It was exactly midnight when Joan Jett walked onstage with the surviving members of Nirvana and tore into the opening chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." By that point, the capacity crowd at Brooklyn's Barclays Center had witnessed a long evening full of miraculous moments only possible at the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: A beaming Peter Criss threw his arms around his supposed sworn enemy Paul Stanley during Kiss' peaceful reunion, Cat Stevens led an arena full of Kiss and Nirvana fans through a sing-along rendition of "Peace Train," Courtney Love embraced Dave Grohl in a huge bear hug after 20 years of nasty accusations and lawsuits and Bruce Springsteen played with two founding members of the E Street Band for the first time in 40 years.
But nothing could compare to the thrill of watching Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent and Lorde take turns fronting Nirvana. Dave Grohl, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic hadn't played a Kurt Cobain-penned song together in public since the frontman killed himself 20 years ago, and it's quite easy to imagine they never will again. Jett kicked things off with a wild, thrashed-out "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that had men in tuxedos dancing on their chairs. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon kept the energy high with a faithful rendition of "Aneurysm" and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) belted out "Lithium." It wrapped up with Lorde's gut-wrenching take on "All Apologies." She was born two and a half years after Cobain died, but she somehow had the wisdom and confidence to deliver those agonizing lyrics.
The evening began a little after 7:00 PM with a speech by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Chairman Jann Wenner. "We are thrilled to be here tonight in Brooklyn," he said. "As Keith Richards has said so often, at this age we're thrilled to be anywhere. We're here to celebrate our youth, our music and that which keeps us forever young. Rock and roll offers hope and passion and joy and courage and love, a way to understand the world around us, and for so many of us, a way of life."
Peter Asher handed out the first two awards of the night to Beatles manager Brian Epstein and Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham. "These are the first two managers ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," he said. "Each of them managed one of the most important ensembles in music history, let alone just rock and roll. And each of whom guided his band from anonymity to global stature, though in very different ways." Epstein died in 1967 and Loog Oldham opted to skip the ceremony, so nobody was on hand to accept their awards.
Next up was Peter Gabriel, who delivered a hypnotic rendition of "Digging In The Dirt" before Chris Martin walked out to induct him. "He brings together sounds from all over the world," said the Coldplay frontman. "At times it feels like he releases music at a snail's pace. But one looks back now and sees this amazing cathedral of song. It was worth the effort and the time that it took. He's always been an innovator and a seeker. He's a curator and an inspirer. He also helped John Cusack get his girlfriend back in the movie Say Anything.
A very grateful Gabriel hoisted the award above his head Cusack-style before his acceptance speech. "Watch out for music," he said. "It should come with a health warning. It can be dangerous. It can make you feel so alive, so connected to the people around you, connected to what you are inside. It can make you think that the world should and could be a much better place. It can also make you very, very happy." He then sat at the piano and duetted with Martin on the 1992 obscurity "Washing of the Water" before bringing out surprise guest Youssou N'Dour for a long, euphoric "In Your Eyes" that brought everyone to their feet.
The vast majority of press leading up to the Hall of Fame centered around the never-ending drama of Kiss, so it was a little surprising to see their big moment come and go so early in the evening, though it did make sense because they were the only inductees in the house that decided not to perform. Longtime Kiss superfan Tom Morello gave a fiery induction speech for his heroes. "Kiss was never a critics' band," he said. "Kiss was a people's band…The first Kiss concert I saw was the single loudest, most cathartic two hours of music I've seen to this day."
Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley walked onstage together to thunderous applause, and each of them looked a little choked up by the moment. Simmons spoke first, and, against all odds, was the most concise. "We are humbled to stand on this stage and do what we love doing," he said. "This is a profound moment for all of us. I'm here to say a few kind words about the four knuckleheads who, 40 years ago, got together and decided to put together the kind of band we never saw onstage, critics be damned."
After speaking kindly about his two former bandmates, he yielded the microphone to them. Peter Criss thanked everybody from the group's former managers to their truck drivers, while Frehley rambled a bit since he had trouble reading his own notes without his proper glasses. "I was 13 when I picked up my first guitar," he said. "I always sensed I was going to be into something big. A few years later, there I was. I experienced the Summer of Love."
Stanley has been the most vocal critic of the Hall of Fame in the long buildup to this ceremony, and he used the opportunity to take some parting shots. "The people are speaking to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," he said. "They want more. They deserve more. They want to be part of the induction. They want to be a part of the nomination [process]. They don't want to be spoon-fed a bunch of choices. The people pay for tickets. The people buy albums. The people who nominate do not."
Any hopes of a surprise Kiss performance were dashed when they walked offstage and Art Garfunkel stepped out to induct Cat Stevens, who now goes by the name Yusuf Islam. "If Paul and I hadn't split up around 1970 there'd be no room on the charts for Cat Stevens to take over," he said. "'Bridge Over Troubled Water had to go away so that Tea for the Tillerman could arrive."
Cat Stevens gave a long speech where he name-checked everybody from Bach to Bo Diddley to Leonard Bernstein and Bob Dylan, even pausing in the middle to ask for a glass of water. He won the crowd right back when he picked up an acoustic guitar and delivered a flawless "Father and Son." He's 65 years old, but since he's taken decades off from touring and lived a very healthy lifestyle, he sounded absolutely amazing. Paul Shaffer and his band then came out for "Wild World" and a rousing "Peace Train" where they got some help from a large choir. It served as a nice preview for the American tour that Yusuf is supposedly plotting for sometime in the near future.
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