On the one hand, the lineup for the second night of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concerts was jaw-dropping: Aretha Franklin! Mick Jagger! U2! Metallica! Ozzy Osbourne! Ray Davies! Bruce Springsteen! And more! All on one stage, sometimes together! On the other, we can’t help but fantasize about seeing the same lineup 25 years ago the only act onstage not working then was the Black Eyed Peas because there’s no way of sugarcoating it: Most of these voices, including Bono’s, have about 20% of their peak capacity left.
Nevertheless, the concert did offer the awe-inspiring spectacle of seeing rock ’n’ roll’s museum waxworks come to life for a series of sometimes incongruous, sometimes inspired duets. A ranking of our favorites follows.
1. Metallica/Ray Davies — “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All of the Night”
On a night with this many legends, would anyone have expected Ray Davies to deliver the knockout performance? Well, he did. Partly it was the primal power of those early Kinks singles, and partly it was the band, which attacked the riffs with a ferocity that belied their years. Davies himself is a sly, underrated performer who knows exactly how to live the moment, and he whooped and hollered and got the crowd to lustily sing along.
2. U2/Fergie/Jagger — “Gimme Shelter”
This was a crazy mess, but absolutely riveting. Neither Bono nor Mick could contribute much vocally — Bono’s voice is gone, hopefully not forever, and Jagger’s faux-Texan twang has disconcertingly overwhelmed the rest of his repertoire. But who the hell cares, this was Mick and U2 up there, banging it out like a bunch of teenagers! U2’s arrangement was subtly bewitching, and major props belong to Fergie, who had to execute the greatest back-up vocal performance of all time. Of course, she made no one forget the original. But her fearlessness was something to behold.
3. U2/Bruce Springsteen — “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
A damn fine song for Bruce, and Bono, though unable to hit that operatic extra gear we love him for, managed his best vocal performance of the night.
4. Metallica/Ozzy Osbourne — “Iron Man,” “Paranoid”
This was pure freak show: Ozzy’s body and voice are wrecked, but his face is spectacularly wrinkle-free. Here again, Metallica absolutely blew down the doors, guitarist Kirk Hammett looking and playing like he hasn’t aged a day in 20 years.
5. Jeff Beck/Buddy Guy — “Let Me Love You”
Jeff Beck, replacing Eric Clapton at the last minute, played about four instrumental numbers too many, although one of them was a very nice version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” which showcased the song’s odd lope. But he didn’t have to sing, and he brought the ineffably cool, Adidas-clad Guy up for the night’s most obviously sensible pairing. They ripped off a compact, throaty blues classic.
6. U2/Bruce Springsteen/Patti Smith — “Because the Night”
Watching the band, particularly drummer Larry Mullen Jr., help Patti Smith figure out where to come in on the second take of “Because the Night” was one of the most touching and revealing moments — because we got a glimpse of them as musicians, not just performers. Smith looked a little bonkers, but she more than held her own as she and Bruce traded verses.
7. U2/Black Eyed Peas — “Where is the Love”
The segue from “Mysterious Ways” to “Where is the Love” may have been most artful moment of the night, and from there on out, it was pure goosebumps, we’re not ashamed to admit it.
8. Jeff Beck/Billy Gibbons — “Foxy Lady,” “Rough Boy”
On a guitar-dominated night, someone had to pay homage to Hendrix. These two lurched through “Foxy Lady” in a manner that played up the song’s jagged rhythms and did justice to its psychedelic edges.
9. Aretha Franklin/Annie Lennox — “Chain of Fools”
A roughly 20-piece band is not the best way to showcase Aretha’s classic hits, whose sinuous rhythms are as lasting as her performances. But it was fun to see old duet partner Annie Lennox dancing around Aretha in a “HIV Positive” T-shirt, and the two matched vocal registers nicely.
10. Jeff Beck/Sting — “People Get Ready”
Maybe it’s all the yoga, but Sting’s voice is in the best repair of all the night’s performers. Also, he was sporting a nice big beard — look out, Billy Gibbons.
11. Metallica/Lou Reed — “White Light/White Heat,” “Sweet Jane”
On paper, this combo sounds weird, and it looked awfully weird too, with Lou wearing the expression of gobsmacked grandpa. Metallica put too much crunch into “Sweet Jane”, but the boys totally nailed “White Light / White Heat” and drummer Lars Ulrich ought to get some kind of valor citation for planting a major, extended bear hug on ornery old Lou afterwards. They swapped some serious body sweat.
12. Aretha Franklin/Lenny Kravitz — “Think”
Aretha was at her liveliest on this one, but Kravitz looked a little lost — he seemed unsure of how to interact with her, and didn’t contribute much vocally.