Monday, November 30, 2009

'Hail Hail, Rock And Roll..'

I've been speechless for a while now, to be honest. And with good reason. I've been working on a couple of things that have taken some time and I wanted to re-vamp this blog a little (partly since it's clearly no longer "summer") and the broadcast last night on HBO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary party is a pretty good way of getting back in the groove.

Everyone who played over both shows were icons of the modern music world, and the short films that knitted the performances together were just perfectly pitched. It was like watching your personal soundtrack unfold, with a reminder of how your own musical life is unbreakably connected to everything that came before.

Many of the acts I'd seen in concert previously, but just having them all under one roof was staggering. Seeing Simon and Garfunkel was very cool indeed and Paul's band - we'd seen them last year at the BAM anthology series he did - are brilliant musicians.

But the highlight of the first night was, surprise surprise, Bruce and the band, with their guests. A great, rockin' set - maybe even the best "Jungleland" I've ever heard, and an amazing "Tom Joad" and "London Calling" with Tom Morello, as well a great cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" with John Fogerty. Bruce and Fogerty had played together on the Vote For Change tour in 2004 and again they did a high-energy version of "Fortunate Son" rather than one of my favorite CCR songs, which Bruce used to play live, "Who'll Stop The Rain?"

After hooking up with Billy Joel for a "Bridge and Tunnel summit", the E Street Band finished the set with a joyous "Higher and Higher", with pretty much everyone back on stage, as well as J Geils frontman Peter Wolf who climbed over the guardrail with Jackson Browne at the urging of Steve Van Zandt. Bruce must have liked how the song turned out too, since he started including it in his encores when his own tour resumed.

We originally just had tickets for the first night, but ended up going along for the second night too, thanks to the generosity of our friends. Tom Hanks gave the same opening speech from the other side of the stage, presumably for cut purposes, and the impressive intro film was the same. After Aretha Franklin introduced all twenty-odd members of her group, many of whom seemed to be related to her, the second night got distinctly bluesy.

Eric Clapton had dropped out with illness and Jeff Beck took his place. He was effortlessly brilliant, but it was his young bass player Tal Wilkinfeld, a striking 23-year-old Australian, who stole the show. There was a moment where Beck motioned to her for a solo; she ripped one off then turned away with a huge, genuine grin. It was perfect.

Then, the unexpected highlight of the night. "We're Metallica and this is what we do..." with guest spots from Lou Reed, for a brilliant "Sweet Jane", Ozzy Osborne, who greeted the crowd with "Come on you fuckers..!" and an energetic and ageless Ray Davies of The Kinks.

But I have to say that Metallica blew me away. These guys can play.

After a couple of songs by U2, Bruce and Patti Smith came out for a somewhat embarrassing "Because The Night", then, after rocking the house into the wee hours the previous evening, Bruce stayed onstage with U2 to play "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".

U2 launched into the opening of "Gimme Shelter" and Mick Jagger strode onto the stage looking thirty - no, maybe thirty-five - years younger than whatever age he actually is these days. Fergie from the BlackEyed Peas did her best with the Merry Clayton lines that originally made this one of the best songs in the Stones' catalog. Tonight, though, despite Mick, it was a bit pedestrian and the addition of a string quartet didn't help.

After that, Bono and Mick dueted on "Caught In A Moment" but somehow it seemed devoid of any real electricity - maybe an odd thing to say considering the volume of both charisma and ego onstage, but then U2 did "Beautiful Day" and it was all over. No singalong, no communal feelgood like last night.

Sure, there were some moments that jarred - the technical problems as Stevie Wonder and U2 began their sets, or Patti Smith screwing up her own song (the upside was they played it again and it was even more powerful) and also seeing the lyrics for the next song being cued up on the TelePrompTer somewhat diminished the element of surprise.

In all honesty, not having Dylan, or Paul McCartney, or The Who did leave a hole in the encyclopedic nature of the bill, but that's a churlish criticism. Everyone has their favorites. I'm sure there were some folks who were hoping Elton John would show up.

For me personally, though, probably the only missing Hall of Famer who could have made the night even better than perfect was Tom Petty.

The challenge for HBO was always going to be in the editing. They had a four-hour show. The first night alone was in excess of six hours and I guess they wanted to get in as many of the "special guests" as they could. But whatever they came up with would be a great reminder of something very special indeed.

Here's the first night's setlist, via Jon Pareles at the New York Times

Jerry Lee Lewis :
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”

Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“Marrakech Express”
“Almost Cut My Hair”

Bonnie Raitt with David Crosby and Graham Nash:
“Love Has No Pride”

Bonnie Raitt and Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“Midnight Rider”

Jackson Browne with Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“The Pretender”

James Taylor with David Crosby and Graham Nash:

Crosby, Stills and Nash with James Taylor:
“Love the One You’re With”

Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“Rock and Roll Woman”

Crosby, Stills and Nash with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and James Taylor:
“Teach Your Children”

Paul Simon:
“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”
“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
“You Can Call Me Al”

Dion DiMucci with Paul Simon:
“The Wanderer”

Paul Simon with David Crosby and Graham Nash:
“Here Comes the Sun”

Paul Simon:
“Late in the Evening”

Little Anthony and the Imperials:
“Two People in the World”

Simon and Garfunkel: “The Sounds of Silence”
“Mrs. Robinson”/”Not Fade Away”
“The Boxer”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Stevie Wonder: “Blowin’ in the Wind”
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”
“I Was Made To Love You”
“For Once in My Life”
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”
“Boogie On Reggae Woman”

Smokey Robinson with Stevie Wonder:
“The Tracks of My Tears”

John Legend with Stevie Wonder:
“Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)”

Stevie Wonder with John Legend:
“The Way You Make Me Feel”

B.B. King with Stevie Wonder:
“The Thrill Is Gone”

Stevie Wonder:
“Living for the City”

Stevie Wonder and Sting:
“Higher Ground”/”Roxanne”

Stevie Wonder with Jeff Beck:

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“10th Avenue Freeze-Out”

Sam Moore with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“Hold On I’m Comin’”
“Soul Man”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Tom Morello:
“The Ghost of Tom Joad”

John Fogerty and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“Fortunate Son”
“Proud Mary”
“Oh. Pretty Woman”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:

Darlene Love with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“A Fine, Fine Boy”
“Da Doo Ron Ron”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Tom Morello:
“London Calling”

Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“You May Be Right”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“New York State of Mind”
“Born To Run”

Darlene Love, John Fogerty, Tom Morello, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Peter Wolf and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”

And here's the second night:

Jerry Lee Lewis:
“Great Balls of Fire”

Aretha Franklin:
“Baby, I Love You”
“Don’t Play That Song”
“Make Them Hear You”

Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox:
“Chain of Fools”

Aretha Franklin:
“New York, New York”

Aretha Franklin and Lenny Kravitz:

Aretha Franklin:

Jeff Beck:
“Drown in My Own Tears”

Jeff Beck and Sting:
“People Get Ready”

Jeff Beck:
“Freeway Boogie”
“Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”

Buddy Guy with Jeff Beck:
“Let Me Love You”

Jeff Beck:
“Big Block”
“Rice Pudding”

Billy Gibbons and Jeff Beck:
“Rough Boy”

Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons:
“Foxy Lady”

Jeff Beck:
“A Day in the Life”

“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Turn the Page”

Metallica and Lou Reed:
“Sweet Jane”
“White Light/ White Heat”

Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne:
“Iron Man”

Metallica and Ray Davies:
“You Really Got Me”
“All Day and All of the Night”

“Stone Cold Crazy”
“Enter Sandman”


U2, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith with Roy Bittan:
“Because the Night”

U2 and Bruce Springsteen with Roy Bittan:
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

U2 and Black Eyed Peas:
“Mysterious Ways”/”Where Is the Love”/”One”

U2, Mick Jagger, Fergie and
“Gimme Shelter”

U2 and Mick Jagger:
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”

“Beautiful Day”

In short, those two nights at Madison Square Garden were pretty much the musical equivalent of a quick visit to heaven, and so reliving them here gives me a chance to draw something of a line under this extended summer and my busking project. For years now, music has been a central part of my life; something I hope never changes as I move into the next seasons and whatever they bring.