Get ready for this: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame just dropped a big one in the form of a close to six-hour, three-CD box set chronicling their 25th anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden on October 29 and 30, 2009. Originally aired as an HBO Special, these shows now return in an extended version with unreleased tracks and extended performances.
The concerts began to take shape when Bruce Spingsteen and U2 agreed to headline the events. Mick Jagger quickly climbed on board, and it mushroomed from that point until it included a virtual Hall Of Fame live onstage.
It’s the format that made the evenings so special. Each headliner served as a house band and backed a number of guests. It allowed for quick transitions and combinations that may never be seen and heard again. The only possible complaint was the lack of younger artists, as the older or post-‘50s and in many cases ‘60s crowd dominated the evening. Still, time does pass and it was nice to see and hear this generation of rock stars.
Each night started with Jerry Lee Lewis at his piano. He is represented here by his classic “Great Balls Of Fire,” complete with knocking over his piano bench.
The first house band was Crosby, Stills & Nash, who rock through a rendition of “Woodstock” before David Crosby shows what a beautiful voice he still has on his own “Almost Cut My Hair.” They provide backing for Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne before James Taylor joins them for Stephen Stills signature song, “Love The One You’re With.”
Stevie Wonder is the next headliner and he runs through “For Once In My Life” before backing Smokey Robinson for “Tracks Of My Tears.” B.B. King, Sting, and Jeff Beck follow in quick succession. Wonder breaks down about halfway through an emotional cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
Paul Simon is the third headliner. “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” flows into “You Can Call Me Al.” David Crosby and Graham Nash join him for some harmonizing on “Here Comes The Sun” before he reaches back into to rock ‘n’ roll history with the original Wanderer Dion, and Little Anthony and The Imperials. Art Garfunkel joins Simon for “Sounds Of Silence,” “The Boxer,” and a soaring “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Aretha Franklin brings the first night to a close ending with a scintillating duet with Annie Lennox on “Chain Of Fools.”
The second night rocks from beginning to end. Metallica opens with “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and in succession backs Lou Reed on “Sweet Jane,” Ozzy Osbourne on “Iron Man/Paranoid,” and finally Ray Davies with “All Day And All Of The Night.”
U2 was next, and after presenting “Vertigo” and “Magnificent,” they blister through “Because The Night” with Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. The combination of U2, Mick Jagger, and Fergie on “Gimme Shelter” was sheer brilliance.
Jeff Beck is next, and when he picks up his guitar, he demands your attention. His warm-up is with Sting on “People Get Ready.” Things heat up with Buddy Guy and especially Billy Gibbons on “Foxy Lady.
Bruce Springsteen and The E Sreet Band are the final act of the night. Tom Morello joins in on a jolting edition of “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” before John Fogerty runs through “Fortunate Son” and an ode to one of their heroes, Roy Orbison, with a cover of “Oh Pretty Woman.” Billy Joel and even Darlene Love of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound combine with Springsteen as they rock into the night. All the artists unite on stage for a tribute to Jackie Wilson with “Higher and Higher.”
My feeling is that the songs on the bonus disc could have been integrated into the regular sets as they seem lost here. Four songs by Stevie Wonder would have fleshed out his performance. Why “London Calling” by Morello and Springsteen is regulated to this disc is beyond me. The same for Metallica’s cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” and Simon & Garfunkel’s medley of “Mrs. Robinson/Not Fade Away.”
The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Concerts present music that shall not pass this way again. It was a historic concert by a roster of artists that will become an essential listening experience.