Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts, Night One
29 October 2009 @ Madison Square Garden, New York City
Headliners: Crosby, Stills & Nash; Paul Simon; Simon & Garfunkel; Stevie Wonder; Bruce Springsteen
Guests: Jerry Lee Lewis, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Dion DiMucci, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Smokey Robinson, John Legend, BB King, Sting, Jeff Beck, Sam Moore, Tom Morello, John Fogerty, Darlene Love and Billy Joel.
“Are you ready to turn this mutha out?” asked Stevie Wonder (HoF class of 1989) as he got ready to tear into a Little Stevie Wonder classic. Alas, technical difficulties foiled his plan but the legend responded beautifully by changing up the set list. “We all know great writers when we hear them, right? This song here, we’re going to sing just to honor Bob Dylan,” before leading the crowd in the classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
With the problems subsequently resolved, Wonder launched into a jubilant celebration of his career. From the Little Stevie Wonder years (“Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” “I Was Made to Love You”) through his transition to “adulthood” (“For Once in My Life,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”) and his triumphant 1970’s period (“Boogie on Reggae Woman,” “Livin’ in the City”).
Wonder’s guests were equally impressive. Smokey Robinson (class of 1987) joined Wonder for the classic “Tracks of my Tears.” B.B. King (class of 1987) took the stage and delivered the blues on his “The Thrill Is Gone.” “You’re hot tonight,” King told Wonder as he left the stage. John Legend joined Wonder for a faithful version of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.”
When Legend started to leave the stage, Wonder called him back (“Yes sir,” responded Legend), directing Legend to the piano to jam on Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” In one of the evening’s most moving moments, Wonder broke down momentarily mid-song as the memory of his recently lost friend overwhelmed him.
Later Sting (class of 2003) quietly stepped to the stage playing the unforgettable bass line of Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” If that weren’t enough, the crowd roared when the two segued into “Roxanne” as Sting and Wonder swapped verses. With the room still pulsing, Wonder brought Jeff Beck (classes of 1992 and 2009) to the stage to play guitar on “Superstitious.” “Jeff, do your thing son,” exclaimed Wonder as Beck let his guitar howl.
At this point the time was approaching 11:30pm (the anticipated end-time for the show…) but the gauntlet had been thrown. Springsteen had a tough act to follow.
“Is there anybody alive out there? Then come on, let me hear you!” bellowed Springsteen (class of 1999) as the E Street Band with guest horn section tore into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” The crowd roared.
Next up was an a cappella chorus of Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” as Springsteen gave a rousing introduction to his idol Sam Moore (class of 1992). The two tore through the song and then Moore shouted, “Come on, Stevie” as Van Zandt played the opening riff and led the band into “Soul Man.” It was electrifying. It was so good that they could have ended the show then and I would have been satisfied. Fortunately, they didn’t.
With a “give me that beat, Max,” Springsteen brought John Fogerty (class of 1993) to the stage for a double-dose of Creedence Clearwater Revival classics, “Fortunate Son” and “Proud Mary.” With four electric guitars and the E Street Band rhythm section a blazing, the group took no prisoners.
Before Fogerty could leave, Springsteen took to the mic to praise the late Roy Orbison. “I talked John into doing something that I wouldn’t try by myself,” said Springsteen, “we’re gonna take a ballpark swing at “Pretty Woman,” one of Roy’s brightest and most soulful songs.” They nailed it.
With a quiet “here’s a song by some other guy,” Springsteen returned to center stage for his own epic “Jungleland.” The quiet intro was a welcome respite before building to its intense finale. Any doubt as to Springsteen’s Hall of Fame credentials were clearly laid to rest.
The guests continued. Springsteen declared his support for Hall of Fame nominee Darlene Love and brought her out to sing “A Fine, Fine Boy” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) joined for Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Badlands” plus an intense take on the Clash’s “London Calling.”
And the encore? “Are you ready for the summit at the Garden?” asked Springsteen, “’cause Long Island is about to meet New Jersey on the neutral ground of New York City.” Enter Billy Joel (class of 1999). The Garden erupted.
With a wave to the crowd, Joel declared “give me four bangs” and the band ripped into “You May Be Right.” The hits kept coming, now with Springsteen and Joel swapping vocals: “Only the Good Die Young” was a romp with Bruce declaring “we can’t end it like that” and driving the band into an encore version of the chorus; “New York State of Mind” (with Little Steven and Roy Bittan quietly watching while sitting on Bittan’s piano riser); and finally, “Born to Run.”
It was well past 1am, but the band wasn’t quite ready to call it a night. Moore, Fogerty, Love and Morello (plus Jackson Browne and Peter Wolf who both rushed the stage mid-song) joined Springsteen and Joel for an exhilarating finale of Jackie Wilson’s classic “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”
Read Part One of the Night One review, featuring Crosby, Stills & Nash and Paul Simon (with and without Art Garfunkel) here.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.