With some of the worst presenters possible and musical performances about as exciting as leftover crab meat, 2016's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame show was one of its least interesting to date.
2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction CeremonyCast: Robin Zander, Kid Rock, Rob Thomas, Chicago, Bun E. Carlos, Steve Miller, Dan Auerbach, Patrick Carney
Air date: 2016-04-30
For all the consternation, the bellyaching, the backstabbing, and the all-around complaining one must suffer through hearing about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, watching the 2016 induction ceremony can be summarized as follows: There's no there there. The ceremony, which saw Cheap Trick, N.W.A., Chicago, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller enter into the pantheon of Cleveland's Crass Commercialism tower, had more lowlights than highlights. Frankly, at the end of the night, you couldn’t help but feel that the Class of 2016 went in a little light.
That’s no knock on the bands themselves. Sure, there's grousing when the inductees are announced. This year was no exception. More than one hapless writer bemoaned Miller’s inclusion, complaining that the Milwaukee-born guitarist lacked hits. A quick Wikipedia visit and half a brain later and one would come to understand that Miller's career is one populated by legendary live shows, innovative album production, and a string of hits. True, Miller hasn't had a high-charting single for something like 30 years, but then how many artists from his generation have? Did we mention that he also has a right hand that's nothing less than an instrument of God?
Deep Purple's induction was also acknowledgement that rock isn’t just for Americans. The group's heyday on these shores passed long ago, but globally the band's probably as strong as ever. N.W.A.’s entrance proved that the genre for which the hall of fame is named can be just as much about attitude as sonics. Cheap Trick's arrival was long overdue, and Chicago was and is a powerhouse band that happened to have some good ballads.
Yet there's something hollow about the whole thing. Maybe it's in the (mostly) dispassionate presentation. Most of the younger artists on hand to introduce the veteran acts, in the parlance of our times, sucked. Metallica's Lars Ulrich, one of Deep Purple’s most ardent supporters, spoke from his heart. His connection to the art that Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Glover, and Gillan created on albums such as In Rock and Machine Head was palpable. For as much flak as the Danish-born drummer has taken over the years, he understands tradition and institutions and how to extend respect.
The same couldn’t be said for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. It’s hard to think of two musicians who have greater sense of entitlement, and who never seem to have learned either manners or respect. They certainly didn’t respect Steve Miller. They brought him on with a speech that could have been read by a teleprompter. It was a string of superficial factoids that an anteater with a laptop could have summoned with the help of monkey's three-year-old niece. These guys were too hip to bring in Steve Miller and they wanted you to know.
In contrast, Miller himself couldn't have been a better presence. He called for greater support of music programs in schools, for more female artists to be in the Hall of Fame, and for greater visibility for women in the industry in general. Later, when he went to town on the institution, insisting that there needed to be top-down changes and labeled his whole experience "unpleasant", Auerbach and Carney claimed they felt the same way about him. They said they regretted the whole induction and split before the night was over. Class act, that lot. Miller's crankiness isn't unwarranted. There's little sense that the Hall of Fame actually rewards innovation. This year, its newcomers arrived about a decade too late, and the women Miller championed? None were to be found.
Kid Rock was the second most obnoxious presenter of the night. Although he appeared to at least have heard more than a few Cheap Trick songs, there remain about three hundred billion people who would have been far easier to watch. Rob Thomas' induction of Chicago was a little wrongheaded, as he hyped the notion that some perceive Chicago only as a ballads band, and listed off the group's accomplishments rather than speaking to how he connected to the music. Kendrick Lamar at least did that with N.W.A.
Everyone was at least on something approaching their best behavior. Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan seemed twitchy about having to be on the same stage as David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes. Cheap Trick, long embroiled in a lawsuit with drummer Bun E. Carlos, exuded class and unity. (The lawsuit was long over by the time of the induction and if bad blood remains, the boys from Rockford weren’t going to spill it in front of everyone.) Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine acknowledged that his band had "fucked together", probably to the chagrin of everyone’s wives and grandkids, but he was clearly ecstatic to perform with guys he's been estranged from for over two decades.
The performances were, predictably, not much to write home about. Purple did their show of the hits (never what the group’s excelled at). Cheap Trick played well if a little perfunctory. At least Carlos’ drumming hasn’t suffered from his absence from the group. Chicago’s run through the hits was by the numbers, and that’s perhaps why N.W.A. didn’t try at all. Miller, for having had to endure Carney and Auerbach, gave it more than his all and showed every last person in the house how it’s done. A David Byrne-led tribute to David Bowie at the start of the show was disappointing and remarkably restrained, while Sheryl Crow’s salute to Glenn Frey showed how much we’ve underestimated her as a musician and an interpreter of song.
The final jam (on "Ain't That a Shame") was ragged at best, and ill-chosen at worst. The Cheap Trick lads were on home turf, though, so they weren’t the problem. Too many of the other acts seemed to have little connection to the tune, and you got the impression that if Glenn Hughes had been left alone to sing the whole of the song everything would have come off much better than it did.
That’s where the light part of the evening came on. Aside from N.W.A., there wasn't an act on the stage that showed audacity. All others inducted represented music that placed substance over style, and music over image. Call that middle of the road. Call that what you want. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make for great, or really even all that interesting, television. Maybe that’s just the way it goes in 2016: play it safe, convince everyone that all rock is Dad Rock. It’s safe and institutional like the sports banquets back in high school. When you start to think that you’d rather watch Big Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli’s impossibly punchable face than listen to those Black Keys dudes, you know you have a problem.
The Hall of Fame can’t undo the damage its done in the past -- bringing in Green Day over The Replacements, ignoring women, inducting some members of some bands but not others -- but it can prevent itself from doing more damage in the future. Maybe the best thing is for the organization to do what The Police did: Go out when everybody’s still talking, when there’s still some meaning/significance to be found, and when the audience looks back and gets misty-eyed from your absence. In short, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would have to go back in time and quit about five years ago.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2016 is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.