WHAT IT’S ABOUT The annual chronicling of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees was unexpectedly controversial this year. Honorees Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller and N.W.A. all had some sort of onstage or offstage issue to deal with at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn earlier this month. But because the HBO specials only focus on what happened onstage, the 2 1⁄2-hour show doesn’t really show what all the fusses were about. Luckily, that included Kendrick Lamar’s powerful induction of N.W.A. and the hip-hop group’s passionate explanation of what they have in common with previous Rock Hall inductees, no matter what Kiss’ Gene Simmons may say. “Are we rock and roll?” Ice Cube asked in his acceptance speech. “Rock and roll is not an instrument. Rock and roll is not even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit. . . . And what connects us all is that spirit.”
MY SAY The HBO special actually ends with a tribute to the late Prince, who died after the event was filmed. Producers show a bit of his acceptance speech in 2004, when he was inducted with George Harrison, Traffic and others. They also show a bit of Prince’s solo during an all-star jam on Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that encapsulates not just Prince’s musical magic, but also the magic that Rock Hall inductions sometimes conjure.
That just didn’t happen this year.
No offense to any of the inductees, who all certainly belong in the Rock Hall but, N.W.A. aside, there was a distinct lack of star power this year, made even more noticeable when the group opted not to perform. And as many, including inductee Steve Miller, have been quick to point out, there was also a problem with a group of men inducting an all-male slate of artists. (Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter did pay tribute to the late Glenn Frey with a lovely version of “New Kid in Town.”)
The mix of inductees this year was a bit lacking, especially considering other finalists this year were Janet Jackson, Chic, Chaka Khan, The Smiths, The Cars, The J.B.’s, The Spinners, Los Lobos, Nine Inch Nails and Yes.
With so many veteran bands on this year’s list, there were bound to be squabbles, which ended in high-profile no-shows this year from Chicago singer Peter Cetera and Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who lives in Port Jefferson.
“Bands are strange creatures,” Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice said in his acceptance speech. “They have a real soul and a life of their own. . . . You can work together, and you can create wonderful things, and then you find that you can’t deal with each other.”
Cheap Trick, who managed to play a great set together despite their differences, even included singer Robin Zander throwing a bit of shade about lawsuits during his acceptance speech that HBO producers cut out. (Miller saved his anti-Rock Hall rant for the press room after his induction.)
Luckily for the Rock Hall, this year’s ceremony can quickly be forgotten once they start planning for some magic next year.
BOTTOM LINE An all-star night that lacked enough sparks.