "Sweet Jane," "Iron Man/Paranoid" and "All Day And All of the Night" respectively. Jeff Beck does double duty here, sitting in with Stevie Wonder for "Superstition" and a ripping Jimi Hendrix tribute with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons on "Foxey Lady." Simon & Garfunkel turn the Garden into their own tabernacle for hushed, harmony-perfect versions of "The Sounds of Silence," "The Boxer," and of course, "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Not surprisingly, the biggest fireworks occur during sets by U2 and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. U2's performance starts with a great version of "Because The Night" with Springsteen and Patti Smith, but hits a fever pitch when Mick Jagger and The Black Eyed Peas' Fergie join Bono for an explosive "Gimme Shelter." Fergie turns in an amazing vocal performance here, bringing new intensity to the original Merry Clayton "rape, murder" background parts.
Springsteen's set with the expanded E Street Band plays like a brief run through rock history. Kicking off with a version of "Hold On I'm Coming" that plays like an old-time R&B Soul revue with the horn section and background singers, the Boss is joined by Sam Moore from the original Sam & Dave, grinning from ear-to-ear and sporting a stylish black T-shirt that reads "Sam Is Who I Am." This is followed by Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello turning Springsteen's dustbowl dirge "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" into a howling, guitar-fueled dispatch from the apocalypse. From there, the E Street Band pays tribute to Darlene Love creating its own Spectoresque Wall of Sound for "A Fine, Fine Boy." John Fogerty joins Springsteen for a spirited run through of the Roy Orbison classic "Oh, Pretty Woman" and his own Creedence hit "Fortunate Son." Long Island meets New Jersey when hometown hero Billy Joel joins Springsteen for a surprisingly smooth "New York State of Mind" and a slightly rougher "Born To Run" (Joel appears to be reading the lyrics from a teleprompter and misses a few lines).
There aren't a whole lot of extras included here (at 11 discs, what you already get is plenty enough). But among the most impressive is a mini-recreation of the original Rolling Stone issue commemorating the 2009 25th anniversary concerts. Reading the original story again, its fascinating to recount what all went into such a mammoth undertaking - from being turned down by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Van Morrison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan; to Eric Clapton pulling out due to sickness (he was replaced by Jeff Beck) and Aretha Franklin's last minute diva demands threatening to derail the show.
Based on the often electrifying performances featured over its 11 discs, Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: In Concert makes a very convincing argument that those pesky rumors of rock's imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Tell Tchaikovsky the news, indeed.