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The 25th Anniversary of the Rock And roll Hall Of Fame October 29th, 2009 at Madison Square Garden: da doo ron ron ron

During Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”at the 25th Year Anniversary of the Hall Of fame concert last night at Madison Square Garden, former Rage Against the Machine was doing stuff to his guitar still illegal in some States. From one end to the other his wrist did flips and the guitar squealed with outrage -I have a live version with Tommy and Bruce from the Magic Tour and he creamed that pretty good version tonight. Tommy had written in magic marker across the body of his guitar  the legend “Arm The Homeless”.

A little insurrection from the establishment, right?

The grandiloquent evening could’ve done with a lot more of it. The problem with the Rock And roll Hall of Fame is that it is based upon a contradistinction. The concept is elitist and arrogant. Now rock thrives on the arrogance of its performers but the music is humble by definition and Jann Wenner, by making it the Oscars of cool, by making it an awards ceremony, manages to humble the musicians (by the award) and  make the music arrogant (by association). Never more so than on the self-serving video that connected the various sets. The worst was the movie before Bruce which went from  Guthrie,  to Seeger, to Dylan, to Springsteen. Yeah, we got it.

Last night’s concert was absolutely terrific. Was it the greatest concert known to man? Nope. And as a bloke who has seen just about every single person on stage a myriad of times, it wasn’t all that exclusive. But everybody brought their A Game and the inclusion of guest stars was a good idea. Essentially it was four one hour sets plus guests plus video but it was well organized and except for a half hour (1115p till 1145p: the definition of endless) break before Bruce came out, the pace was great.

Around 730p there was a movie. Half an hour or so later Tom Hanks (producing for HBO) came out to discuss the Dave Clarke Five. Then the Killer himself, played a solo “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”. I haven’t seen Jerry Lee Lewis in a decade and he looked old and his hands shook as he thumped the keys. Reminded me of the first time I saw him play live, I was ten at the time, and couldn’t believe a grown man would jump on top of his piano. Times change.

Next Crosby, Stills and Nash and while I wouldn’t call em a disappointment, I wouldn’t not call them not a disappointment. An iffy “Woodstock” was followed by an iffy “Marrakesh Express” but the set settled down with a superb Stills solo on Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair”. The first guest is Bonnie Raitt who sang  a lovely “Love Has No Pride”, Jackson Browne who can do no wrong in my book and certainly did no wrong with a stunning “The Pretender” made perfect by an inspired Crosby and Nash harmonies. James Taylor isn’t up to much in his spot. By the end of the set everybody comes on stage for “Teach Your Children”. The definition of ho fucking hum.

I saw Paul Simon on Valentine’s Day this year at the re-opening of the Beacon Theatre -he was superb. But tonight it is taking him a coupla of songs to get started, the second song, “You Can Call Me Al” is taken way too fast and despite a great bass rumble is a non starter. Dion comes out with a “The Wanderer” that blows Simon away (at least for now) but the set settles down with Crosby and Nash joining Simon on a lovely “Here Comes The Sun” -somebody nearby whispers “They look like my Grandpa”. True but irrelevant. The highlight of the set is a tremendous “Late in The Evening” and the man reaches one of the emotional tremors Simon can do, does do, “Well I guess I’ve been in love before and once or twice have been on the floor But I’ve never loved no-one the way that I love you” Little Anthony and the Imperials sing some doo wop and then Garfunkle joins the fray. Simon and Garfunkle are pretty good tonight and on a terrific “Mrs Robinsons” which includes some of Buddy Holly’s “Not fade Away” they are more than that. A little disappointing but I’m not complaining.

Stevie Wonder is also taking awhile to get started though he has a better reason, his mic won’t work and when it does he starts with “Blowing In The Wind” because of other tech mishaps… a misjudged begining. The set is going nowhere and Smokey Robinson cuts Wonder with a gorgeous “Tracks Of My Tears”. In Smokey’s concerts he uses the song to introduce his long term guitarist Marv Tarplin and as Smokey tells about writing the song, Marv plays that wonderful lick over and over again. As much a highlight of Robinson’s concerts as James Brown refusing to leave the stage. Watching Smokey and Stevie sing this song together is just as good. A little later Jeff Beck gives the room a lesson in playing the neck of your Fender during “Superstition”. I have never seen Beck live before and I am in awe -I will make it my duty to catch him the next time he’s at BB Kings. Speaking of which  BB himself plays a fine version of the “The Thrill Is Gone” and Sting joins in for “Roxanne”  but add it all together, add the night together, and it doesn’t equal Stevie Wonder’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” with John Legend on piano and back up vocals. Wonder loved MJ and he breaks down crying during the middle of the song but it doesn’t stop Wonder from a smoldering, loving, heartbreaking cover. It goes on forver and not long enough with Little Stevie telling us to repeat “Long Live Michael Jackson” and “Death Where Is Thy Sting?”. Of all the reasons to love live music this is the best reason to love live music. It is where the transmogrification of art and life meet in the middle. The ache of loss and the joy of music came together.

“Is there anybody alive out there?” is Springsteen’s incredibly stupid and condescending new shout out to the audience. He does it before settling into a pretty tedious “10th Avenue Freezeout” and follows it with a couple of songs guest starring Sam Moore. That’s the Sam from Sam and Dave so I am surprised “Hold On, I’m Coming” at least isn’t better. I suspect the worst till Morrelo joins Springsteen on an aweinspiring “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” and, except for “Jungleland”, it’s clear sailing from there till the end of the night. Springsteen introduces John Fogerty as his generation’s Hank Williams -which is to manage to overestimate a man it is hard to overestimate. They cover Roy Orbinson’s “Pretty Woman” together and that’s as big a bitch of a vocal workout as you’ll ever hear. Darlene Love brings the house down with a perfect “Da Doo Ron Ron Ron”that has Bruce screaming for her inclusion in the hall of fame. Steve van Zandt, Morello and Springsteen trade verses on a “London Calling” not up to the one they did when the Clash was added to the Hall of fame (Costello took Morello’s place) but not bad. Helen Bach would’ve preferred Elvis of course. Soon after Billy Joel has a Long Island-New Jersey Summit with Bruce. Joel’s is just terrific. “You May be Right, I Might be Crazy” is followed by a phenomenal “Only The Good Die Young” where Bruce, unhappy with the ending, has Billy go round again and kills by the conclusion, and a “New York State Of Mind” with the boys trading verses, that teaches Jay-Z -at Yankee Stadium earlier that night at the World Series, how to write New York centric songs. The evening concludes with everybody getting on a stage for a wonderfully free
spirited “Higher and Higher”.

So not bad, and sometimes more than not bad. Tonights concert includes U2, Metallica, Aretha Franklin and Jeff Beck but I couldn’t get tix so you’ll have to trust in Dan Aquilante…

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