April 21, 2013

Rush Hour

28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles
April 18, 2013

"RUUUUUUUSH!!!!" yelled an inebriated heckler from the balcony of the Nokia Theatre during Harry Belafonte's thoughtful, whisper-quiet induction comments for Public Enemy. Ugh. As if there were any question which artist in this year's Hall of Fame induction class attracted the most fanaticism and the most faithful to the Nokia Theatre. The Toronto band's long-overdue induction likely provided some relief, too, to the relatively non-transparent Hall of Fame organization; by finally inducting this pesky Canadian trio, the years of exhausting, squeaky-wheel complaining by the Rush army could finally cease. All this tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth, clearly, was on the part of the fans, and not the band, but even jaded musicians seem to eventually grasp the significance of the honor being bestowed on them come induction night. Perhaps revered Rush drummer Neil Peart summed this up best in his acceptance speech: "We've been saying for a long time, for years, that this isn't a big deal. Turns out it kind of is."

Rush's deserving induction was a watershed event, to be certain, it's just regrettable that some of their supporters used the occasion as an excuse to double-fist 24-oz beers repeatedly, get drunk, act out, and treat what in essence should be a relatively classy event into something of an animal house. This is one unintended side effect of the Rock Hall's otherwise laudable decision to make their ceremonies more accessible and open to the public: boorish concert behavior. There is definitely a friction between the decorum of an industry event (imagine the Oscars being open to the public?) and the anything-goes atmosphere of a beer-swilling, fist-pumping rock show many of these dudes obviously expected, vs. the nearly 5-hour proceeding that transpired, and which was also about other artists that were not Rush (horrors!).

Disrespectful loudmouths who evidently fail to grasp the intelligence and grace of Peart's lyrics aside, this year's induction class for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was exceptional in its curation and diversity. From prolific producers Lou Adler and Quincy Jones, to powerful rockers Heart and Rush, to the late disco diva Donna Summer, to blues giant Albert King, to polar-opposite genre rebels Randy Newman and Public Enemy, this was a truly vintage collection.

As is the norm for this annual event, which was being held in Los Angeles for the first time in 20 years, the living inductees invested themselves fully onstage, and in some cases, collaborated memorably with peers and/or those they influenced. Randy Newman belted out a punchy version of "I Love L.A." with the estimable assistance of Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and John Fogerty, each of whom took a verse. Public Enemy's Chuck D and Flavor Flav were joined by original DJ Terminator X as well as Professor Griff (not to mention their stone-faced, camouflaged security detail The S1W) for booming, confrontational takes on "Bring the Noise," "911 is a Joke," and "Fight the Power," the latter prominently featured in induction speaker Spike Lee's classic film Do The Right Thing.

Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson played "Crazy on You" with their original 70s lineup (some ex-boyfriends of the Wilson sisters in that mix, so props to them for putting differences aside for the sake of the event), then performed "Dreamboat Annie" as a duo before closing with a knockout, heavy-riffing version of "Barracuda" assisted by their reverential induction speaker Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) and fellow Seattle guitarists Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) and Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains). Rush inducters/Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins donned white kimonos and wigs to humorously imitate Rush's questionable past fashion choices as they cranked out the instrumental "2112 Overture," which closed with the original trio falling in behind them. Apparently no one is allowed to breach the sacred musical partnership of Geddy Lee, Peart, and Alex Lifeson, so the holy trinity offered up their representative tunes "Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit of Radio" in their normal power trio configuration.

On the posthumous side, disco queen Summer, an undeniably controversial choice for the Hall given her perceived lack of "rock n' roll" credibility, was inducted with sharp wit and reverence by Kelly Rowland (Destiny's Child), and by the time Summer's husband made a gracious, heartfelt speech flanked by his and Summer's daughters, the choice felt justified (hey, Madonna's in, right?). On an equally image-bolstering note, John Mayer's well-observed oratory on King, enhanced by notes he played on an amplified electric guitar to demonstrate the inductee's style, came off better than expected. Austin blues hotshot Gary Clark, Jr. did the musical honors for King, bending strings on "Oh Pretty Woman (Can't Make You Love Me)" and, with Mayer, "Born Under a Bad Sign."

Then there were the producer honorees, Lou Adler (hilariously inducted in a bit by old business partners Cheech and Chong) and Quincy Jones (inducted by none other than surprise speaker Oprah Winfrey, whose connection with Jones was that he cast her to star in the movie "A Color Purple"). "You just have the most generous soul of anybody I know," beamed Winfrey of the 27-time Grammy winner. Jones' soul isn't only generous; his gift of gab was also immense, as he spoke, rambled, and expounded on his undeniably profound experiences in the music business for a whopping 16 minutes, exhausting the patience of nearly everyone in the room. But hey, the man did produce Thriller, so all is forgiven.

The traditional, night-ending all-star jam, this time on Cream's "Crossroads," must have looked like a cacophonous trainwreck on paper, but it actually sped down the track and took its place as one of the best ever. Rush, Heart, Grohl, Hawkins, Chris Cornell, Fogerty, and even Chuck D and Run-D.M.C.'s Darryl McDaniels (rapping "The blues gave birth to rock and roll!") collectively summoned the power and the glory, and were accented by Tom Morello's signature record-scratching guitar dynamics, which triumphantly fused the worlds of rock and rap together. It was almost midnight, and several new stars had been installed in the constellation of rock and roll. Yes, even RUUUUUUUSH.