Every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony has its special moments. But last night’s inductions, which took place at Public Hall, seemed particularly special. Maybe it was because they brought together the two living Beatles (Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney). Maybe it was because they ushered reclusive singer Bill Withers out of virtual retirement. Maybe it was because Joan Jett, the Toughest Chick in the Universe, shed a tear at the podium. Maybe it was because pop singer Miley Cyrus didn’t say or do anything too stupid. Maybe it was because Ringo Starr played with Green Day. I could go on and on.
But maybe it was simply because the inductions are always special when they’re in Cleveland where fans react to rock n’ roll with an incredible fervor. Featuring a slew of electrifying performances, the Inductions, which started at 7:30 p.m. and didn’t wrap until 1 a.m., were truly epic and brought together the wildest mix of musicians for one big celebration.
The evening started with a bang as Joan Jett & the Blackhearts launched into “Bad Reputation.” Jett’s raspy vocals sounded better than ever and she got a little help from her friends as Foo Fighter Dave Grohl came out to help her sing the stuttering, frenetic “Cherry Bomb” and then Tommy James added some spirited vocals to “Crimson and Clover.” Miley Cyrus, who would stick around to induct Jett, also provided backing vocals on the track. Despite dropping a few expletives in her speech, Cyrus was on good behavior. She spoke eloquently about her friendship with Jett, whom she considered to be a mentor and one serious “badass.” Jett and all the Blackhearts had their chance to speak as well. Jett went out of her way to thank just about any band (we thought she even mentioned Fugazi and Dischord Records) that had anything remotely to do with her career or showed any kind of independent thinking. Jett, who comes off as someone who’s tough as nails, had to hold back tears as she spoke and admitted to feeling “overwhelmed.”
And all that was just in the first hour.
From that point on, the highlights came in a flurry. The Zac Brown Band and guest guitarist Tom Morello tore it up as they played “Born in Chicago” prior to the induction of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Singer-guitarist John Mayer was extremely articulate as he inducted the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom he described as someone who was “as other-worldly as Hendrix.” His performance with the guys from Vaughan’s backing band, Double Trouble, who were inducted alongside Vaughan, was mesmerizing as his stirring guitar solos really captured Vaughan’s distinctive style of playing. Guitar slingers Gary Clark Jr. and Doyle Bramhall II joined the festivities as the band crushed the classic Vaughan track “Pride and Joy.”
The members of the pop-punk band Fall Out Boy then inducted Green Day, comparing the band to Queen and the Who. Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong appeared genuinely touched as he concluded his long list of thank yous by saying he would “always love rock ’n’ roll.” The band then cranke up its amps as it played three of its biggest hits — “American Idiot,” “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case” — while encouraging fans to scream.
Singer Patti Smith offered a poignant tribute to the late Lou Reed, inflecting her induction speech with references to Reed lyrics. She handed things over to Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson, who was equally eloquent in her speech about Reed, whom she said died in her arms.” The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Karen O delivered “Vicious” with real grace and Beck brought out the tenderness of “Satellite of Love” with a stirring performance.
Stevie Wonder arrived on stage to rapturous applause but told fans, “This is not about me. This is about a great man who has written some great songs.” The garrulous Withers recounted his career in his speech, concluding, “Stevie Wonder knows my name and the brother just put me in the Hall of Fame.” Wonder and Legend teamed up on the classic Withers track, “Lean on Me.” In another great Induction moment, Legend gently led Withers out of the shadows and handed him a microphone, so he could sing along.
Paul McCartney received a hero’s welcome as he arrived on stage to induct former bandmate Ringo Starr. He said he remembered the exact moment when Starr joined the Beatles and nailed a cover of a Ray Charles tune that the band was playing. He said that Starr was the kind of drummer who played so perfectly, you never had to look back to make sure he was playing the song right. Starr endeared himself to the crowd by talking about how great it was that he was being inducted in Cleveland. He went on to reminisce about listening to Alan Freed’s radio program while growing up.
Starr and Green Day teamed up for a cover of the Shirelles’ “Boys” and McCartney joined him for “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a song which featured a jam with the evening’s star-studded cast of musicians. The blowout continued with “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Even if the singing and playing wasn’t always in sync (having 20 to 30 musicians on stage can do that), the jubilance and energy came across just fine.