Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 19, 2020)
To celebrate a quarter century since its founding, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took over Madison Square Garden for the evenings of October 29 and 30, 2009. The Garden hosted two all-star concerts across those evenings, and we find highlights from the shows in this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: 25th Anniversary Concerts package.
I attended both shows and regard them as among the highlights of my 40-year-plus concert-going career. I looked forward to this two-Blu-ray package as a way to revisit those fun evenings.
As implied, we don’t get both concerts in their entirety, and Anniversary also doesn’t feature the performers in the order they performed. I’ll examine each set via the way these discs present them.
Jerry Lee Lewis: “Great Balls of Fire”.
Omitted song: “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”.
After a short introduction from Tom Hanks, the Killer performed one of his biggest hits. It seems funny to realize Lewis was “only” 74 at this show, since now I see artists like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, both of whom are older than that.
Of course, those 1960s acts have helped redefine the concept of how old we can accept rockers. Jagger and McCartney simply remain more vital, though, whereas the Lewis of 2009 seemed old and vaguely feeble. Even when he kicks over the piano bench at the end, it feels perfunctory.
Crosby, Stills and Nash: “Woodstock”, “Almost Cut My Hair”, “Love Has No Pride” (with Bonnie Raitt), “The Pretender” (with Jackson Browne), “Love the One You’re With” (with James Taylor).
Omitted songs: “Marrakech Express”, “Midnight Rider”, “Mexico”, “Rock and Roll Woman”, “Teach Your Children”.
Of all the main artists represented on this set, I probably regard CSN as my least favorite. Not that I hate them, but I never much enjoyed their style of light folk-rock.
I changed my mind slightly when I saw CSN open for Tom Petty back in 2010, mainly because I’d not previously realized what a great guitarist Stephen Stills was. His playing almost made me reconsider my view of the band’s music.
CSN’s abbreviated set here doesn’t showcase Stills’ skills like that 2010 gig did, but they do come across as meatier and more hard-edged than their old studio recordings indicate. Their legendary harmonies don’t sound as good as they did in the day, but the more rocking tone compensates.
I’m still not a CSN fan and probably never will be one. Nonetheless, I like this performance much more than I might’ve expected.
Stevie Wonder: “For Once in My Life”, “Tracks of My Tears” (with Smokey Robinson), “The Way You Make Me Feel” (with John Legend), “The Thrill Is Gone” (with BB King), “Higher Ground/Roxanne” (with Sting), “Superstition” (with Jeff Beck).
Omitted songs: “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “I Was Made to Love You”, “Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)”, “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”, “Living for the City”.
Whereas I never came to like CSN, I’ve been a Wonder fan since Songs in the Key of Life landed under the Christmas tree in 1976. Unlike some of the artists we’ll discuss later in the review, Wonder doesn’t reside high on my list of faves, but I continue to enjoy his music, and I’ve seen him live five times over the years.
It’s a shame that this disc largely omits Wonder’s solo set, and it seems odd that three of the six songs we find aren’t even his. Only “Higher Ground”, “Once” and “Superstition” represent actual Wonder tunes.
Even without more Wonder material, this becomes a strong set. While I wouldn’t call Wonder a great live performer, he plays the songs well, and he still sounds great as a vocalist. Wonder’s section of the concert works nicely.
By the way, if you wonder why Wonder breaks down during “The Way You Make Me Feel”, it’s because this show occurred only a few months after Michael Jackson’s death and emotions ran high.
Paul Simon: “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “You Can Call Me Al”, “Here Comes the Sun” (with David Crosby and Graham Nash), “The Wanderer” (with Dion DiMucci), “Two People in the World” (Little Anthony and the Imperials), “The Sounds of Silence” (with Art Garfunkel), “The Boxer” (with Garfunkel), “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (with Garfunkel).
Omitted songs: “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, “Late in the Evening”, “Mrs. Robinson”/”Not Fade Away” (with Garfunkel), “Cecilia” (with Garfunkel).
In terms of my fandom, Simon falls between Wonder and CSN, but much closer to CSN. Unlike CSN, I’ve paid to see Simon, but I only did that once, and that was mainly because a) it was at a small venue and b) was relatively inexpensive, so c) it sounded fun.
Whereas CSN’s 2010 opener for Petty almost turned me into a fan, Simon’s 2011 solo show at DC’s 9:30 Club didn’t influence me in that way. Honestly, I barely remember the show – I guess it was fine but it didn’t impact me much.
The same goes for Simon’s performance here, though I admit it was a treat to see him with his old partner Garfunkel. While I saw Simon solo in 2011, the Rock Hall concert represents my only glimpse of those two live.
Though I don’t count myself as much of a fan, I still enjoyed their set – and Art acquits himself well on the memorable “Bridge”. It’s a shame the package doesn’t include their whole performance, especially since it appears to be their second-to-last show together as of early 2020. S&G did a full set at the 2010 New Orleans Jazzfest but that seems to be it.
Aretha Franklin: “Baby I Love You”, “Don’t Play That Song”, “Chain of Fools” (with Annie Lennox).
Omitted songs: “Make Them Hear You”, “New York, New York”, “Think”, “Respect”.
Of all the artists represented here, Franklin remains my least favorite. As much as I respect her talent, her style of singing never resonated with me, so I didn’t connect to her music.
Franklin sounds pretty good here, though. While her voice showed some decline over the years, Aretha at 80 percent still sang better than almost anyone else at 100 percent. I find it bizarre that the package drops “Think” and “Respect” – arguably Franklin’s two most famous songs – but this still turns into an enjoyable performance.
Metallica: “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Enter Sandman”, “Sweet Jane” (with Lou Reed), “Iron Man/Paranoid” (with Ozzy Osbourne), “All Day and All of the Night” (with Ray Davies).
Omitted songs: “One”, “Turn the Page”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “White Light/ White Heat” (with Lou Reed), “You Really Got Me” (with Ray Davies).
Metallica acts as the HOF’s nod toward heavy metal, which is why Osbourne appears here. Davies also pops up since the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and “All Day…” exist as the roots of metal.
Why does Reed play with them? Good question – maybe no one else liked him?
Anyway, Metallica is a band I kinda sorta like – but not really. I can listen to their work and I wouldn’t mind seeing them live, but other than this 2009 show, I’ve never attended one of their performances.
Here they sound fine within their own wheelhouse. When they need to expand to other styles, though, they seem less satisfying. That makes this set a mixed bag.
U2: “Vertigo”, “Magnificent”, “Beautiful Day”, “Because the Night” (with Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen), “Gimme Shelter” (with Mick Jagger and Fergie)”.
Omitted songs: “Mysterious Ways”/”Where Is the Love”/”One” (with Black Eyed Peas), “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (with Bruce Springsteen), “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” (with Mick Jagger).
Given that I’ve not indicated I’m all that interested in most of the prior acts, one might question why I attended these 2009 concerts. U2 answer that query for Night Two, as they were the big draw for me that evening.
U2 played a surprisingly short set given their stature and their place as headliner. Why an abbreviated show? Bruce Springsteen’s Night One performance went into the wee hours, a fact that cost event organizers mucho dinero.
Madison Square Garden has a curfew. Artists can play past it but they must pay overtime, and because Bruce’s Night One show went until about 1 AM, it incurred boohoogles of overtime.
Clearly organizers told U2 not to repeat this late night excursion. Because prior Night 2 acts ran long, U2 had to rush.
Which was a major disappointment at the time. As I noted, U2 were the big attraction for me, so the slimmed down set was a drag.
Still, I enjoyed what I got – how could I be unhappy with the sight of U2 and faves Springsteen and Jagger? Though Mick seems lost at sea during “Moment”, as it’s just not a song in his wheelhouse. Occasionally it appears Mick never heard “Moment” before he stepped on stage.
Mick fares better on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, and Fergie holds up her end via the Merry Clayton vocals for that song. Bruce does fine on “Stuck” as well.
Enjoy the power of editing with this performance of “Because the Night”. At the live show, the song became an utter disaster, as Smith simply couldn’t get into a groove.
The tune went so poorly that the first attempt collapsed. U2 had to start over, and even then, Smith needed Bono to almost literally hold her hand to get through it.
I never heard an explanation for what went wrong – maybe Smith couldn’t hear the backing? – but in person, this was one of the worst messes I’ve ever seen.
Viewers of this Blu-ray will never know all these woes, as the editors deftly meld the two versions into one seamless performance. Oh, for those of us who were there, we can still see telltale signs of the problems – watch for Bono’s gesture of victory when Smith finally connects to the song - but otherwise, you’d never know how awful the song went.
Some mismatched songs and bizarre vocal issues aside, I enjoyed U2’s set. Again: it’s U2 with Bruce and Mick – how can I complain?
Jeff Beck: “People Get Ready” (with Sting), “Let Me Love You Baby” (with Buddy Guy), “Foxey Lady” (with Billy Gibbons).
Omitted songs: “Drown In My Own Tears”, “Freeway Boogie”, “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”, “Big Block”, “Rice Pudding”, “Rough Boy” (with Gibbons), “A Day in the Life”.
Beck falls into the category of artists I’ve always felt I should like but I don’t. I respect Beck’s talent and enjoy some of his work, but he just never connected with me.
Beck doesn’t convince me to change my mind with his brief set, but he does fine. The three songs showcase his ample guitar talents and become fairly enjoyable.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: “Hold On! I’m Comin’/Soul Man” (with Sam Moore), “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (with Tom Morello), “Fortunate Son” (with John Fogerty), “Oh, Pretty Woman” (with Fogerty), “Jungleland”, “A Fine Fine Boy” (with Darlene Love), “New York State of Mind” (with Billy Joel), “Born to Run” (with Joel), “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (with Love, Fogerty, Joel, Morello, Moore).
Omitted songs: “10th Avenue Freezeout”, “Proud Mary” (with Fogerty), “Fortunate Son” (with Fogerty), “Da Doo Ron Ron” (with Love), “London Calling” (with Morello), “Badlands” (with Morello), “You May Be Right” (with Joel), “Only the Good Die Young” (with Joel).
For Bruce, a 17-song set is a short show, but given the time constraints of this multi-artist bill, that was a loooong concert. As noted, Bruce played well past curfew – and made me nervous that I’d miss the last train back to my motel in New Jersey!
I find it hard to authoritatively state Bruce is my favorite of all the acts who played these shows, not with U2 and the Stones represented. I’ve seen Springsteen far more than any of the others, though. Even though I’ve been to 90 U2 concerts, Bruce stands almost 50 percent above that total.
Springsteen’s Rock Hall performance seems good but not great. As noted, this acts as a “short” show for Bruce, and one with many more guests than usual, so he doesn’t get into the same kind of groove we’d find from a standard Bruce concert.
Still, Bruce does more than fine for himself, and the guests add some charge, especially when we see him with Joel. While those songs don’t seem like highlights – the intense “Tom Joad” offers the most goosebumps – but it’s just a lot of fun to see these two legends together.
That’s much of the pleasure to be taken from the 25th Anniversary Concerts. Packed with a peerless roster of talent, we find a slew of good performances and pairings that need to be seen to be believed. I still cherish my memories of these concerts and feel glad I can relive them at home.