This year’s edition of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum’s annual gala fundraiser, It’s Only Rock and Roll, offered the strongest, most cohesive lineup of performers yet, along with the usual food, drink, auction prizes and schmoozing. While it’s always a fun party, the entertainment has usually been a grab bag of has-beens and never-weres, marginal artists mixed with influential musicians, and disparate genres jostling side by side.
Not so this year. The 3,000 attendees at Public hall Saturday night were treated to a lineup that included three Rock Hall inductees. The focus was on women, in keeping with the Rock Hall’s brand-new exhibit “Women Who Rock” which also opened this weekend. And the women spotlighted were all stellar performers. Kicking off the show ’50s rockabilly queen (and 2009 Rock Hall inductee) Wanda Jackson was resplendent in hot pink fringe. She showed that at age 73, she can still purr and growl credibly, shaking that fringe hard on “Shakin’ All Over.”
She was followed by Curt Smith of ’80s Tears for Fears, one of show’s two token men. He performed three of the band’s four chart-topping hits, pleasant throwaways like “Everybody wants to Rule the World” and “Shout” and the truly forgettable “Sowing the Seeds of Love.”
Mainstream audiences might be less familiar with R&B singer Chuck Jackson, the bill’s other token man, since his biggest hits “Any Day Now” and “I Don’t Want to Cry” never cracked the top 30 in the early ’60s. But his renditions of those tunes showed the powerhouse voice that made them R&B chart hits.
The first half of the show closed with Mavis Staples of Chicago’s Staples Singers, who were inducted into the Rock Hall in 1999. Cyndi Lauper, who headlined the show’s second half, shimmied out to join Staples on “The Weight,” and Darlene Love, who also appeared later in the evening, grabbed a mic and sang backup as Staples showed off the range of her gospel-influenced pipes.
After a break for the live auction, 2011 inductee Darlene Love delivered straightforward versions of “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel,” inserting pointed remarks about how she, like many performers in her early ’60s era, got ripped off while serving as the voice of many of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” hits.
Another survivor of the Spector machine, Ronnie Spector, made a surprise appearance to introduce headliner Cyndi Lauper. After Lauper performed a couple of her hits and a blues song (devoting too much time to lectures about the blues and the importance of women to rock and roll), Spector, Love and Staples joined Lauper on stage for a celebratory, over-the-top version of Lauper’s signature hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Lauper wound down the evening with an introspective acoustic version of “True Colors,” sending the partygoers out into the damp evening in a chilled-out mood. — Anastasia Pantsios
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