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Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th-anniversary concert.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a perpetual problem whenever it stages an event: How do you fairly represent rock's hardscrabble spirit and history in the context of what often seems like a backslapping soiree of superstars? Thursday night's 25th-anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, for all its great moments, was no different.
After a musical benediction by Jerry Lee Lewis, Crosby Stills & Nash played some of their hits, then brought out Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and James Taylor to play some of theirs. It was a '70s Southern California love-in, and everyone sounded pretty great. But aside from a beautifully sloppy cover of the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider," rock history seemed to be only about songs these famous artists made famous themselves
Paul Simon did a slightly more ambitious job of telling rock 'n' roll's history, to paraphrase the concert's advertised mission. In between his solo material and a set with Art Garfunkel, he brought out Dion DiMucci, who sang his 1961 hit "The Wanderer." Then Simon handed the stage off to the doo-wop legends Little Anthony and the Imperials.
If anyone was entitled to sing his catalog, it was Stevie Wonder. But his first song was Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," followed by a cover of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," which reconnected the late, troubled King of Pop to the magnificent Motown lineage that raised him into its greatest star. The set went even higher with a version of "Superstition" that added guitarist Jeff Beck for extra fire.
Finally, Bruce Springsteen took the stage for a two-hour overtime session, and in one of those endlessly amazing displays of Springsteenism, he managed to gracefully acknowledge every one of the evening's problems and contradictions while simultaneously transcending them. He played to the cheap seats by cracking wise about ticket prices, which topped $2,000. He decried homelessness and the stock market scandal to a crowd that looked to me like it contained a sizable Wall Street contingent. And he gave much of his set over to legends less famous than himself, such as Sam and Dave's Sam Moore, as well as Darlene Love, the voice of countless Phil Spector recordings and one of just two women in this rock 'n' roll men's room.
Springsteen ended by noting that Love, somewhat shamefully, has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But after their performance, which was the night's most joyous, that should change. In my mind, that sort of triumph is what rock 'n' roll's history is all about.