Let the “Good Times Roll” was the theme of the 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday night at a sold-out Public Auditorium.
Once again Cleveland shined in true rock fashion with a passionate audience whose enthusiasm was only surpassed by the humbled inductees happy to finally be invited into the house I.M. Pei built.
Wow, what a beginning. The night of memories started early with The Killers delivering a faithful cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
“Ladies and gentleman, get on you feet and pay some rock ‘n’ roll respect to the masterful Tom Petty,” said Flowers, before tagging the end of the song with a few lines of “Free Fallin.’”
The first artist to be inducted was Bon Jovi, with presenter Howard Stern living up to his shock jock tag.
“(Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation President and Rolling Stone magazine founder) Jann Wenner finally let Bon Jovi into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” The King of All Media said. “Jann is in charge, but I don’t know why.”
Talking about Jon Bon Jovi, Stern, who didn’t shy away from lewd jokes, said he’s the man responsible in the ‘80s for destroying the ozone with hairspray.
When it came time for Bon Jovi’s speech, he didn’t disappoint. He began by milking the crowd for a standing ovation before saying a word. The singer said he had been writing his “Thank you” speech for decades.
“Writing it was therapeutic for me,” Bon Jovi said. “Certainly, I see things different tonight than I would have 10, 20 years ago. It took a lot of people to get us here tonight.”
With that, Bon Jovi then delivered what might have been the longest speech in recent Rock Hall induction history. He literally recounted the band’s biography, seemingly straight from the group’s Wikipedia page.
“Finally, it’s the end of my speech,” Bon Jovi said. “It’s about time.”
The group then delivered a spotty performance – mostly due to Bon Jovi’s uneven vocals – of “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” “When We Were Us” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Guitarist Richie Sambora teased the audience with “Wanted Dead or Alive” by bringing out his double neck guitar; however, that turned out to be the band’s new single “When We Were Us.”
Up next was Dire Straits, with integral band members Mark and David Knopfler not present. That left Dire Straits’ keyboardist Alan Clark, bassist John Illsley and keyboardist Guy Fletcher to deliver induction speeches without a presenter or a performance.
“In the absence of someone here to induct us, I felt as a founding member I might be best qualified to do this,” Illsley said. “It’s a bit weird, but life is strange.”
He then quipped, “I know there has been speculation why Mark is not here. I can assure you, it’s a personal thing.”
Later during his acceptance speech, Illsley credited Knopfler with writing the band’s timeless songs. “Mark gave this band its unique style,” Illsley said. “It was a pleasure to go on this journey with him.”
Overall, the Dire Straits Rock Hall Induction experience will be remembered for not having a proper presenter, as well as a performance. Fans expecting something special were left disappointed.
The Early Influences Award for guitarist Rosetta Tharpe was presented by Alabama Shakes’ singer-guitarist Brittany Howard.
“It’s been long overdue,” said Howard, who performed “That’s All” with a backing band that included The Roots’ Questlove on drums and Paul Shaffer on piano. Next Felicia Collins (“Late Show with David Letterman”) took over vocal duties for Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”
The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers returned to the stage to present The Cars, a group he felt still sounds like a new act.
“The Cars were the first band I truly fell in love with, and you never forget your first,” said Flowers, who noted The Cars’ bassist and Northeast Ohio native Ben Orr (who died in 2000).
The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek joked he was supposed to be the good looking guy in the band, not Orr. “It feels strange to be up here without him,” Ocasek said, who noted he lived in Cleveland for a while.
For their live set, The Cars, with Weezer’s Scott Shriner on bass, performed hits “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “You Might Think,” “Moving in Stereo” and “Just What I Needed.”
After an “In memoriam” montage of those who passed in the last year, Heart’s Anne Wilson and Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell delivered a tribute to Chris Cornell. The fellow Seattle artists paid tribute to their friend, who died in 2017, with a powerful performance of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”
Steven Van Zandt came out next. The E Street Band guitarist said, “Welcome to Cleveland, baby.” He then mentioned former WMMS disc jockey Kid Leo and The Agora. “Without Cleveland, what the (expletive) is rock and roll?” said Van Zandt, who received quite the audience response. He referenced a new Rock Hall Induction category noting six influential songs, including Link Wray’s Rumble,” Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.”
Presenting blues, jazz, R&B, pop and folk artist Nina Simone was Mary J. Blige. “She knew who she was, and she was confident,” Blige said. “That’s why Nina is so important and means so much to me.”
Overall, while this year’s Induction Ceremony didn’t have the star power of previous evenings held in Cleveland, the high-profile event had its moments.
Now that the Induction Ceremony will be taking place every other year in the Rock Hall City, fans can look forward to the 35th affair when acts such as Weezer, Oasis, Daft Punk and Usher are eligible. It could be a “Champagne Supernova” kind of evening.
NOTE: A performance of Nina Simone’s music and The Moody Blues’ induction and concert performance took place late in the night after press deadline.
Contact John Benson at Ndiffrence@att.net.