The 31st Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony welcomed N.W.A, Deep Purple, Chicago, Steve Miller and Cheap Trick into its pantheon Friday night at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Surprise performances by David Byrne (with the Roots) and Sheryl Crow (with Grace Potter) added to the mix, making for a lively and unpredictable evening. Here are the big night's most unforgettable moments.
The ceremony got off to a fiery start when David Byrne and the Roots teamed up for "Fame" with special guest Kimbra. Byrne danced around the stage like no time had passed since Stop Making Sense, and the decision to stick to a single song as opposed to an awkward, rushed medley paid off in a big way. Byrne hasn't toured in a few years, but next time he goes out, he should really considering taking Illadelphia's finest.
When Metallica's Lars Ulrich stepped onstage to induct one of his favorite bands, Deep Purple, something about him seemed curious: his dark-reddish crush-velvet blazer. "For Christmas, my middle son gave me this coat, and seriously, I just took the tag off it offstage and the color, I kid you not, says 'deep purple,'" he said. "Can we pass this around to show I'm not making this up?"
Steven Van Zandt is a Hall of Fame veteran with a ton of speeches under his belt. His 1997 speech for the Rascals impressed Sopranos creator David Chase so much that he gave him a role in the show even though he hadn't acted a day in his life. But Van Zandt has a little problem with brevity. His speech for the Hollies in 2010 seemed to last longer then the Hollies' career, and he and his fellow E Streeters talked for so long in 2014 there was no time for the all-star jam. But when inducting songwriter/producer Bert Berns this year he said at the start he would talk as fast as MSNBC's Chris Matthews and do this in under three minutes. "2 minutes and 45 seconds," he said at the end. "Not bad. Any questions?"
This year's inductees — N.W.A, the Steve Miller Band, Chicago, Cheap Trick and Deep Purple — have a lot of hits, a lot of fans and a lot of history. One thing they don't have is a single female member. Throw in Ahmet Ertegun Award winner Bert Berns and you have an entire Hall of Fame class without any women. Steve Miller addressed this matter directly. "I encourage [the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] to keep expanding your vision," he said, "to be inclusive of women, to be more transparent in your dealings with the public and most importantly, to do much more to provide music to our schools."
Fellow Compton ambassador Kendrick Lamar has never hidden his love of N.W.A, and he expressed it deeply and passionately in his induction speech. "I know each and every one of them said they never wanted to be role models, but look: The first time I saw Eazy bust through that screen out the jail cell on stage on [the video for] 'We Want Eazy,' I felt like every single one of them was black superheroes where I come from," he said. "People from our community can be on that television screen, be on awards, and still have their voice and be real to themselves."
Gene Simmons recently told Rolling Stone that he was "looking forward to the death of rap" and had previously made comments saying rap did not belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. N.W.A's MC Ren sent a message loudly and clearly to the Kiss co-founder: "I want to say, to Mr. Gene Simmons, hip-hop is here forever. Get used to it. Get used to it. We supposed to be here." The audience at Barclays Center cheered with approval.
Minutes after MC Ren told the world to get used to rap music, his N.W.A partner Ice Cube took it a step farther. "Are we rock & roll?" he asked. "I say, 'You goddamn right, we rock & roll.' Rock & roll is not an instrument; rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit. It's a spirit. It's been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip-hop. … Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock & roll, and that is us."
Midway through the ceremony, Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter took the stage to perform "The New Kid in Town" in his honor of Glenn Frey, who passed away in January. The Eagles were long past their country-rock period when they cut the tune for Hotel California, but the two singers stripped the tune down to its essence and found the country number hidden inside.
In his induction speech, Rob Thomas did everything possible to assure the crowd that Chicago were much cooler than most people thought. "If you think Chicago is your mom's band," he said, "then I want to party with your mom!" But it wasn't until former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine stepped up to the microphone that his point was proven: "We lived together, as most bands do, we cried together, we fought together, we fucked together," he said. "'Please wrap it up?' Screw you. I've waited 25 fucking years for this!" By the end even his bandmates were urging him to stop talking, but the crowd loved it, as did Kid Rock. "The drummer for Chicago turns out to be a fucking badass!" he said before inducting Cheap Trick.
When it was his turn to induct Cheap Trick, Kid Rock delivered a typically hilarious and heartfelt speech, praising Lars Ulrich's remarks, shouting out Ice Cube's recommendation that kids stay in school and mentioning how "the drummer from Chicago turns out to be a badass." But the moment that got the biggest laughs was a tangent: "As long as we're keeping it real, I'd like to really quickly address the issue of drugs in America," he said. "If you do drugs, kids, there's a good chance you're going to ruin your life. But there's also a pretty good fucking chance you'll end up in a band and be rich and bang hot chicks."
Cheap Trick leader Robin Zander has always shown a flare for flashy looks, and for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — an event for which even the most hard-living rockers rent tuxes — the singer marched to his own drummer, and it wasn't Bun E. Carlos. While the rest of his bandmates dressed in black, the singer wore a pale pink suit covering a T-shirt and topped it with a broad-rimmed white hat with a feather.
Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen knows he's a guitar hoarder. It probably takes a lot for him to want to give away one of his many precious instruments, but he leaned into a generous mood when he offered up a guitar emblazoned with the Miller beer logo (and shaped like one too) to fellow inductee Steve Miller. "I love you, man," he told the "Joker" singer, when he came onstage to accept it. "Now get out of here." Later, when artists gathered for the super jam, Miller came out brandishing his eponymous ax.
When Cheap Trick finished their set and began the super jam, guitarist Rick Nielsen gave voice to the frustration that N.W.A was not performing. "I'm a little pissed off," he said. "I wanted to have N.W.A [participate]. I wanted to do a song with those guys." The audience cheered. "We could be like Aerosmith and Run-DMC, and we'd be famous and play cool shit."
Cheap Trick and former drummer Bun E. Carlos don't get along very well these days and haven't really communicated outside of legal proceedings since he left the group in 2010. But nobody at the Barclays Center would have had any clue about that when watching their smoking three-song set. "I Want You to Want Me," "Dream Police" and "Surrender" were played to perfection, with Zander hitting all the notes he hit at Budokan back in 1978. The performance was extra special since it was probably the final time the original lineup will ever play together.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all-star jams are often better in theory than in practice, and in the early years they produced little more than cacophony as a large group of musicians struggled to play a single, unrehearsed song together. But all four of the non-N.W.A acts come from the same time and place, and they had little trouble joining forces on "Ain't That a Shame" by Fats Domino. With Paul Shaffer directing traffic from the side of the stage, most of the singers took a turn at the mic, even David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes who were denied the opportunity to play with Deep Purple. Sheryl Crow's mic may have not been turned on at first, but for the most part this was about as tight and organized as these sort of jams have ever been.