The battle at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony wasn’t the one anybody was expecting.
It wasn’t between the members of Kiss (they were all actually quite nice to each other onstage) or between Kiss and the Rock Hall officials (mostly nice, but Paul Stanley did feel he had to complain a bit). It wasn’t between Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, and the surviving members of Nirvana. (They hugged!)
No, this year’s battle was between the Rock Hall Old School and the Rock Hall New School. Both sides are equally worthy and capture a valid way of thinking, but one will eventually win out.
You can’t get much more Rock Hall Old School than the induction of the E Street Band. It was a long and winding affair, nearly 90 minutes, or three times the length of the inductions of Peter Gabriel or Cat Stevens.
Bruce Springsteen gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech, where he even revealed some regret at not having listened to Steven Van Zandt, who counseled him to push to get Springsteen & The E Street Band inducted at the same time. “Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band,” Van Zandt told him, “that’s the legend.” However, Springsteen didn’t listen and was inducted as a solo act in 1999. When the E Street Band was inducted into the Rock Hall last night, it was without the late Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.
The E Street Band induction was done the way it had been for years, when it was a private show mainly for record industry execs in the Waldorf-Astoria Grand Ballroom. It was a swapping of old war stories that could go on all night because everyone in the room would get the inside jokes and because it wasn’t being taped for broadcast. That war-story swapping was much less effective at Barclays Center last night, the first time the induction ceremony was open to the public in New York. The crowd didn’t get all the references and eventually got restless, as all 10 members getting inducted made a speech.
It went on so long that even John Oates joked about it. “Luckily for you, there are only two of us,” he said when he and Daryl Hall were inducted.
While Hall & Oates and Kiss were definitely part of the Rock Hall New School, as previous incarnations of the hall’s nominating committee wouldn’t give the popular acts from the ‘70s and ‘80s the time of day, it was the induction of Nirvana that really showed the direction future ceremonies are probably heading.
Pretty much everything about it was perfect. Michael Stipe’s induction speech was personal, but also far-reaching. “Nirvana captured lightning in a bottle,” he said. “Nirvana tapped into a voice that was yearning to be heard … Nirvana blasted through all that [politics] with crystalline, nuclear rage and fury. Nirvana were kicking against a system with a complete disdain for the music industry and their definition of corporate mainstream America to show a sweet and beautiful, fed-up fury, coupled with howling vulnerability.”
The band’s acceptance speeches were short and gracious -- including Love’s speech. “I just wish Kurt was here to do this,” she said. Nirvana’s performances, with a rotating cast of female singers standing in for Cobain, were all stunning. Long Beach’s Joan Jett delivered a searing version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” while Lorde filled “All Apologies” with her own yearning. St. Vincent’s Annie Clark accomplished just the right mix of pain and giddiness in “Lithium,” while Kim Gordon’s delightfully raucous take on “Aneurysm” was a messy delight.
It was a more intense version of what organizers did with the Linda Ronstadt tribute earlier, bringing in Carrie Underwood, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks in to sing some of her greatest hits.
As Gabriel said in his acceptance speech, “Dream big and let your imagination guide you, even if you end up dressing up as a flower or a sexually transmitted disease … Watch out for music. It should come with a health warning. It can be dangerous. It can make you feel so alive, so connected to the people around you, and connected to what you really are inside. And it can make you think that the world should, and could, be a much better place. And just occasionally, it can make you very, very happy.”
(An edited version of the ceremony will air on HBO on May 31.)
SETLIST: Peter Gabriel -- Digging in the Dirt / Washing of the Water (w/Chris Martin) / In Your Eyes (w/Youssou N’Dour) // Cat Stevens -- Father and Son / Wild World / Peace Train // Linda Ronstadt Tribute -- Different Drum (w/Carrie Underwood) / Blue Bayou (w/Underwood, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt) / You're No Good (w/Sheryl Crow, Underwood, Harris and Raitt) / It's So Easy (w/Stevie Nicks, Crow, Underwood, Harris and Raitt) / When Will I Be Loved (w/Stevie Nicks, Crow, Underwood, Harris and Raitt) // Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- The E Street Shuffle / The River / Kitty’s Back // Daryl Hall & John Oates -- She's Gone / I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) / You Make My Dreams Come True // Nirvana -- Smells Like Teen Spirit (w/Joan Jett) / Aneurysm (w/Kim Gordon) / Lithium (w/St. Vincent) / All Apologies (w/Lorde)