Nirvana, Cat Stevens, KISS Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, honored Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, KISS, the E Street Band and Hall & Oates. It would be an evening of “finally!”’s, of debts repaid, honor restored, tributes delivered and stories told, accompanied by worthy performances of the music that landed the honorees in the Hall in the first place.
Following some opening remarks by Rock Hall chairman Jann Wenner, mostly notable for the response of the paying audience members to the announcement of the various inductees (KISS got the first standing ovation, but the E Street Band got the loudest cheers) , Peter Asher inducted Beatles manager Brian Epstein and impresario Andrew Loog Oldham, best known for his role in propelling the early Rolling Stones to stardom.
Gabriel was the first performance of the evening, with “Digging In The Dirt” from 1992’s Us. He then left the stage as Chris Martin of Coldplay took to the podium. Martin began by saying that he didn’t know how to start his speech, and he was going to take his mother’s advice and turn to the Bible. Holding up what looked like an old book, he said he was going to the book of Genesis. The audience, finally getting the joke, audibly groaned in response. “I am Gabriel. I bring you the good news. I am going solo. Ye shall be the singer of Genesis now,” Martin said, continuing in the faux-Biblical theme for another few minutes, before relating his own discovery of Gabriel’s solo work when he picked up a cassette during a visit to Paris and was so entranced that he became lost in the city.
Gabriel’s acceptance speech would thank his family and the musicians who he had played and collaborated with. “Music should come with a health warning; it can be so dangerous; it can make you feel so connected, and can make you think the world could and should be a much better place,” he said. “And it can occasionally make you very, very happy.”
Martin would then join Gabriel for “Washing of The Water,” also from Us, and then with obvious pleasure, he introduced Senegalese musician and former collaborator Youssou N’Dour. N’Dour ran onstage with a bright smile and glittery jacket and joined Gabriel for an ethereal performance of “In Your Eyes,” bringing the audience to their feet.
KISS would be inducted by superfan and devotee Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), whose speech was rousing and heartfelt. “KISS was never a critic’s band -- KISS was a people’s band,” he said, telling tales of being ridiculed for his fandom “by the self-appointed arbiters of taste in middle schools and high schools across America.” Morello would continue by relating his own personal criteria for nomination to the Hall, “Impact, influence and awesomeness,” and saluted the KISS Army, the band’s legion of fans: “We KISS fans were right! So let’s celebrate!” Morello would conclude his speech by saying, “Tonight, isn’t the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this is the Rock And Roll All Night And Party Every Day Hall Of Fame!”
After all of the drama surrounding the band’s nomination, the acrimony in the press towards the Hall of Fame, and their refusal to perform, the acceptance speeches from the original four members -- Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss -- were genuine and sincere. Simmons had kind words to say for his band members and made sure to mention every member of KISS, past or present; Criss saluted his seven years of remission from male breast cancer while also reminding the crowd, “I’ll always be the Catman”; Frehley confessed he couldn’t read his speech because he forgot his glasses, and told of how he had been sober for seven years; and Stanley closed out the acceptance speeches by taking a swing at the Hall’s nominating process -- “The people buy tickets, the people buy albums, the people who nominate do not.” He concluded: “Here we are, inducted for the same things we were kept out for.”
Stevens would seem to be an unlikely segue, but there was Art Garfunkel, inducting the singer-songwriter with a speech that was affectionate and lyrical, quoting liberally from Stevens’ work and speaking to it with deep knowledge and respect. Stevens accepted the award with humility and good humor, gently admonishing the impatient yelps from the audience as his speech went on, thanking his family, musicians he worked with and those who influenced him: “The best pop song ever written was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.” Stevens would then take to center stage with an acoustic guitar, joined by Waddy Wachtel, for a moving performance of “Father and Son.” Paul Shaffer and the Late Show Band, assuming their traditional role as house band, joined for strong renditions of “Wild World” and “Peace Train,” the latter accompanied by a gospel choir.
Glenn Frey appeared in support of his friend and former bandmate Ronstadt, with a straightforward tribute describing her history and achievements, especially calling out her support of his musical efforts: “She, more than anyone else, helped us put together the Eagles,” referred to her 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel as “an album for all time,” and concluded by saying, “Linda lives in a place where art trumps commerce.” Health prevented her from attending, so instead she was saluted by Carrie Underwood, who performed the Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum,” Ronstadt’s first hit single. Underwood would then by joined by Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris for a performance of “Blue Bayou,” and then the trio would accompany Sheryl Crow for “You’re No Good.” Stevie Nicks arrived to lend her talents to “It’s So Easy,” and the interlude would conclude with all five vocalists joining together on “When Will I Be Loved.”
It only made sense that the bandleader would show up to induct the E Street Band. “The genesis point of the E Street Band was actually a group that Vini Lopez asked me to join to make a few extra dollars on the weekend,” Bruce Springsteen began, and would continue through an affectionate reminiscing of how he met each member of the band, before concluding, “I told a story with the E Street Band that was bigger and better than the story I could have told on my own.”
All 10 members, past and present -- and relatives of the late Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici -- would come onstage to offer their acceptance speeches. While each speech was meaningful and heartfelt, some were very long -- the screen in the back flashed "PLEASE WRAP IT UP" more than once -- and as a result it was close to 50 minutes before the band actually made it to their instruments. Original keyboardist David Sancious took Federici’s place, and original drummer Lopez would sit alongside Max Weinberg (prompting Springsteen to later comment, “The Allman Brothers do it…”) for large, loud performances of “E Street Shuffle,” “The River” and an expansive version of the almost jazz-rock exploration “Kitty’s Back,” the latter featuring solos from both keyboardists and all three guitar players.
Ahmir “Questlove” Jenkins from the Roots represented Philadephia soul with his induction of Hall & Oates: “Hall & Oates will cure any known illness...I’m going to list all duos more popular than Hall & Oates..okay, I’m done. Zero,” before exhorting, “Join me in making the Hall of Fame the Hall & Oates of Fame.” The inductees took to the podium with wry humor and more than a few digs at the E Street Band’s lengthy process, commenting “You’re lucky there’s only two of us.” Daryl Hall noted, “Do you know we’re the only homegrown Philadelphia band that's in the Hall of Fame? I don't say that because I'm proud, but because it's fucked up," before running down a list of candidates.
The duo took the stage and launched into the intro for “She’s Gone,” only for very audible feedback to ruin the introduction and cause Hall to stop the band and restart, asking, “I don't have any monitors. Did Bruce blow them all out?" But the sound problems soon resolved themselves and the two delivered solid performances of “She’s Gone, “I Can’t Go For That” and “You Make My Dreams Come True,” which had the audience dancing all over the Barclays Center and took you back in your memory books to those songs and those summers.
“I’m Michael Stipe; I’m here to induct Nirvana,” the former R.E.M. frontman announced. Stipe would go on to speak about the work of an artist, before stating, “I’m using 'artist' and not 'musician' because Nirvana were artists in every sense of the word...Nirvana captured lightning in a bottle.” Stipe spoke of the political climate that was present in the band’s heyday, and that “they spoke truth, and a lot of people listened.” He would later add, “That voice, that voice. Kurt, we miss you. I miss you.”
Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, joined by relatives of Kurt Cobain and widow Courtney Love, came to the podium to accept the award. Grohl immediately began his speech by thanking every drummer that preceded him: “What most of you don’t know was that I was the fifth drummer of Nirvana. I got to be the luckiest person in the world!” he said, before name-checking each musician and offering them specific tribute. Novoselic would begin by thanking Nirvana fans: “Nirvana fans come up to me every day and say, 'thank you for the music,' and when I hear that, that reminds me of Kurt Cobain, so I want to say, thank you Kurt Cobain, and I wish he was here tonight.”
Nirvana second guitarist Pat Smear would join Novoselic on bass and Grohl on drums along with a selection of guest vocalists. Joan Jett would help blast the roof off the joint with a crackling “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that felt every bit as vital as it did the first time you heard it; Kim Gordon would join the trio for a delightfully noisy “Aneurysm” and St. Vincent would reign on “Lithium.” For the finale, Gordon would take the bass and Novoselic would switch to accordion, as Lorde emerged from the wings in a pink pantsuit, with the other guests on guitar as well, backing for an echoey, almost gothic version of “All Apologies.”
The evening would end with an anonymous announcement that the evening was over as Nirvana and their guests were still filing off the stage and the echoes of the last song were still in the air. It was an otherwise unceremonious end to a memorable event that paid real tribute and appropriately saluted each inductee with music, performance and history.