(Above: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band back Chuck Berry at the 1995 Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.)
By Joel Francis
“Rock Hall Live,” an exquisite nine DVD box set of performances and speeches from the past 25 years of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies is a treasure trove for all music fans, but it should especially attractive to Bruce Springsteen fans. Springsteen appears on all but two of the discs in more than a dozen performances and nearly as many speeches. As the unofficial MC of the collection, Springsteen makes more appearances than anyone else.
On Monday, The Daily Record examined the first half of Springsteen’s performances on the “Rock Hall Live” box set. Today, we look at Springsteen’s appearance at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his triumphant E Street reunion kick-off and sitting in with U2.
1995 – “Johnny B. Goode” (with Chuck Berry)
In the classic Chuck Berry film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll,” Springsteen tells the story of how he and his pre-E Street band backed Berry in the 1970s. More than two decades later, at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Springsteen reprises the role here, this time with his E Street brothers in tow. Springsteen is relegated to backing vocals and rhythm guitar, but Clarence Clemons punctuates Berry’s lyrical bursts with stings of saxophone a la King Curtis. Sporting a goatee and ear-to-ear grin, Springsteen sheds his backup roll to peel off a brief solo after Berry’s duckwalk.
1995 – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” (with Jerry Lee Lewis, rehearsal)
In this bonus feature Springsteen and the E Street band rehearses “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” with Jerry Lee Lewis before the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The musicians soundcheck their instruments as the crew preps the stage. There’s one dry run through the number, which is unfortunately edited out. Even though everyone is just messing around they still earn applause from the resting workers on the side of the stage. The footage isn’t incredible enlightening or interesting, but it’s worth watching once.
1999 – “The Promised Land,” “Backstreets,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “In the Midnight Hour” (with Wilson Pickett)
The E Street Band were on the cusp of their first tour together in 11 years when they teased the world with a four-song set at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Although the entire performance is captured in the “Rock Hall Live” box, it is frustratingly spread across four discs. Springsteen calls each band member one at a time to join him during onstage during his induction to the hall. While there’s no rust from the decade apart in the opening “The Promised Land,” the band is still getting warmed up. There’s no sweat on Springsteen’s dress shirt at the end of the number.
One can tell from the opening chords of “Backstreets” that this is going to be a special performance. Springsteen unloads every ounce of his soul into the microphone and beats a great solo out of his battered Telecaster. The band is majestic and powerful and inspired the normally staid attendees to dance around their banquet tables.
As photos of a young Springsteen flash on video boards behind the band, the Boss drops to his knees as the classic Little Steven horn arrangement to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” kicks in. Sans guitar, Springsteen uses his arms, legs and hips to cue the band and animate the crowd. It works. Everyone onstage and in the crowd is firing on all cylinders when Billy Joel slips beside Roy Bittan on the organ bench and Wilson Pickett enters to deliver “In the Midnight Hour.” Pickett’s voice is as powerful as ever and Springsteen draws on his years of “Detroit Medley” experience to match that ferocity while delivering the second verse. The band burnishes their credentials as the best house band in the business. If anyone were looking to update “The Last Waltz” and showcase a classic ensemble and their influences, the E Street Band should be the top candidate.
2005 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (with U2)
“When I say that America is not just a country, but an idea, I’m thinking about people like Bruce Springsteen,” Bono says, introducing the song over The Edge’s chiming guitar chords. As the second verse starts, we catch a glimpse of Springsteen in the wings, waiting for his entrance. It takes the Boss a moment to get oriented before delivering the third verse, which kills the momentum of the performance. The moment is a bit superfluous – U2 doesn’t need his help – bit it’s a nice gesture. Springsteen matches Bono’s vocal passion and closes the performance on a powerful note.