NEW YORK — Heartfelt speeches, epic performances, and relief for long-overdue recognition marked one of the most exciting and contemporary-feeling Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in recent years.
The class of 2014 — Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Kiss, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam), the E Street Band, and famed rock managers Brian Epstein (the Beatles) and Andrew Loog Oldham (the Rolling Stones) — was ushered into the Hall Thursday at the Barclays Center in front of a sold-out audience of enthusiastic fans.
The generally celebratory mood of the ceremony was underscored by a sense of melancholy, as several of the inducted acts have had members who have passed away, and Ronstadt, beset by Parkinson’s disease and no longer able to sing, was unable to attend.
Ronstadt did receive a wonderful tribute, however, as Carrie Underwood, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, and Stevie Nicks — the baddest girl group ever — teamed up to perform spirited and harmonious versions of hits like “You’re No Good” and “Blue Bayou.”
Kiss fans perhaps felt the night’s sense of triumph and melancholy most acutely. After years of stumping by fans — including Tom Morello, who gave the band a raucous welcome with his fiery induction speech — the group’s inclusion was, as member Paul Stanley said, a “vindication” of that loyalty. But the band did not perform because of a dispute with the Hall of Fame, which insisted on recognizing only the four original members: Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. While the men were ecstatic in their acceptance speeches and magnanimous to one another onstage, it was a major disappointment.
Bruce Springsteen handled the induction of his longtime sidemen, both past and present, in the E Street Band with his usual oratory passion and acknowledged that it had been a mistake that the musicians were not included when he was honored individually in 1999. The group then gave a roof-raising performance of “The E Street Shuffle,” “The River,” and “Kitty’s Back.”
Eligible even longer than Kiss was Hall & Oates, inducted elegantly by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots. The duo offered spot-on renditions of several of their pop-and-soul gems including “She’s Gone” and “You Make My Dreams.”
Both Islam and Gabriel were in equally great voice, with Islam singing classics like “Peace Train” with a full choir and Gabriel welcoming old friend Youssou N’Dour onstage to reprise his role on “In Your Eyes.”
The final slot of the night went to Nirvana, inducted poignantly by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. A quartet of formidable women — Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, Lorde, and Joan Jett — subbed for Kurt Cobain. It was Jett who handled “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” confidently snarling her way through the anthem with appropriate attitude.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.