A mohawked Eddie Vedder put the regal Waldorf-Astoria hotel in a punk rock state of mind Monday night when he inducted the Ramones into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearing the end of his 17-minute speech, Vedder said, “After this, I’m sure the evening will move quickly, but it’s the Ramones and it’s punk rock and I’m just about finished and I hope you’re OK with that.” The crowd’s response included some jeers and boos.
“Apparently you’re not. F– you,” he replied.
But overall, the night was filled with special moments – including a Talking Heads induction and reunion as well as posthumous inductions of Joey Ramone and Chet Atkins – even though the ceremony was also plagued by technical difficulties and long delays (the delays will be edited out when VH-1 broadcasts the event on Wednesday).
There was no question about the content of Vedder’s speech, which was called “brilliant” by those who followed him. But as well spoken as the Pearl Jam singer was in his call to remember how the Ramones revitalized rock and how desperately that needs to happen again, he was also slow, pausing and mumbling through passages.
“They were armed with two-minute songs that they rattled off like machinegun fire,” Vedder said, “and it was enough to change the Earth’s revolution. Now it’s Disney kids singing songs written by old men and being marketed to 6- and 7-year-olds, so some kind of change might have to happen again soon.”
Vedder’s speech set the tone for the evening, but for capturing the spirit of the Ramones, masters of the short and sweet, Green Day did the trick. The pop-punk trio saluted their forefathers with efficiency, blasting through “Rockaway Beach,” “Teenage Lobotomy” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” without speaking to the crowd or to reporters backstage.
For the most part, the Ramones kept it light, with bassist Dee Dee Ramone joking, “I’d like to congratulate myself and thank myself and give myself a big pat on the back. Thank you, Dee Dee, you’re wonderful.”
Drummer Tommy Ramone, however, reiterated that the honor did mean a lot to the band, especially since it was something their late singer had wanted. “The honor of our induction… means a lot to us. But it’s really meant everything to Joey.” He continued that thought backstage, saying it was one of the last things he talked about with Joey before the singer’s death last April.
Talking Heads put aside their legendary acrimony and performed for the first time in 18 years. Joined onstage by CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, the band thanked just about everyone who had nurtured, fed or paid them over the years, including the rock hall itself, “for giving this band a happy ending,” drummer Chris Frantz said.
Latter-day touring members of the band, including Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic and Steve Scales, joined on two-thirds of the set, which consisted of “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House” and “Life During Wartime.” “This is a song completely inappropriate at this time,” singer David Byrne said before launching into “Life During Wartime,” “but then again, maybe it is appropriate.”
Witnesses to the band’s performance started wondering if talk of a full-fledged reunion would also be appropriate. After all, Byrne actually seemed relaxed playing with his former bandmates, with little to no trace of the self-conscious and idiosyncratic moves that comprised his so-uncool-he’s-cool Talking Heads persona. Content to move in sync with Tina Weymouth’s able bass playing, Byrne instead painted a picture of ease.
Backstage, Byrne said the choice of songs helped “smooth things out.” “We just played what we imagined people wanted to hear,” he said. “This wasn’t the time to pull out obscure numbers.” Would there ever be such a time again? Guitarist Jerry Harrison said that they would think about that later. “We haven’t played together for a really long time,” Frantz added, “and I think we’re all grateful to have a happy night like this and to have a good vibe.”
Good vibes weren’t hard to find in the evening’s other performances, which started off with an orchestrated version of “Shaft,” conducted and then sung by inductee Isaac Hayes. Dressed in a silky pajamalike outfit, Hayes led Paul Schaffer’s band in a long prelude to his famous theme song. Waving his arms around, Hayes acted out instrument parts as if he were playing them himself, adding a sense of spunk to his funk.
Inducted later in the evening, Hayes warned young rap and hip-hop artists to avoid being blinded by the money. “It’s not all about bling bling and all the gold and Cristal,” he said. “Don’t slip into the traps, and don’t forget about your ‘hood.”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took it a little easy on their renditions of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and “American Girl.” Petty didn’t reach for the slightly higher register he usually sings those songs in, and instead dropped it down a notch, bearing a resemblance to his presenter’s father. “Before Tom came along, a lot of singer/songwriters were stuck with the label the ‘new Dylan,’ ” presenter Jakob Dylan said. “Tom’s vision was so strong that when I came along, I was called the ‘new Petty,’ when actually I may have been the only one who deserved the burden of being called the ‘new Dylan.’ ”
The closing all-star jam turned out to be neither all-star nor a jam. Many of the evening’s performers, inductees and presenters – from the Ramones and Green Day to Anthony Kiedis (who inducted Talking Heads) and Alicia Keysdidn’t participate.
The first song of the finale, Al Green’s soul classic “Take Me to the River,” had to be done twice, since audio problems made it difficult to hear the full mix the first time around. Some of the pairings for the rest of the jam made sense – presenter Darlene Love joining inductee Gene Pitney on “He’s a Rebel,” which he wrote for her group, the Crystals – but having Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas (pulled from the audience) duet with Jewel (who inducted Brenda Lee) was less to do with the event than with positioning. Still, it didn’t dilute their tribute to George Harrison on “Here Comes the Sun.”
Other inductees included Chet Atkins (as a sideman) and Jim Stewart (as a non-performer).
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on VH1.