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Guns N’ Roses, Chili Peppers Bring Magic to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

Fans boo Axl Rose, whose absence didn’t dampen spirit of 27th annual ceremony

Andy Greene Apr 16, 2012
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(L-R) Matt Sorum, Steven Adler, Duff McKagan, Slash


Walking into Cleveland, Ohio’s Public Auditorium for the 27th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last night, it was hard to not think of the Titanic striking an iceberg on the very same day 100 years ago. In recent days Axl Rose and Rod Stewart, two of the biggest stars entering the Hall of Fame this year, pulled out of the show, making complete reunion performances by the Faces and Guns N’ Roses impossible. Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante opted not to come, and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch stayed home as he continues to recover from cancer. 

One might think that these absences would sink the induction ceremony somewhere deep into the Atlantic Ocean, but it turns out they didn’t matter much at all. In fact, it was one of the best Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in recent memory. “I don’t know that it matters who’s here tonight, because it’s about the music that these bands played,” Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan said during his induction speech. Minutes after making that point, McKagan walked over across to the stage to play an explosive three-song set of Guns N’ Roses songs with Slash, guitarist Gilby Clarke, Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy and drummers Matt Sorum and Steven Adler. 

Fans were screaming out “Fuck Axl” through much of the night, but the moment the group launched into “Mr. Brownstone,” Rose and Izzy Stradlin’s decision to not attend the ceremony was completely forgotten, and this previously unassembled lineup of the band proved they could revive the spirit of GNR on their own. Adler was grinning from ear-to-ear during a note-perfect “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and the finale of “Paradise City” had nearly every single person in the audience screaming at the top of their lungs. A powerful singer, Kennedy hit every Axl-patented banshee wail perfectly. 

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The Faces also soldiered on without their lead singer, recruiting Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall to fill his slot. He’s done a bunch of shows with the group over the past few years, and he sounds exactly like early 1970s-era Rod Stewart. “Ooh La La” was a lot of fun, but they absolutely destroyed with “Stay With Me.” Ron Wood played guitar with fiery passion, almost like he was trying to prove to Mick and Keith that he’s in fighting shape for a Rolling Stones tour. Ian McLagan demonstrated that he’s still one of the greatest keyboardists in rock and roll, and drummer Kenny Jones still has the chops that got him Keith Moon’s old job in the late 1970s. Here’s hoping that one day Rod comes to his senses and agrees to a tour with these guys.

The Beastie Boys had no intention of performing without Adam Yauch, so the Roots were joined by Kid Rock and Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes for an incredible medley of Beastie classics, including “Sabotage” and “So What’cha Want.” Rock, Black Thought and McCoy all wore matching green Adidas track suits, and they did a great job of channeling the energy and spirit of the groundbreaking trio. 

The evening kicked off with a surprise performance by Green Day, who did a bombastic rendition of the American Idiot deep cut “Letterbomb.” Few in the audience seemed to know the song, but Billie Joe Armstrong worked the large room like a pro and got everyone pumped for the long night of music and speeches ahead of them. Per tradition, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner addressed the crowd early on. “I believe in the magic of rock and roll,” he said. “That magic can set you free. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight you’ve entered a place where magic happens.” 

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Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top delivered the first induction speech of the evening, honoring the late blues guitarist Freddie King. King’s daughter, Wanda, spoke warmly about her father. “He inspired so many young blues artists,” she said. “I remember going to a show when I was 14 and meeting Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time. He said to my dad, ‘How can I play the blues like you?’ My dad said, ‘If you don’t feel the blues, you’ll never play the blues.'”

After a smoking blues guitar battle by Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks on King songs “Hideaway” and “Going Down,” John Mellencamp came onstage to induct Donovan. “He was my inspiration,” Mellencamp said. “I wouldn’t just listen to Donovan. I would live Donovan, which means I was stealing all my shit from Donovan. Other artists ”“ and you know who you guys are ”“ called that being inspired.” Donovan read a short poem, then played “Catch the Wind” and “Sunshine Superman” before duetting with Mellencamp on “Season of the Witch.” 

Bette Midler broke down into tears near the end of her speech about Laura Nyro, who died of ovarian cancer in 1997. “In a world full of imitators saying ‘fake it till you make it,’ she was a complete original,” said Midler. “She was in a league all her own. When you put her records on, you’d think they were made yesterday. She embodies what we all want to be, if only we had the guts”¦She was an ornament on the Earth. Everyone is so gratified to see this day finally come around at last.” Sara Bareilles then honored Nyro with a gorgeous take on “Stoney End” on the piano.

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