Rush's Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson induct Yes - photo by Kelly D
Rush's Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson induct Yes - photo by Kelly D

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY April 7, 2017 Story, photos, and video by Kelly D

To see more of Kelly D’s photography of the show, check out her art page on Facebook at Vital Visions: Art by Kelly D

To submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.

I had the privilege of attending the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Brooklyn last week. It was a legendary night for many reasons but for this Rush fangirl, this has to be said first: not only did I see Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee perform onstage together for the first time since August 1st, 2015- I also witnessed perhaps an even bigger event: Mr. Lee, bassist of Rush, assuming the responsibility of the late Chris Squire and performing Yes’ seminal opus “Roundabout” after inducting the godfathers of prog into the Rock Hall. Part of my soul healed while I watched these venerable gentlemen at the Barclays Center last Friday night.

Call me dramatic, but I must be honest about how I feel. I, and thousands of other Rush fans, watched the trio deal with such age-related matters such as arthritis, tendinitis, and strained vocal chords and face them on their own terms, retiring from touring

The all-star jam to "Rockin' in the Free World" - photo by Kelly D
The all-star jam to “Rockin’ in the Free World”

after a 35-show run on their R40 Live Tour back in summer 2015. In some capacity, we all knew it was coming; even drummer and lyricist Neil Peart said it himself in their song “Dreamline”: “We’re only immortal for a limited time.” So when it was announced that not only was Yes (another favorite band of mine) getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but that Alex and Geddy would have the honors of doing so, I felt elated.

Having seen the ceremony in 2013 where Rush finally (FINALLY) got inducted, I knew there would be an all-star jam at the end of the night where all the musicians would play one song together, on one stage. Ergo, Alex and Geddy would once again play together. With Squire’s passing in June 2015, too, an idea began to float around my head. . . What if Geddy stepped in to fill Squire’s role and played bass with Yes? The answer turned out to be, of course, “Yes.” (Terrible pun entirely intended.) We Rush/Yes fans weathered about a month of “will he/won’t he” speculation, where Jon Anderson, sweet little elf that he is, appeared to let the cat out of the bag about the Gedster playing bass on the Fragile track “Roundabout.”

Hours later, Rush’s management hastily stuffed the cat back INTO the bag, but it was too perfect. Geddy Lee has been on the record for years speaking of Yes’ influence on him as a bassist, and Yes drummer Alan White appeared to confirm Mr. Lee’s participation a few days before the ceremony. As the kids say, it was on like Donkey Kong.

The ceremony itself was surreal: besides Yes, the other inductees were Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, and Nile Rodgers for a lifetime achievement award. A rather diverse group to be sure, but all eminent in their own ways. The night began with Jann Wenner introducing the bands- Pearl Jam, the face of grunge rock for decades, received an extending standing ovation from the crowd, reminding me of the five-minute long one Rush received in 2013 in Los Angeles.

A tribute to recently-passed Chuck Berry followed, with a perfect segue into the first act of the night: Electric Light Orchestra’s version of Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” As Wenner put it, “Tonight, we say farewell to the founding father.” Berry’s influence on rock and roll cannot be overstated- so much of what he did back then resonates to the present.

ELO then played perennial favorite “Mr. Blue Sky” then slid into the menacing, iconic “Evil Woman.” Dhani Harrison, son of George, inducted ELO and gave a most adorable speech, telling of the friendship between Harrison’s father and ELO frontman’s Jeff Lynne. In another reference to Berry, the younger Harrison told a tale of the former Beatle, Lynne, and their friends launching into a rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” “like in Back to the Future,” blowing his young mind.

Lynne’s speech was similarly freewheeling, reminiscing about the band’s rise to stardom and such perks therein: “I never have to wake up [with an alarm clock] again,” he told his mother upon ELO’s big break.

Joan Baez, pioneer of folk, came next. She was lauded by Jackson Browne, and they both gave the ceremony a rather sharp political tone. In today’s climate, it’s almost impossible not to, and Baez preached the same message she has been since her heyday: love and compassion should triumph over all. While her speech was fiery and powerful, it’s a shame that plus c’est la change, plus c’est la même chose. (One guy near my companion complained about the tone of her speech but was roundly shushed by other people around us.) Baez performed two originals and her version of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” which was a welcome surprise.

Suddenly, it was the moment I’d been waiting for: Yes‘ induction. Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee took the stage, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying I held my breath waiting for a repeat of Lifeson’s infamous “speech” at his own induction in 2013.  (Editor’s note: A piece of pure Dadaist nonsense, Lifeson said nothing but the words “blah blah blah” over and over and yet somehow made perfect sense, while his bandmates did their best to contain their amusement/rage behind him.)

But no, here Lifeson delivered a heartfelt sermon of how much Yes influenced him as a young’un and how, overall, “Yes helped give me the gift of music.” Geddy Lee even directly referenced the “blah blah blah” speech(!!!) by saying it to his friend and erstwhile bandmate before matching him in effusiveness; he told a few stories of how a high school classmate introduced him to Yes and of the first time he saw the band (with longtime friend Lifeson) in Toronto in 1972.

As a massive Rush fan who also enjoys learning minutiae in all topics, it was truly special to hear the guys share these anecdotes. Witnessing Lee and Lifeson wax fanboy of Yes’ impact made them even more “fleshed out” as human beings and not just “Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, rock stars.” That night, they were there as fans of Yes, as were we.

After the Rush guys’ beautiful tribute, the members of Yes past and present made their way to the microphones. Sadly, as of press time, the lineup has such splintered off into two separate bands, both bearing the “Yes” moniker. However, there was no such animosity on the stage- Jon Anderson, co-founder of the band along with the late Chris Squire, was just as beatifically joyous as I expected him to be, calling the audience “beautiful” several times and thanking his band members and wife for their success.

Steve Howe, guitarist for Yes and Asia and currently the version of Yes featuring vocalist Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, and Alan White, came next, gleefully shouting, “Hey, I’m Steve Howe!” But it was Rick Wakeman, keyboard wizard extraordinaire, who stole the show: his acceptance speech wasn’t so much a speech but more a standup routine that had just about everyone in the audience in stitches. How many other musicians inducted into the hall of fame end their speeches with a joke about erections? Unfortunately, I realized later, Wakeman’s comedic antics ran long and Chris Squire’s widow Scotland, who was also among his bandmates with their daughter Xilan, wasn’t able to speak.

Then oh my Gawd oh my Gawd, it was time for “Roundabout” with Geddy Lee on bass. He was playing his sea foam Fender Jazz bass guitar instead of his trusty Rickenbacker 4001, which came as some surprise. But damn if that bass sound wasn’t as chunky and perfect as we were all expecting it to be! The visuals on the big screens swirled and gave the guys halos and auras- I felt like I had been dosed with some really good windowpane. Lee looked totally at ease with the Yes men; the mind wanders with possibilities of more stints together. . . after all, he has the time now. . . See for yourself below:

Ged then exited stage left (yeah, I went there) and Yes performed their 1983 smash hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” complete with Rick Wakeman slinging on a keytar and joining guitarist Trevor Rabin into the crowd for an extended jam session, much like the Anderson Rabin Wakeman show I had seen in Boston in October 2016. (As of April 8th, 2017 the band is now known as Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.)

In a rather jarring genre shift, Tupac Shakur‘s visage on the big screen loomed over the members of both groups called Yes as they left triumphant. Pop culture icon Snoop Dogg accepted the late Shakur’s honor on his behalf and provided many frankly adorable one-liners about his friendship with the fallen rap star. Case in point: an anecdote of Shakur and Dogg parasailing above a yacht piloted by mogul Suge Knight somewhere in South America- you’re welcome for that mental image. He finished off by saying, “You will always be the best. You will live on forever. Legends always do.”

Alicia Keys, T.I., and YG then joined Dogg onstage to perform a variety of Shakur’s songs, including “Changes,” “Ambitionz az a Ridah,” “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” and “Keep Ya Head Up.” Again, in the timelessness of lyrics, the verse in “Keep Ya Head Up” was particularly poignant: And since we all came from a woman Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman I wonder why we take from our women Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think it’s time to kill for our women Time to heal our women, be real to our women It’s now the point in the night where I must admit my recollection of the events gets a bit hazy- a combination of factors, including the length of the ceremony (five hours) coupled with the pre-ceremony celebration I enjoyed, made my memory less than stellar. However, highlights include:

    • Lenny Kravitz’s searing tribute to Prince, including a funked-out version of “When Doves Cry” and an emotional performance of “The Cross” (from Sign ‘O’ the Times) complete with gospel choir.
    • Pat Monahan of Train inducting Journey, noting how their Greatest Hits went “diamond and a half,” and how we’ll probably never hear of that again in this day and age of streaming and downloading. He led the audience in a singalong of the onomatopoeic refrains of “Faithfully” and “Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin'” to demonstrate the power of a hook. “They don’t even need lyrics! That’s how badass this band is!” He also noted it was the first time Journey had been put on the ballot to be considered to be inducted- much like Rush, “that’s all it took.” It was also a treat to see Steve Perry reunited with his estranged bandmates.
    • Pharrell Williams’ excitable, slightly garbled speech to Nile Rodgers, presenting him the Lifetime Achievement award. Dude, I get mad mushmouth when I’m nervous too. I feel you. You did great, boo.
    • Even Pearl Jam was excellent! I can’t say I’m a huge fan of them, but you gotta give it up for the godfathers of grunge. A rather hirsute David Letterman did a fine job replacing Neil Young, who was initially supposed to induct PJ but had to bow out due to illness. “Oh my God, what a gift live music is!” Letterman exclaimed, nicely summing up the feelings of everyone in the room.

To cap off the night, again with the political bent that popped up throughout the ceremony, the all-star jam was to Neil Young’s George H.W. Bush-era protest song “Rockin’ in the Free World.” It was such a joy to see Alex Lifeson attached to a guitar and go alongside his fellow musicians to blow the roof off the Barclays Center- and play once again on the same stage as Geddy Lee, his bandmate for over 40 years. The theme of “same, yet different” that resonated throughout the night (two bands who now call themselves Yes, songs from decades ago with lyrics that are more relevant than ever, the cover versions that ELO and Joan Baez sang . . .) wrapped up with this one performance, and I’m glad to have borne witness to it. It may not be Rush, but I’ll take it regardless in these uncertain times. As a character said in the Beatles-themed movie Across the Universe, “Music’s the only thing that makes sense anymore, man. Play it loud enough, it keeps the demons at bay.” And that’s “sound” enough advice for me.

To see more of Kelly D’s photography of the show, check out her art page on Facebook at Vital Visions: Art by Kelly D

To submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.