One of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s signature events, the Music Masters program offers a week of intensive scrutiny of an inductee before concluding with a gala concert. In the past, the concert has offered a mix of commentary and music and provided a chronology of the artist’s career. This year, the Rock Hall changed the format to put more emphasis on the music; results at last night’s concert — a tribute to the Rolling Stones — at the State Theatre were mixed.
The program began with an introduction by President and CEO Greg Harris, a self-proclaimed “Stones guy,” who, after thanking all the sponsors and holding up his battered vinyl copy of Exile on Main Street, talked about the new format for the program and said he would step out of the way to let the “songs tells the story.”
After a brief montage of vintage footage from early Stones’ performances, the concert commenced with guitarist Earl Slick and singer Bernard Fowler launching into a rousing performance of “Brown Sugar.” Anchored by rock solid drummer Steve Jordan, who also served as musical director, the terrific house band featured many musicians who had toured or recorded with Stones throughout the years. Guitarist Nils Lofgren took center stage for a moody rendition of “Play with Fire” and Patterson Hood, a founding member of Drive-by Truckers, sang lead on “Wild Horses” and “Tumbling Dice” before Sarah Dash wailed away on a soulful rendition of “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).”
It was a good 45 minutes before the narrative picked up again and offered up analysis of how the Stones experimented with many different styles of music; insights about how they “never lost their faith in rock ’n’ roll” didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know. Another long set of music followed during which Fowler sang a soulful rendition of “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll,” and he then teamed up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who was clearly enthused and beckoned the audience to its feet. Harmonica player/singer Sugar Blue tackled Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” which he said was the Stones first big hit in the States.
Looking dapper in a bright purple suit and shades, singer Lee Fields sounded sharp on “It’s All Over Now” and Soul Asylum frontman held his own on a twangy version of “Dead Flowers.” A final narrative segment followed; it focused on the Stones’ exploits and concluded that they were “the bad boys of rock ’n’ roll.” Again, not much of a revelation there.
Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson, two members of the garage rock act the Flamin’ Groovies turned up the volume as they delivered rocking renditions of “Paint it Black.” For the finale, Merry Clayton, who sang backing vocals on the studio version of “Gimme Shelter,” handled lead vocals on the tune as Lofgren capably delivered the lead guitar parts. It was one of the show's highlights.
The concert was thrilling, and the near-capacity crowd was often on its feet, but the new format simply didn’t deliver on its promise to tell the story of the Stones, one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll bands in the world.