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“There would be no U2 the way things are now—that's a fact.”
BONO LECTURES BIGWIGS DURING ROCK HALL CEREMONY
U2 and the Pretenders Shake Industry Crowd Out of Its Doldroms With a Timely Reminder of Rock's Continuing Power to Enthrall
One way for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to make sure it has a compelling awards ceremony is to induct an artist who’s still at the peak of his powers. Just as last year’s show was kicked up a notch by Prince, Monday night’s ceremony was energized by the presence of U2, which can still stake a claim as the best band in the world at the beginning of its second quarter century.

The show climaxed not with the traditional all-star jam (which tends to be more fun for the participants than for viewers) but with U2 blazing away on “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (with Bruce Springsteen joining them) and “Vertigo,” which turned the industry crowd into unselfconscious fans.

Springsteen began his speech honoring U2 with the familiar chant, “Uno, dos, tres, catorce,” quoting Bono’s countoff at the start of “Vertigo.” “The translation is ‘one, two, three, fourteen,’” Bruce pointed out. “That is the correct math for rock & roll. The whole had better equal a lot more than the sum of its parts—or else you're just rubbing two sticks together.” Springsteen also called the band “keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock & roll.”

In his speech, Bono admonished the bigwigs in the audience, telling them that they need to reinvent the way the operate if they want to survive and pointing out that U2, Springsteen and Neil Young would have been uncerermoniously dropped well before achieving greatness if they’d come along in recent years. “There would be no U2 the way things are now—that's a fact,” he said. Later, during the band's performance, Bono went into the audience and grabbed glasses of champagne off the tables, but he somehow resisted the temptation to douse the record execs he’d lectured, flinging the champagne at his fellow bandmembers instead.

The colorful old record biz was represented by inductees Seymour Stein and archetypal booking agent Frank Barsalona, who was inducted, fittingly, by Sopranos gangsters Miami Steve Van Zandt and James Gandolfini. Van Zandt, wearing his Silvio Dante wig for the occasion, quipped that Barsalona changed the business by “replacing the old thieves with young thieves.”

In another perfect old-school moment, Mariah Carey dropped by Tommy Mottola's table to to plant a kiss on her surprised former hubby. You gotta love it. 

U2 wasn’t the only band to set off fireworks during the ceremony. A still-vibrant Chrissie Hynde and her longtime band the Pretenders were joined by Young on a shredding performance of “My City Was Gone.” 

Said Young of the Pretenders, “They went through all the heartache that rock & roll is built on—they lost two bandmembers and they never gave up.” Hynde honored two of the original members who succumbed to fatal drug overdoses after the band’s first two albums. “We are a tribute band,” she said. “We're paying tribute to James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we would not have been here.”

Also inducted were Philly soul progenitors the O'Jays (who were inducted, for some reason, by Justin Timberlake), Alabama soul man Percy Sledge and blues legend Buddy Guy, every one of whom still had a spring in his step. Rod Stewart called Sledge’s indelible vocal on the 1966 classic “When a Man Loves a Woman” “one of the best performances I've ever heard and I'm sure you've ever heard.”

VH1 will broadcast a two-hour edit of the ceremony Saturday night, so set your TiVos. This is one music special we all need to watch. 

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