LOS ANGELES — The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame returned to its wild, unpredictable roots with an unforgettable induction ceremony at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live that stretched deep into Friday morning.
Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav offered a long and winding stream-of-consciousness acceptance speech, all under the watchful eye of Chuck D. who even tapped on Flav’s trademark clock around his neck to try to get him to wrap it up. Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson delivered his entire speech by repeating the word “blah” for several minutes while miming his thought process. And Oprah Winfrey, there to induct her friend Quincy Jones, threw her hands in the air and waved ‘em like she just don’t care during Public Enemy’s set.
The 26th annual ceremony officially inducted Roosevelt’s Public Enemy, progressive rockers Rush, blues guitar wizard Albert King, disco queen Donna Summer, hard rockers Heart, singer-songwriter Randy Newman, producer Quincy Jones and manager Lou Adler into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
However, the night, which will be broadcast May 18 on HBO, was far more raucous than that — from Don Henley calling Newman’s induction “shamefully overdue” to Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins egging on the crowd, overwhelmingly filled with fans of Rush, by yelling the names of the band’s albums in chronological order with growing intensity.
Chuck D. said that from his unique vantage point on the stage, he could see the crowd’s bewildered reaction to Flavor Flav’s speech, which bounced from promises to retire his clock necklace to explaining how Public Enemy was instrumental in getting the state of Arizona to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.
“I was looking at 10,000 folks — a large percentage of them, wealthy white folk — looking astonished,” Chuck D. said backstage. “I had to just think of the producers at HBO, the producers of the show just saying, ‘What the -- ! We’ve never had anything like this before.”
While Public Enemy received the rare honor of being induced into the Rock Hall in its first year of eligibility, the group, which Henley called “this peculiar, perplexing organization,” had Rush wait 14 years and Newman more than two decades. Newman and Henley teamed up to sing “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)” as a commentary on the wait, which Newman has borne graciously.
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Rush drummer Neil Peart drew a huge ovation for his acceptance speech. “We’ve been saying for a long time this isn't a big deal,” he said. “Turns out, it kind of is.”
Usher provided a standout tribute to Quincy Jones by recreating Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” video. Jennifer Hudson delivered potent versions of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and “Last Dance,” which she sang, at times, to Flavor Flav. To cap the evening of surprises, members of Public Enemy, Rush, and Heart joined John Fogerty, Dave Grohl, Gary Clark Jr., Tom Morello, and DMC for a thunderous version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.”
After all, as Chuck D. said in his acceptance speech, “"We all come from the damn blues. Let's not get it twisted.”
SETLIST: Randy Newman — I Love L.A. (with Tom Petty, John Fogerty and Jackson Browne) / I Think It’s Going to Rain Today / I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It) (with Don Henley)// Carole King (for Lou Adler) — So Far Away // Gary Clark Jr. (for Albert King) — Oh Pretty Woman / Born Under a Bad Sign (with John Mayer and Booker T. Jones) // Jennifer Hudson (for Donna Summer) — Bad Girls / Last Dance // Usher (for Quincy Jones) — Rock With You // Public Enemy — Bring the Noise / [Freestyle featuring music from the other inductees] / Fight the Power // Heart — Crazy on You / Dreamboat Annie / Barracuda (with Chris Cornell and Jerry Cantrell) // Rush — 2112 (with Foo Fighters) / Tom Sawyer / Spirit of Radio // FINALE: Crossroads