BROOKLYN, New York – Sheryl Crow showcased her versatility, Missy Elliott literally lit up the stage and Rage Against the Machine – or, rather, Tom Morello – erupted with a message to “stir up a (big) load of trouble.”
The spirit of music – not just rock, but pop, rap, R&B and country – commandeered the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Friday when the 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony returned to the East Coast after a detour to Los Angeles last year.
For the first time in its 38-year history, the four-and-a-half-hour production stuffed with performances and speeches streamed live on Disney+ (it’s now available on demand). A summarized three-hour edition will air Jan. 1 (8 p.m. EST) on ABC.
Along with Crow, Elliott and Rage Against the Machine, this year’s eclectic class of performer inductees included Willie Nelson, The Spinners, Kate Bush and George Michael, victor of the fan vote with more than 1 million votes.
The Musical Influence Award nods spotlighted DJ Kool Herc – whom inductor LL Cool J lauded as “one of the founding fathers of hip-hop” – and Link Wray, whose legacy was honored with a surprise appearance by Led Zeppelin icon Jimmy Page playing “Rumble.”
Chaka Khan (beaming through a medley including “I Feel For You” with Common and “Sweet Thing” with H.E.R.), veteran musician/producer/songwriter Al Kooper and Elton John’s lyrical consigliere Bernie Taupin were tapped for the Musical Excellence Award, while “Soul Train” legend Don Cornelius was remembered with the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
Here are some standout moments from the show.
Sheryl Crow singing with Stevie Nicks, Olivia Rodrigo and Peter Frampton
Call it a display of generational respect. Crow kicked off the ceremony with “If It Makes You Happy,” its woozy shuffle complemented by her heavily strummed guitar. But standing next to her was budding star Rodrigo, coltish and cute as she aped Crow’s delivery of the “then why the hell are you so sad?” lyric. But then one of Crow’s heroes, Stevie Nicks, appeared in shimmering black to duet on a twangy read of “Strong Enough” and the performance culminated with the addition of another Crow darling, Peter Frampton, who played while seated on the stage and ripped out a sizzling guitar solo during “Everyday Is a Winding Road.”
Andrew Ridgeley inducting George Michael: ‘His grace gave hope’
While the lineup of singers tapped to honor Michael’s memory – Miguel (“Careless Whisper”), Adam Levine (“Faith”) and Carrie Underwood (“One More Try”) was let’s just say curious – Andrew Ridgeley proved the ideal choice to induct the man he still calls “Yog.”
Looking prim in a plum suit, Ridgeley reminisced about his and Michael’s extreme success with Wham! (“the realization of everything I’ve aspired to”), Michael’s extensive and varied list of collaborators (Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett among them) and their lifelong friendship.
Ridgeley praised Michael, who died in 2016, for his songwriting prowess, his supple voice and music that could cause listeners to “soar with joy” or “weep with pain.”
“His pain healed ours, and his grace gave hope,” Ridgeley said, in the most elegant speech of the night.
New Edition honoring The Spinners with dance and song
None of The Spinners was present to accept their award, but that didn’t quell the appreciation from New Edition, who possess plenty of Spinners DNA in their sound.
Clad in matching burgundy crushed velvet jackets and fedoras, the group, including Bobby Brown, spun through coordinated dance moves and downy harmonies on soul staples “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” and “The Rubberband Man,” turning the stage into a set from “Soul Train” for the latter.
Willie Nelson performing with Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews and Sheryl Crow
Following a charming, humorous speech from Nelson’s Farm Aid pal Matthews (“Did you know Willie likes to smoke weed?” he mused) that touched on the country legend’s 72 albums, his philanthropy and penchant for golf, Nelson, 90, appeared on stage, seated with his guitar.
“Thanks for appreciating my music,” he said, then joked, “I haven’t even died yet and I’m being inducted.”
A reverential Stapleton played and sang alongside Nelson for “Whiskey River,” Crow returned, her voice honeyed, for “Crazy” and Matthews joined the party for a spry rendition of “On the Road Again.”
Elton John calling Bernie Taupin ‘a conjurer of cinema in words’
Yes, hearing John play a solo piano version of “Tiny Dancer” was thrilling, but even more captivating was his in-depth speech about the man he calls a best friend and a brother and the kismet that sometimes causes paths to merge.
“We scaled heights we never thought were possible and never, ever had an argument,” John said, adding with a grin, “He was disgusted with my behavior – that’s a given.”
John disclosed that he and his lifelong lyricist just finished an album in Los Angeles – 56 years into their partnership – that is “full of youth and vitality.”
But he saved his most complimentary words for Taupin until the end: “He is a conjurer of cinema in words.”
Missy Elliott lighting up the stage as she made history
The first female rapper to be inducted into the Rock Hall provided the most incendiary performance of the show and a fitting closer, considering there was no all-star finale as in years past.
A slew of dancers with neon masks flooded the stage for “Get Ur Freak On” as Elliott appeared among them, resplendent in a gold sequined track suit and hat.
The full-scale production – frenzied lights, plumes of smoke – included her dancers in yellow jackets for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and lined up for coordinated footwork during “Pass That Dutch.”
Elliott, clearly relishing her time on stage, zipped through the crowd before rejoining her dance team for “Lose Control.” As Elliott wrapped her performance, her inductor, Queen Latifah, stood on the side of the stage, hopping and bowing toward her friend, one of the most innovative artists in hip-hop.
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