Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Night 1

Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Benefit
29 October, 2009
Madison Square Garden
Featuring: Crosby Stills and Nash, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

I am not particularly monogamous when it comes to rock and roll loves. I like a lot of things, I am diverse, I have varied tastes. I can debate you favorite Chuck Berry songs (“Nadine”) as hard as I can debate you favorite Ramones songs (“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”). I am not someone who walked into last night’s show planning to file my nails or watch the ballgame until Springsteen walked onstage. I might not have loved everyone in the lineup but I fully planned to participate with intention.

Jerry Lee Lewis was the surprise opening act. It will not surprise you when I say that he did not look well. But the crowd sprung to their feet and sent out a wave of love, and he got through “Whole Lotta Shakin'” before being carefully helped off the stage. (If you want to see him and have not, try to make that happen soon.)

All I could think during the Crosby, Stills and Nash segment was: this is why punk rock happened.

It wasn’t that they were boring, per se; I get that they aren’t a rock band, you know? I owned the Woodstock record, I owned Deja Vu. But maybe rocking out just a little more would have made the performance more compelling. Even bringing out Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne didn’t spice things up. People near me were literally falling asleep; but I also saw people up and dancing. I wondered how much of the latter was based on “I paid $450 for this ticket so I am going to have a GREAT time by any means necessary” or if I was just missing something.

I get it: they are aging. I get it. And, maybe I will never like CSN. The performance just seemed full of unnecessary arrogance and grandiosity. Oversinging, overplaying – you guys are in the rock and roll hall of fame. Just do what you do. Maybe that is what they do and maybe it is just that it is not my cup of tea. (Postcards only, please, usual address.)

However, based on my reaction to Simon & Garfunkel, I have to think that CSN just weren’t good. S&G *were* good. They were very, very strong and gave a very good performance. Again, not a band I hate, but not something I would choose to listen to; I’m pretty sure I don’t own a record of theirs. But they were powerful and compelling and the chatty, noisy Garden simmered down for “Sound of Silence,” believe it or not. It helped that their voices are still in great shape. Paul Simon’s solo set, which preceded, was not nearly as interesting as the full S&G set, I’m sorry to say. Highlights of Paul’s set were his lovely cover of “Here Comes The Sun” (the right person to invoke the Beatles, in my opinion), Dion’s spot singing “The Wanderer,” which woke the crowd up; and Little Anthony and the Imperials, who were awesome. The guest acts worked well within the set; they were contextual to the artists; they made sense. Paul Simon had a blast singing doo-wop backup for Dion.

I love Stevie Wonder. I was super-excited to see Stevie Wonder. However, I am sad to say that Stevie did not have it last night. He was severely constrained by major technical difficulties at the start of his set, which unfortunately continued into his set, and I think this really threw him off. He did his best to just ignore them and power through, but I am not even sure he could hear himself accurately. When he wandered off into having the crowd sing “We love Michael Jackson” and “Long live Michael Jackson” repeatedly, it just started to get sad. I also have to say that I hate medleys. I wanted to hear “Uptight” in its entirety. I wanted to hear “Higher Ground” without veering off into “Roxanne” in the middle of it. Stevie was up there with three percussionists, four backup singers, and a full horn section – I was joking that they had more equipment than Metallica will Friday night – and it just seemed wasted. I felt that the special guests – John Legend, Sting, Jeff Beck – didn’t add to the performance and just seemed distracting. Even Smokey Robinson seemed jarring.

Each act was preceded by a video montage placing them in context, which were all well done and useful for someone who needed help with the history. Not useful were the enormous, bland graphics imposed onstage during certain songs (rain on a windowpane for Tracks of My Tears, moonrise over mountains for Midnight Rider, Marvin Gaye for Mercy, Mercy Me).

The Springsteen portion of the set will be covered in a separate piece.