Any night that sees Prince serving as Tom Petty’s lead guitarist — on a Beatles cover, no less — has got to be special. That implausible pairing of rock royalty was just one of the treats of the 19th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held Monday at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (an edited version of the show will air March 21 on VH1). From Prince and Petty to an all-star finale jam, here’s a look at the highlights of the evening, which saw the inductions of ZZ Top, Jackson Browne, Prince, Traffic, George Harrison, Bob Seger, and soul group the Dells.
PRINCE The Artist Formerly Known as a Squiggly Symbol took another step toward reclaiming his crown Monday night, outshining his fellow inductees with dance moves, falsetto vocals, and lead-guitar pyrotechnics that were all equally nimble. Eschewing purple for an elegant white suit with a knee-length coat, Prince kicked off the ceremony with frenetic performances of ”Let’s Go Crazy” (complete with the spoken ”Dearly beloved…” intro and confetti flying from the ceiling); a dark, funky ”Sign O’ the Times”; and ”Kiss” (inexplicably prefaced by the horn vamp from ”Soul Man”).
PRINCE AGAIN His Purple One’s truly astonishing appearance came later in the evening, when (having somehow changed into a red outfit in the interim), he quietly stepped on stage during a tribute to inductee George Harrison, joining Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George’s son Dhani to play ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” After laying low to play rhythm for most of the song, Prince tore into an epic guitar solo that leapt between soulful, vibrato-ed bends and Hendrixian chaos; his bravura performance rivaled that of Eric Clapton on the original track. At one point, Prince was playing on his knees in front of Petty, who could only grin.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN ON JACKSON BROWNE Though the Boss didn’t play a lick of music at the ceremony, he gave an eloquent — and occasionally hilarious — induction speech. Springsteen noted that in the ’70s, he and the E Street Band would sweat for hours onstage, only to face crowds that were almost exclusively made up of men — ”and not that great-looking men, either.” Meanwhile, Browne, ”[who] just stood there playing his serious songs…was drawing more women than an Indigo Girls concert,” he joked.
Springsteen praised Browne for capturing the post-hippie malaise of the 1970s. ”The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson gave us California as paradise,” he said. ”Jackson Browne gave us California as paradise lost.” He added that Browne’s catalog consists of songs that ”the Eagles wish they’d written. I wish I’d written them too.”