On TV Tonight: Beasties in the Hall

How did the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction (HBO, 9 p.m.)end up on premium cable? In recent years it was run on Fuse or VH1 after several years of not being seen at all.

It probably had something to do with HBO stepping in to help run the big 25th anniversary hall of fame concerts at Madison Square Garden that they turned into a big two night concert special.

Either way, the channel affords the chance for rock stars to speak unbleeped; at two and a half hours, it also allows full performances of songs rather than having the music bleed into portions of the acceptance speeches, as often occurred on the commercial networks.

Still, with last month’s 27th (!) induction taking place in Cleveland clocking in at five hours, HBO still had to do some editing of a roster that seemed less star-filled than it once might have had.

Face it, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions is a game of diminishing returns. After the crush of 50s giants, British invasion and smattering of punk and rap, there seems little awaiting induction as the 25-year rule creeps to the late 80s.

Still, a couple of things conspired to make this year’s event newsworthy, the saddest of which was the death just yesterday of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch at 47 after a nearly three year bout with cancer.

Yauch hadn’t gone to Cleveland, but his parents were there and his fellow Beasties spoke warmly of him and read a statement that he prepared. Even better was hearing snippets of their performances in film (with the crowd singing along – something they didn’t do for other clips), and the heartfelt tributes from a couple other pioneers in the rap game, Chuck D of Public Enemy and L.L. Cool J.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose performance caps the telecast dedicated their set to Yauch as well. It’s touching to see how much love and gratitude that band has at this point in its career and the feelings it also has about band members who have died.

The news before the induction was that Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose wouldn’t be attending – a ploy other rockers have used over the years. While many bands have buried hatchets with reunions at the podium or stage at the event, others have fallen short. The surviving Beatles didn’t all make it to their induction; Levon Helm, who also died recently of cancer, didn’t go when the Band was inducted.

Still, it’s a bit of a shock to hear a soundalike Myles Kennedy taking over “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’Mine” with the assembled Slash, Matt Sorum, et al. (Izzy Stradlin also chose not to attend).

It’s up to Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong to defend Axl when the crowd boos, and to generally Guns’ worthiness to even be in the hall.

Likewise, Bette Midler practically weeps at the mention of Laura Nyro, the songwriter and singular artist of the 70s who rarely gets the attention she deserves (Sara Barellies steps in to sing one of her songs).

Because there are so few real rock pioneers left to honor at this event, the hall has taken to honor producers and band members, so it’s cool to see some surviving member of the Comets or the Blue Caps take a grateful bow; the story of the producers, engineers and impresario Don Kirshner are also quite interesting, though those seem to be the most cut events of the night.

Rod Stewart didn’t attend (feigning sickness) when the Faces got inducted; Ronnie Wood was happy to take all the attention. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red was enlisted to sing in Rod’s absence.

Other kids of music are honored when ZZ Top inducts the late Freddie King, subject of a blues guitar jam with Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks. John Mellencamp waves around his original Donovan album before inducting him (and joining him on stage for “Sunshine Superman”).

Lots of songs are cut for the televised event, but they include the one “Jam” with assembled stars joining in on the Chili Peppers version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the tribute medley to the Beasties that didn’t include the Beasties that instead featured the Roots with Kid Rock and Tavie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes.

It feels pretty good as a two and a half hour show; I can’t imagine how the five hour version would have dragged on.

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