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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame embraces the arena rock era

Once an industry-only gala, the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony has long since become an arena spectacular. The 32nd annual 2017 edition, which took place April 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and began showing in edited form Saturday night on HBO, showed the RockHall's evolved emphasis on arena rock, even during ELO's opening "Roll Over Beethoven" tribute to the late Chuck Berry.

True, Berry's 1956 hit became an ELO signature with their elaborate 1973 Top 10 U.K. cover, but their RockHall induction recreation, while spectacular (featuring two cellists, a violinist and two backup singers), also illustrated the long way the organization has come in terms of inductees since Berry, whom co-founder Jann Wenner righlty saluted as the true "founding father," was its initial inductee.

ELO was also this night's first inductee, with George Harrison's son Dhani Harrison doing the inducting.

"He and the Beatles loved ELO," said Harrison of Harrison, noting that the first time he'd ever heard his father play guitar live was "Johnny B. Goode" with ELO, and that ELO's Jeff Lynne, with whom George had played in the Traveling Wilburys, was one of George's dearest friends. Lynne also spoke of his father in his acceptance speech, noting that as a seven-year-old, he learned harmony from hearing his father sing into a sewer pipe.

Just as ELO was excellent in its post-induction performances of "Evil Woman" and "Mr. Blue Sky," so was fellow progressive/arena rock band Yes, in its playing of "Roundabout" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart." They were inducted by Rush's Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.

"And we thought we waited a long time," said Lee, a reference to Rush's 2013 RockHall induction ahead of Yes's. He noted that the 1971 The Yes Album track "Starship Trooper" had "played in my room a million times," and cited his heroes' 1970 Time and a Word album, from which he thrilled while in high school to the late Chris Squire's Rickenbacker bass play on "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed."

"The musical choices we made in our youth help determine what we become," Lee observed, and guitarist Steve Howe was funny and intense at the same time as he thanked Yes fans for their discerning taste in appreciating the band's musical complexity.

Likewise, Journey's former vocalist Steve Perry thanked that classic rock band's fans: "You are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!" he said. "You put us here."

Perry, who sounded splendid on "Lights" and "Don't Stop Believin'," was class all the way, also praising his current replacement Arnel Pineda along with his former bandmates. After reciting their names, he asked, "Are you f*cking sh*tting me? Any singer would give his ass for that sh*t!" But Journey's inductor Pat Monahan of Train, who said his lifelong dream was to induct "the heart of San Francisco music" into the hall, seemed sadly unaware of such preceding San Francisco Sound inductees as Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Santana, not to mention inductees Steve Miller and Sly and the Family Stone--and legendary bands like Moby Grape and Blue Cheer that arguably also belong.

Inducting Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg wanted to make sure his late friend was remembered as "the greatest rapper of all time." He was quite affecting, even in relating that Shakur had given him his first blunt ("I was a Zig-Zag man before!") and very good in performing "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted" with YG. Also honoring Shakur, Alicia Keys offered a medley of "Ambitionz Az A Rida," "I Get Around," "I Ain’t Mad At Cha," "Dear Mama" and "Changes." Treach did "Hail

Mary" and T.I. performed "Keep Ya Head Up."

Nile Rodgers was most emotional in his induction. After his presenter Pharrell Williams lauded him for always putting the artist first in his collaborations, Rodgers said that he tried "to make every artist believe I have their best interest at heart."

But the two inductees that stood out the most were Joan Baez and Pearl Jam.

Folk music queen Baez recognized that her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was somewhat curious, though her influence on artists like Bob Dylan, as shown in choice video footage, was certainly immense. Presenter Jackson Browne gave additional context by noting that the first record he bought with his own money—at age 14—was her second album.

Baez's voice, Browne added, was "ethereal and hypnotic" and led him to folk music, blues and Dylan. Baez said that she was determined to use that unique vocal quality in fighting inequality and injustice, and in a night that had very little to do with her and Dylan's vintage protest songs, she said, "We're the only ones who can create change. I'm ready, and I hope you are, too."

Following her induction, Baez sang, beautifully as ever, the spiritual, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," after which she was joined by Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls on her 1971 hit cover of the Band's “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Pearl Jam was the final inductee, and the only other one to express any lasting idealism.

After a very funny intro from David Letterman—inspirational, too, in his steadfast support of live music—Eddie Vedder proclaimed outright: "Climate change is real! That is not fake news!" He and the band then performed "Alive," "Given To Fly" and "Better Man," after which the rest of the inductees and performers closed the show with Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."

The night also featured a Prince tribute of "When Doves Cry" and "The Cross" by Lenny Kravitz and Hezekiah Walker & Love Fellowship Choir following the traditional memorial segment. But among those rightly included were Bobby Vee and Lonnie Mack, both of Chuck Berry's generation of early rock 'n' rollers, and both sadly otherwise forgotten by a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that has long since moved on to the post-rock 'n' roll music of this ceremony's inductees.



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