Rock 'N' Roll has never excelled at math. "Two plus two always makes a five," says Radiohead, while Bono famously counts, "Uno, dos, tres, catorce." So why expect better from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Founded in 1983, the Hall celebrated its 25th anniversary in October 2009 with two all-star concerts at Madison Square Garden. An edited version will be televised on HBO on Nov. 29. Cutting shouldn't be a challenge.
The nominal idea of the concerts was to trace rock's journey by pairing up Hall inductees of different vintages and styles for performances that highlight influence. Or just generate a highlight. The first night tilted toward fogyism, with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel and Stevie Wonder, among others, doing serviceable work before ceding the stage to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who gamely refused to turn the show into their own by playing with Darlene Love, John Fogerty and Billy Joel. Presumably that was to highlight the influence of New Jersey on Long Island, New York.
Night 2 couldn't help being more contemporary, even though Jerry Lee Lewis opened with a two-minute "Great Balls of Fire" that finished when he kicked over the piano bench. If they go another round, my money's on the bench. Aretha Franklin performed spirited duets with Annie Lennox and Lenny Kravitz, but the sparks started when Metallica, whose facial hair has always belied its sincerity, backed Lou Reed, Ray Davies and Ozzy Osbourne on two songs each, with impressive seriousness. Lead singer James Hetfield screamed, "Now that's rock 'n' roll!" after the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," and he sounded like a man who had discovered its power anew.
U2 closed with an endearing mess of a set. Mick Jagger skittered across the stage but failed to set it alight on "Gimme Shelter," and the less said of U2's duet with the Black Eyed Peas, the better. What was lovable was Bono's willingness to make a go of it on a rousing "Because the Night" with Patti Smith and Springsteen. But in the end, it was less a great concert than a concert of greats.