Like any good rock and roll story, Friday night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction featured its fair share of controversy. Crucial members of new inductees like Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and Chicago’s Peter Cetera skipped the event, which was held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, due to irreconcilable differences. Despite a fiery acceptance speech, N.W.A. opted not to perform. And the inclusion of an act like Steve Miller Band raised questions well before the ceremony about why commercial success trumps the achievements of true game changers like Sonic Youth and the Pixies, who still aren’t in. (The fifth act inducted, Cheap Trick, was unimpeachable.)
But, with presenters including the Black Keys, Kendrick Lamar, and Kid Rock, the night still boasted a fair share of noteworthy moments and performances. EW was on the scene at the Barclays Center — read on for the evening’s highlights.
David Byrne and The Roots covered David Bowie’s “Fame”
The specter of the Thin White Duke, who died in January at the age of 69, loomed large over Friday’s ceremony. Byrne, the Roots, and the singer Kimbra acknowledged his legacy immediately when they kicked off the night with an homage to Bowie (himself a Rock Hall inductee in 1996). As fans were still taking their seats, the all-star ensemble tore through the 1975 hit “Fame” — and confirmed that March’s Bowie tribute concerts lost a valuable component when the Roots and Kimbra withdrew.
Metallica’s Lars Ulrich inducted Deep Purple
The vaunted Metallica drummer (who was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2009) introduced Friday night’s first honorees, Deep Purple, with a lively speech. He recalled seeing the “beautiful contradiction” of a band give a “larger than life” performance when he was growing up in Denmark in 1973. “I had never seen anyone get so physical with his organ,” Ulrich said of keyboardist Jon Lord. “But I was only 9.” He also made an impressive case for the band’s inclusion. “I am somewhat bewildered that they are so late in getting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he noted. “Every hard rock band in the last 40 years, including mine, traces its lineage directly back to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple.”
Steve Miller delivered a hit parade
The Black Keys introduced the Steve Miller Band, and frontman Dan Auerbach laid out why the rock radio staples remain so important. The band’s run from 1974 to 1977 was “so prolific that it demanded its own greatest hits the very next year — one that has sold a staggering 13 million copies, more than classic albums like Abbey Road,” he said. And Miller brought the hits for his performance, with prog shredding on “Fly Like an Eagle,” tight groove on “Rock’n Me,” and laid-back affability on “The Joker.” But Miller’s acceptance speech was less mellow: He called on the Rock Hall to be “more inclusive of women and more transparent in [its] dealings with the public.”
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Kendrick Lamar honored his idols N.W.A.
The current king of Compton rap honored his forebears with a heartfelt acceptance speech. “The fact that a famous group can look just like one of us and dress like one of us, talk like one of us, proved to every single kid in the ghetto that you can be successful and still have importance while doing it,” Lamar candidly shared. “I felt like every single one of them was black superheroes where I come from.” The moment of reflection followed some big laughs: “MC Ren, the motherf — can I cuss?” Lamar said near the beginning of his speech. “MC Ren, the motherf—ing villain!”
Ice Cube justified why hip-hop acts belong in the Rock Hall
Not many hip-hop acts are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — the list only includes Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and now N.W.A. — but Ice Cube made a spirited case for the genre’s inclusion in the best of N.W.A.’s acceptance speeches. “The question is, are we rock and roll?” the famed MC asked. “You goddamn right we rock and roll. Rock and roll is not an instrument, rock and roll is not even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock and roll, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip-hop. … Rock and roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.”
Rob Thomas sang with Chicago
In introducing the soulful rockers, Rob Thomas commented that “if you think Chicago’s your mom’s band, then I wanna party with your mom!” The jury’s out on whether Thomas ended up celebrating with said moms Friday night, but he did get to take the stage with Chicago to contribute vocals on their 1970 hit “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
Rick Nielsen gave Steve Miller a guitar
The colorful Cheap Trick guitarist’s acceptance speech was the last of his band — and of the night — but he kept things short and even shared the spotlight. “I have a present here for Steve Miller,” Nielsen said as he grabbed a guitar that said “Miller” on its body from backstage. “I have a big guitar collection, and I don’t like to give anything away, but Steve Miller, I love you.” After Miller claimed his prize, Nielsen jokingly nudged him offstage: “OK, now get out of here.”
Most of the night’s honorees joined in an all-star concluding jam
The evening concluded with some of night’s performers — Steve Miller, members of Deep Purple and Chicago, and other stars like Rob Thomas, Steven Van Zandt, and Sheryl Crow — performing an all-star rendition of Cheap Trick’s version of the Fats Domino classic “Ain’t That a Shame.” But Nielsen wasn’t satisfied with the lineup, and particularly N.W.A.’s absence. “I’m a little pissed off because I wanted to have N.W.A.,” he said. “I wanted to do a song with those guys. We’d be like Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. We’d be famous and play cool stuff!”