Pearl Jam closed the emotional 32nd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony by leading a defiant all-star jam on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” early Saturday morning at Barclays Center.
The Seattle band’s fierce version — driven by a pogoing Eddie Vedder with help from Journey’s Neal Schon, and Yes’ Trevor Rabin — also capped one of the most memorable inductions in recent years, showing how artists can be humble and gracious in their acceptance speeches and still rock hard in their performances.
“Maybe the most important reason we came tonight is not to receive this honor, but to honor those who have worked so hard for this band, to help it function,” Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said, before rattling off a list of more than 40 names. “But even more importantly than all of those folks, we want to thank our fans, whose belief in us has carried us through the times where we didn’t believe or we lost hope or we lost each other.”
Pearl Jam’s acceptance speech followed a kindhearted induction from retired television host David Letterman, replacing Neil Young, who had to miss the show due to illness. In the rare public appearance, Letterman talked of his friendship with the band and a love of their music that was so deep that he took to singing the chorus of “Black” on his late-night show for months until Vedder came on to jokingly tell him to stop.
He also revealed that after Vedder’s appearance on Letterman’s third-to-last show, the Pearl Jam singer wrote Letterman’s son, Harry, a note and gave him a guitar. “If you’re in show business, it’s likely there’s a good strong streak of cynicism in you, and I would be the president of that club except for things like this,” Letterman said. “There are quite a few reasons why these people are in the Hall of Fame, but forgive me if this personally is the most important reason.”
Pearl Jam’s induction was only one of several emotional moments during the five-hour ceremony, which also included the inductions of Tupac Shakur, Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Nile Rodgers and Yes. (HBO will air an edited version on April 29.)
Lenny Kravitz paid tribute to Prince, who died after last year’s Rock Hall induction, with a stunning, gospel-funk version of “When Doves Cry,” followed by a passionate version of “The Cross,” yet another sign of how cool and graciousness can coexist in rock.
The legend of the late Chuck Berry also permeated this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions.
Exclusive subscription offer
Newsday covers the stories that matter most to Long Islanders. We dig deep to uncover the facts, hold the powerful in check and keep a watchful eye on Long Island.
Your digital subscription, starting at $1, supports local journalism vital to the community.SUBSCRIBE NOW
A tribute to Berry, the first musician ever inducted into the Rock Hall, opened the event, followed by new inductee Electric Light Orchestra’s version of “Roll Over Beethoven.”
Dhani Harrison, in his heartfelt induction of ELO, spoke of how the first song he ever saw his father, George Harrison, play on stage was “Johnny B. Goode” with ELO, adding that he was convinced they were space aliens. “They reminded me of the ‘Star Wars’ cantina band only with lots more hair,” Harrison recalled.
The induction of ELO, Yes and, especially Journey, were greeted with huge ovations, showing that the decision Rock Hall voters have made to embrace 1970s superstars, who have long been eligible but passed over, has been overwhelmingly popular. “I thought it would never happen,” Journey guitarist Schon said in his acceptance speech.
The induction of folk legend Baez, which inductor Jackson Browne called “long, long overdue,” actually seemed well timed, as protest music grows in popularity.
Snoop Dogg offered a sweet, heartwarming induction for his friend, Shakur, revealing that the late rapper was the one who introduced him to marijuana and that they once went parasailing together with hip-hop mogul Suge Knight driving the boat. Alicia Keys paid tribute to him with a medley of his hits on the piano, followed by Snoop Dogg and T.I. rapping.
Musical excellence inductee Nile Rodgers, best known for his work with funk and disco pioneers Chic and collaborations with David Bowie and Madonna, rounded out the 2017 class. He got choked up during his induction, as he spoke of his collaborations.
“When people work with me, they think that I’m the boss,” he said. “But believe me, every record I do I join the band.”
Keyboardist-singer Gregg Rolie, who was inducted with Journey, became only the 22nd musician to be so honored by the Rock Hall twice, joining all the Beatles, Neil Young and Lou Reed. Rolie was already inducted as part of Santana in 1998.
SET LIST: Electric Light Orchestra — Roll Over Beethoven / Evil Woman / Mr. Blue Sky // Joan Baez — Swing Low, Sweet Chariot / Deportee (with Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter) / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (with Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter) // Yes — Roundabout / Owner of a Lonely Heart // Alicia Keys — Medley: Ambitionz az a Ridah/I Get Around/I Ain’t Mad at Cha/Dear Mama/Changes // Snoop Dogg & YG — 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted // Treach — Hail Mary // T.I. — Keep Ya Head Up // Journey — Separate Ways / Lights / Don’t Stop Believin’ // Lenny Kravitz — When Doves Cry / The Cross // Pearl Jam — Alive / Given to Fly / Better Man // Finale — Rockin’ in the Free World