Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2020)
Ever since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies started in 1986, that event became a big part of the musical calendar. With a two-Blu-ray set called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Live in Concert 2014-2017, we get to watch four recent ceremonies.
For each year, we see the speeches by inductors and inductees as well as a variety of live musical performances. Here’s what we get – and unless stated otherwise, the inductee plays the songs:
Peter Gabriel: Inducted by Chris Martin. Live performances of “Digging in the Dirt”, “Washing of the Water” (Gabriel with Martin) and “In Your Eyes” (Gabriel with Martin).
Cat Stevens: Inducted by Art Garfunkel. Live performances of “Father & Son”, “Wild World” and “Peace Train”.
Linda Ronstadt: Inducted by Glenn Frey. Live performances of “Different Drum” (Carrie Underwood), “Blue Bayou” (Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Carrie Underwood), “You’re No Good” (Sheryl Crow, Glenn Frey, Emmylou Harris and Carrie Underwood), “It’s So Easy” (Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Glenn Frey, Emmylou Harris and Carrie Underwood) and “When Will I Be Loved” (Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris and Carrie Underwood)
E Street Band: Inducted by Bruce Springsteen. Live performance of “The E Street Shuffle” (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band).
Nirvana: Inducted by Michael Stipe. Live performances of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana with Joan Jett), “Aneurysm” (Nirvana with Kim Gordon), “Lithium” (Nirvana with Annie Clark) and “All Apologies” (Nirvana with Clark, Gordon, Jett and Lorde).
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Inducted by Miley Cyrus. Live performances of “Bad Reputation”, “Cherry Bomb” (Jett with Dave Grohl and Gary Ryan), and “Crimson and Clover” (Jett and Cyrus, Ryan, Grohl and Tommy James).
Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Inducted by Peter Wolf. Live performance of “Born in Chicago” (Zac Brown, Tom Morello, and Jason Ricci).
Bill Withers: Inducted by Stevie Wonder. Live performances of “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Withers with Wonder) and “Lean on Me” (Withers with Wonder and John Legend).
Green Day: Inducted by Fall Out Boy. Live performances of “American Idiot”, “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case”.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Inducted by John Mayer. Live performance of “Texas Flood” (Double Trouble with Mayer, Doyle Bramhall, Gary Clark Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan).
Lou Reed: Inducted by Patti Smith. Live performance of “Satellite of Love” (Beck, Jason Falkner, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Nate Ruess).
Ringo Starr: Inducted by Paul McCartney. Live performances of “Boys” (Starr with Green Day), “It Don’t Come Easy” (Starr with Joe Walsh) and “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Starr, McCartney, Walsh and “Hall of Fame Jam Band”).
Deep Purple: Inducted by Lars Ulrich. Live performances of “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water”.
Bert Berns: Inducted by Steven Van Zandt.
NWA: Inducted by Kendrick Lamar.
Chicago: Inducted by Rob Thomas. Live performances of “Saturday in the Park”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (Chicago with Rob Thomas) and “25 or 6 to 4”.
Cheap Trick. Inducted by Kid Rock. Live performances of “I Want You to Want Me”, “Dream Police”, “Surrender” and “Ain’t That A Shame” (Cheap Trick with “Hall of Fame Jam Band”).
ELO: Inducted by Dhani Harrison. Live performances of “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky”.
Joan Baez: Inducted by Jackson Browne. Live performances of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” (Baez with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (Baez with Carpenter, Ray and Saliers).
Yes: Inducted by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. Live performances of “Roundabout” (Yes with Lee) and “Owner of a Lonely Heart”.
Tupac Shakur: Inducted by Snoop Dogg.
Journey: Inducted by Pat Monahan. Live performances of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”, “Lights” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”.
Pearl Jam: Inducted by David Letterman. Live performances of “Alive”, “Given to Fly” and “Better Man”.
Note that this package doesn’t provide these ceremonies in their entirety, as some artists go missing. 2014 lacks Kiss and Hall and Oates, while 2015 loses The “5” Royales.
2016 leaves out the Steve Miller Band, and 2017 ignores Nile Rodgers. In addition, we don’t get full performances from all the acts we do find, which leads to only one of the three Springsteen songs played in 2014.
I assume some of these omissions occur due to rights issue – and politics as well, meaning Rock Hall politics. In particular, the Kiss and Miller acceptance speeches got cantankerous, so it seems less than surprising these don’t appear, but it’s still a disappointment.
Still, 90 percent of a loaf beats no loaf at all, and this package comes with a wealth of good material. Obviously its value connects to your personal interest in the artists involved.
In my case, I only really care about Pearl Jam, E Street, Nirvana, Gabriel, and Starr. I enjoy a couple of the others – including the absent Hall and Oates – but can’t call myself a true fan of the rest.
Obviously this makes 2014 the most appealing of the bunch, as it packs E Street and Gabriel. Both offered some of the most surprising song choices of the night, as Gabriel opted to ignore his best-known tunes except for “Eyes”. “Dirt” and “Waters” both come from 1992’s Us - not an obscure album, but not a “classic”, and neither number maintains an audience awareness outside of Gabriel’s core.
The same goes for the three Springsteen songs involved. “The River” maintains a decent “casual fan” reputation, I guess, but “E Street Shuffle” and “Kitty’s Back” – both from 1973’s The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle – are reserved solely for the diehards.
The absence of “Kitty’s Back” bugs the heck out of this Springsteen fan. It’s always been a real barn-burner on stage, so it stinks it gets the boot – probably for length reasons, since it runs roughly nine hours, but still!
Speaking of events that last forever, the E Street acceptance speech threatens to never end. As much as I love these folks, this seems excessive – they probably should’ve picked one member to speak for the group and not let each one yammer.
Don’t expect cuts from the Pearl Jam section, as they get a full hour here. After a funny introduction from David Letterman – a stand-in for Neil Young, who couldn’t make it – we get good acceptance speeches from the band and a solid performance.
Another great performance comes from Nirvana. Clearly energized by this semi-reunion, they produce a blazing set. I’m glad the two surviving members never toured as “Nirvana”, but the high quality of this show almost makes me wish they had.
In terms of other good introductions, I like Chris Martin’s funny “Biblical” tale, and Snoop’s comments about Tupac prove witty and engaging.
Garfunkel starts well, especially with a winking jab about how the end of Simon & Garfunkel left a musical void in which Cat Stevens could succeed. However, he loses his way and rambles after that.
If the Rock Hall wanted to convince us Chicago “rocked”, they should’ve gotten someone with more cred than Thomas. He seems like a softball rocker, and his tendency to point constantly while he talks makes his speech tough to take.
Even by induction hyperbole standards, Train’s Patrick Monahan goes over the top when he talks about Journey. Journey is the “heart of San Francisco music” – not the Dead? Or the Airplane? Or Santana?
And Journey changed music and radio and live performances around the globe? Seriously?
As for the acceptance speeches, Stevens proves more amiable than his public image might imply. Sure, he makes a quick nod to his career-defining religious beliefs, but he offers humor and charm as well.
Arguably the best speech of the night comes from Bill Withers. He seems witty and loose, so he creates a memorable chat.
In an emotional vein, Lou Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson does well. She offers fond memories of Lou and makes this a touching acceptance.
Speaking for Yes, Rick Wakeman shows an unexpected flair for comedy. He mocks himself via the use of his much-maligned 1970s cape, and he delivers plenty of laughs in his speech.
Ringo’s segment disappoints. McCartney brings a lackluster intro, and Ringo’s own speech doesn’t fare much better.
In addition, while fun to see the two surviving Beatles play, they don’t produce great results, and the absence of “With a Little Help From My Friends” perplexes me. It’s always great to see those two together, but their segment acts as a letdown.
In terms of the presentation, the discs don’t always handle the cuts and alterations well. Some of the performances flow smoothly, but others go less well.
This means some weird editing at times, as we clearly encounter excised bits that jar. For instance, when Peter Wolf inducts Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the audience claps out of nowhere. We also find some obvious examples of canned applause and laughter that become awkward.
Due to a mix of issues, this package doesn’t become the slam-dunk I’d like it to be. Still, we find so much good content that I can’t complain too much.