I’m a big fan of multi-artist shows and festivals, and love collaborations. So when the shows at Madison Square Garden went on sale, I knew I wanted to go (especially since there have been many of the induction ceremonies I would have loved to attend). They were moderately expensive, so I decided to go to just one, and since Jill had picked the next week to go on vacation, going to the Friday show made everything easier. I thought it also had the edge on the best lineup of the two nights, but that changed somewhat a week before the show when Eric Clapton dropped out due to imminent surgery, and they got Jeff Beck to sub in (although it does make sense since he replaced Clapton in The Yardbirds). After reading reviews of the first night, I was hoping for something really special.
We got to the show with a little extra time, as they were advertising it to start right on time. And it did, though that meant fifteen minutes of videos first. But soon Tom Hanks gave a nice speech and then introduced Jerry Lee Lewis to play “Great Balls Of Fire.” He’s not so young anymore, but still played and sounded pretty good. They lowered the video screen while they got Aretha’s set ready, then the band was lit up and played her on. She started out with some of her early singles and a song from Ragtime before bringing on Annie Lennox to duet on “Chain Of Fools”. She played to the hometown crowd with “New York, New York” before Lenny Kravitz joined her for Think. She sounded great, and was brought back for an encore (a little “Respect”, of course).
Metallica had been billed second, but they had more star power then Jeff Beck, so he went on next. He smartly started with his cover of “Drown In My Own Tears” (a Ray Charles classic), then brought out the big guns as Sting joined him to sing People Get Ready (happier to see him than original singer Rod Stewart). I didn’t know “Freeway Jam”, but I was familiar with his bluesy take on Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”. The blues continued as Buddy Guy joined him on “Let Me Love You”, then we reached a lull with “Big Block” and “Rice Pudding” (though bassist Tal Wilkenfeld was a joy to watch). ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons joined him next and surprisingly did his own band’s “Rough Boy” (not a big hit but a good song), then they had a smokin’ take on Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. Beck saved his best cover for last, an instrumental version of the Beatles’ A Day In The Life, earning a standing ovation.
With a simple “We are Metallica and this is what we do”, James and the boys tore into “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “One”. They were the only band of the night where people stood for most of their set, although some folks sat down as they let their foot off the gas a bit to do their cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page”. But everyone was up again and the Garden was resounding with howls of “Louuuuuu” as Lou Reed joined them on fiery versions of the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane and “White Light/White Heat”. The crowd got even louder as Ozzy came out for Black Sabbath’s Iron Man and “Paranoid” (I was hoping for “War Pigs”, but those choices can’t be denied). I thought it might slow down a bit after that but Ray Davies of the Kinks proved he still was a superb frontman on his You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night. Were they done – heck no! Then they pulled out my favorite cover they do, Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” and finished with “Enter Sandman”. I haven’t seen them live in fifteen years, but that set made me realize I shouldn’t wait that long until I see them again.
After that I was expecting U2 to bring it all home, but they didn’t, something was off with them that night. It started with “Vertigo” when we couldn’t hear Bono’s vocals until a minute in, but it was their choice to play new song “Magnificent”, which really slowed things down (as far as I could tell it was the only new song performed both nights). Bringing out Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Roy Bittan got the crowd pumped again, but there were problems as they did Springsteen’s “Because The Night”, and a first take was deemed insufficient, so they gave it another go. Springsteen stayed on stage for a good version of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, then the energy did pick up as a performance of “Mysterious Ways” segued into Where Is The Love and The Black Eyed Peas joined them. Fergie and will.i.am remained as it sounded like the band was beginning “Gimme Shelter”. It was and Mick Jagger bounded on stage for the loudest cheers of the night. I can’t say I’m the strongest fan of Fergie’s solo stuff, but she held her own with Mick, best performance of the set. Mick hung around for Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of which was ok, then everyone left before U2 returned with a quick encore of “Beautiful Day”.
I was a little disappointed we didn’t get the six hour epic show of the night before, but more so that U2 was sluggish. I couldn’t help but wonder if having a giant teleprompter in his face was throwing Bono off his game – it was odd that all his between song patter was scripted. Bruce actually cut one bit of patter short and the best joke was unexpected – after Mick was done he mentioned what “a great house band U2 have been,” and Bono cracked “We do weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs too.” Overall I’d have to award best set honors to Metallica, brought their A game all night. There are lots of reviews out there, but I like the NY Times because I can’t help smirking at “Mr. Jagger” and “Mr. Osbourne”.