May 23, 2024

Four hours and 22 minutes is a long time to be doing anything except sleeping, even watching a state-of-the-art Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards show that included Willie Nelson, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Page, Stevie Nicks and many more.

Yet it’s a testament to the almost superhuman talent and vision of Missy Elliott that as the show hit the four-hour mark, she had the entire audience out of their seats for a visually and musically explosive medley of her greatest hits — including “Get Ur Freak On,” “The Rain” and the closer, “Lose Control” — as she rocked the stage in an all-gold glitter suit accompanied by rappers, a DJ, approximately 30 lithely limbed dancers and an eye-popping video presentation that spanned the entire width of the Barclays Center floor. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been lucky enough to see a performance from the first female rapper inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s something we see far too infrequently these days. She even noted that the evening was the first time her mother had seen her perform live, “Because I didn’t want her to see me talking about bitches and a one-minute man.”

But before you skip to the end of the show, which was livestreamed on Disney+ for the first time and is available for playback now, see below for the other essential moments. Serious music fans will probably want to watch the whole thing — we’re skipping over performances from Sheryl Crow (with Nicks, Olivia Rodrigo and Peter Frampton), Chaka Khan (including a surreal duet with Sia), tributes to pioneering hip-hop DJ Kool Herc, Zelig-like musician Al Kooper and “Soul Train” founder Don Cornelius and more — but for those without four hours and 22 minutes to spare, dig in for a guide below.

Carrie Underwood’s Revelatory George Michael Cover

The late George Michael was inducted by Andrew Ridgely, his childhood friend and former bandmate in Wham!, who few people recognized at first due to his long-since-receded hairline. A trio of performances followed, with Miguel starting with a strong “Careless Whisper” (accompanied by the E Street Band’s Jake Clemons on sax), a mediocre “Faith” from Adam Levine, and finally, a stunning version of “One More Try” from Carrie Underwood, who brought the house down with an emotional, soaring performance that makes you wonder why she doesn’t sing songs like that all the time. The tribute video also featured some hilarious quotes from Michael particularly when he said the two records he first owned as a child were by the Supremes and Tom Jones, noting that his music was somewhere between the two.

New Edition Create a Spinners Tribute Band for the Ages

Anyone who grew up near an FM radio in America during the 1970s heard tons of R&B, and one of the most prominent groups were the Spinners. For a medley of three of their biggest hits, New Edition were clad in black slacks and matching velour maroon jackets, and had their synchronized dance steps down. Hearing Bobby Brown wail on “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” was a totally unexpected but resonant moment.

Johnny Gill, Michael Bivens, Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe and Bobby Brown of New Edition (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

St. Vincent Bravely Runs Up That Hill

In another unexpected pairing, Kate Bush — who skipped the ceremony but posted a touching note of thanks — was inducted by Outkast’s Big Boi, who joked, “I feel like the White House Press Secretary for Kate Bush.” After speaking of his lifelong fandom and saying “I’m the kid in ‘Stranger Things’” (a nod to the show that brought the decades-old song to new levels of popularity), he said, “What I love about Kate’s music is that you never know what you’re going to hear next.” The tribute video was fascinating, combining clips of Bush with testimonials from Peter Gabriel, and especially Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who essentially discovered her when she was a teenager and recalled going to her house, meeting her family and then she played him “forty or fifty songs.” St. Vincent then showed just how difficult those songs are to sing, turning in a solid, brave and relatively low-key take on “Running Up That Hill” in which she wisely didn’t try to mimic Bush’s intensity.

Willie Nelson Gets a Hilarious Introduction From Dave Matthews and Performs With Chris Stapleton and Sheryl Crow

There is probably no living songwriter with a catalog that can match Willie Nelson’s, and not many past ones either. Now 90, as Dave Matthews noted in his introduction, he wrote his first song in 1940, saw his “Crazy” recorded by Patsy Cline in 1961, and has released 72 albums. Somehow, he has made it all this way while being a marijuana smoker of magnitude. “The first time I met Willie,” Matthews recalled, “I got so high I forgot how to breathe. And then we got more high, and then we got even more high, and then Willie said, ‘Is everybody high?’” Nelson took the stage and played three songs, accompanied by Chris Stapleton (on “Whiskey River”), Sheryl Crow (“On Crazy”) and “On the Road Again” with both and Matthews — his voice was a little unsteady and he played seated, but he gave a very gracious thank-you speech and peeled off two solos on his legendary battered nylon-string guitar.

Willie Nelson receives his statuette from Dave Matthews (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

A Surprise Performance From Jimmy Page

Link Wray, who died in 2005, was such a foundational pioneer of rock and roll guitar that most guitarists these days don’t know who he was. Yet the video that aired featured everyone from Jimmy Page and Iggy Pop to Jeff Beck and Robbie Robertson paying worshipful homage, and the audience rocked to their feet when, just after he’d appeared in the video inducting Wray, Page suddenly appeared on stage, brandishing his legendary Gibson double-neck guitar, and played a slinky, reverent version of Wray’s “Rumble,” a song you know even if you think you don’t.  

Bernie Taupin Addresses the Elephant in the Room

Elton John reeled off an oft-told story about his lyricist and “best friend of 65 years,” but the tale was no less fresh as he marveled at their progression between his first album and second — “How did we take that leap in such a short time?” — and noted that although they didn’t really have an argument during their peak years, “He was often disgusted with my behavior.” And yet he also noted that they recently completed an album that “is going to surprise the shit out of you.”

During Taupin’s acceptance speech, some three hours into the show, the moment finally came: He said how honored he was to be sharing the honor with so many “articulate” (air quotes) women and Black artists — the evening’s only direct reference to Rolling Stone and Hall of Fame founder Jann Wenner’s recent tasteless comments that got him ejected from the Hall’s board.

Robbie Robertson Gets a Generation-Spanning Tribute From Elton John, Chris Stapleton, Sheryl Crow and Brittany Howard

The Hall digs deep for its “In Memoriam” segment, honoring many relatively little-known bandmembers in addition to superstars. And in a year when a sobering number of great musicians died, it seemed inappropriate to honor just one — until the segment closed with a photo of the Band’s Robbie Robertson and the house band kicked into the group’s 1968 classic “The Weight.” Four generations of singers — Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Chris Stapleton and Brittany Howard — each took a verse and then joined together for the song’s concluding fifth verse, showing in stunning fashion just how foundational the Band and that song were for all of them.

Even in Their Absence, Rage Against the Machine Raged

Since they first parted ways in 2000, Rage Against the Machine have never been there when you needed them. They sat out the George W. Bush years, reunited for tours during the Obama administration, and were a couple of dates into a long-overdue reunion tour last summer when singer Zack de la Rocha injured his knee and the tour was postponed indefinitely. Yet the group’s explosive influence was vividly detailed in the electrifying tribute video, in Ice-T’s introductory speech — “I think Rage has the greatest rock lyric of all time: ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’” — and guitarist Tom Morello’s acceptance speech. Always an inspired speaker, he noted that the often-feuding bandmembers have “differing perspectives on a lot of things, including being inducted,” but paid tribute not only to them but also the “fifth member of the band” — the group’s fans — and noted that the presidents of Chile and Finland “have all spent time in our mosh pits.” 

His speech gained momentum as he continued, “Can music change the world? The whole fucking aim is to change the world!” and finished by exhorting people to make a difference in whatever way they can, by activism or forming a band or simply following their conscience instead of orders. “It’s time to change the world, brothers and sisters,” he concluded, “or at the very least stir up a shitload of trouble.”

As fans exited the venue after a very long night, they saw the following words grafitti’d on a boarded-up window across Flatbush Avenue: “THANK YOU RATM.”

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