Heavy on star pairings and performances of classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes, the concert avoided coming off like an oldies show mostly through energy and playful invention. The momentum lagged after hour four but still shifted back into high gear periodically. Following the opening Berry-Springsteen number, those two yielded to John Mellencamp who, like most others, performed a three-song set. His included a duet with Martha Reeves on Van Morrison’s “Wild Night.”
A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation production in association with Joel Gallen of Tenth Planet Prods. Directed by Marty Callner. Exec producer, Suzan Evans. With: Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Bon Jovi, Eric Burden, Melissa Etheridge, Dr. John, Al Green, the Pretenders, Johnny Cash, Jackson Browne, Aretha Franklin, John Fogerty, Booker T and the MGs, Iggy Pop, Soul Asylum, Lou Reed, Gin Blossoms, Sheryl Crow, George Clinton, the Kinks, Heart, the E Street Band, Jerry Lee Lewis, Natalie Merchant, Robbie Robertson, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Dylan, Sam Moore, the Allman Bros., Slash, Boz Scaggs, James Brown, Little Richard. Reviewed Sept. 2, 1995. Chuck Berry, backed on guitar by Bruce Springsteen, duck-walked away days of hype and perhaps a little too much glory with a jolting “Johnny B. Goode,” opening the all-star, nearly seven-hour Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a performance that set a good standard for the rest of the evening (and early morning). Most in the all-star lineup rose to the occasion.
Among the concert highlights: Eric Burden, backed by Bon Jovi, performing a medley of his Animals hits; Melissa Etheridge tearing through “Leader of the Pack”; Al Green, in terrific voice, performing his own “Tired of Being Alone”; Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders charging through their scathing “Ohio”; Johnny Cash’s “Folsum Prison Blues”; Jackson Browne and Etheridge teaming on “Wake Up, Little Suzie”; Aretha Franklin vamping through “Natural Woman” and teaming with Green on “Pink Cadillac”; and John Fogerty, backed by Booker T and the MGs, with a tough rendition of “Fortunate Son.”
Among the younger perfs, Soul Asylum lent memorable grunge backing to Lou Reed for “Sweet Jane,” and the Gin Blossoms did a respectful acoustic version of the Beatles’ “Wait.” Sheryl Crow, after a fitful start, settled into her set with a rhythm-heavy rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off My Cloud,” and Slash did justice to Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” (with Boz Scaggs on vocals).
In keeping with the Rock Hall’s embrace of diversity, the concert producers were smart to include performers as wide-ranging as the country Cash and funky George Clinton, who, backed by his P-Funk All-Stars, paid tribute to Sly and the Family Stone. Noticeably absent, though, was any representation of rap. Scheduled Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg were no-shows.
At least for the first four hours, the concert kept a brisk pace, with some performers topping even that: Ray Davies and the Kinks brought the stadium to its feet with the one-two punch of “All Day and All of the Night” and “Lola.” Springsteen reunited with his E Street Band on a set that included a few ’50s standards and his own “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Although joined by Jerry Lee Lewis for “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” the pairing proved somewhat disappointing, as Lewis and Springsteen opted not to sing together.
There were other disappointments as well: Natalie Merchant doing an unconvincing bluesy number, Heart’s superfluous replica of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore,” a dull Bruce Hornsby, and a largely unexceptional Bob Dylan set that included barely recognizable reworkings of “Just Like a Woman” and “Highway 61.” The Dylan-Springsteen duet could have been a highlight had they not chosen the overused and overrated “Forever Young.”
The disappointments came more regularly after the midnight hour, despite fine sets by the Allman Bros., Little Richard and a show-stopping James Brown. By 1 a.m. the concert was feeling less Jerry Lee Lewis and more Jerry Lewis Telethon.
The marathon ended on a bizarrely abrupt note, with Berry returning for a ragged, Springsteen-backed “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.” After struggling through the number, Berry beat a hasty retreat and the lights came up. No goodbyes or thank-yous, much less the rumored all-star jam finale. A show with as many memorable moments deserved better.