Ooooh plus “Iron Man”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Celebration
Madison Square Garden
Friday, October 30
“When we were down, rock ‘n’ roll lifted us up,” says Tom Hanks in his introductory remarks for the final night of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s benefit-concert extravaganza at Madison Square Garden. “Rock ‘n’ roll music was American,” he later adds. “And it changed the world.” Despite his use of the past tense, tonight is anything but a eulogy: Friday’s slate features a wider palate of curators than the previous night, this time including Aretha Franklin, Jeff Beck, Metallica, and U2. The headliners’ guests, a pop-music dream-team ranging from Ray Davies to Ozzy Osbourne to the Black Eyed Peas, also do a better job than last night’s cavalcade of explaining how far rock has come.
This is mostly due to some unusual pairings. When Lou Reed joins Metallica on the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” it sounds like a missing link in hard rock’s evolution: Metal-god guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett bash out Reed’s three-chord riffs with reckless abandon as the onetime Warhol cohort speak-sings the verses. The musicians then top themselves with “White Light/White Heat,” now transformed into a headbangable thrash song. Why didn’t John Cale think of this 40 years ago? Reed (gasp!) hugs his new, temporary bandmates when it’s over.
As far as unexpected pairings go, the night’s pinnacle comes when, after the Peas join U2 to recreate their 2003 hit “Where Is the Love?”, the stage fills with smoke, the Edge plays some murky chords, and Fergie offers an eerie “Oooohhh,” which all quickly congeals into the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” and out prances surprise guest Mick Jagger, who still uses Tina Turner’s ’60s moves. Even some of the jaded journalists in the press room watching it all unravel on TV sound impressed. Thanks to some orchestral strings, the song becomes something grander than the Stones’ original: Not bigger than the Altamont version, but something deeper and, oddly, more hopeful.
Earlier in the evening, Aretha Franklin chats with the press and cites will.i.am as one of her favorite younger artists, placing him alongside Fantasia Barrino and Musiq Soulchild as her hopes for music’s future. For her, though, the evening is a tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records co-founder who signed her in 1966 and would later become the chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He died in 2006 after injuring his head at a Rolling Stones concert. “He was such a great man,” Franklin says. “Everybody loved Ahmet.”
Guitar hero Jeff Beck also saw the event as a chance to pay tribute to someone who inspired him: Buddy Guy. Both Beck and Guy were scheduled as guests of Eric Clapton (whom Beck replaced in the Yardbirds 40 years ago), but when Slowhand needed emergency gall-bladder surgery, Beck filled in here, too. (“Thanks again, Eric, for letting me in,” he jokes to the press.) Beck and Guy play an inspired version of Willie Dixon’s “Let Me Love You”; when asked by the press what he took most from Guy as a guitarist, Beck replies, “His showmanship back then. I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought I was in a folk club, where you might get a guitar strumming. He came on. It was like the first time you saw Jimi Hendrix. He was doing more tricks with the guitar than Jimi ever did. He would play one-handed, walking into the audience–he would play behind his head, behind his back. I’d never seen anything like it . . . I was thrilled that he was there today.”
As with the previous night, each artist expresses how honored they are to play with their heroes and peers; even Bono shows humility when he introduces Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith as surprise guests to perform their hit “Because the Night” (he wrote it, she sang it). “This is the song we wished we’d written,” the U2 frontman admits, before they delve into a gritty, no-holds-barred take, complete with a searing guitar solo from the Boss. They play it so raw, in fact, that they have to do it all again to make it perfect for the inevitable DVD release. Somehow Springsteen plays an even better solo the second time.
The concert ends with less of a bang than the previous evening: At 11:45, U2 ring out the final chords of their 2000 hit “Beautiful Day” by themselves. It’s a far cry from the Boss’s multi-star, 1:30 a.m. farewell blowout. Nonetheless, the song-title-as-metaphor is anything but subtle. Both nights have proven that regardless of what the charts or Tom Hanks’ grammar reflect, Danny and the Juniors were right in 1958: Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay.
HBO will air a four-hour digest of both nights on November 29.