Axl Rose's former bandmates in Guns N' Roses took the high road during their acceptance speeches at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night. The crowd? Not so much.
The ex-GNR members declined to mention the singer by name. But Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong had to, of course, in his introductory speech, and the audience at Cleveland's Public Hall responded with a round of boos, as they had early in the evening when Rose's visage first appeared on the big screen.
"Let's see--who am I missing?" Armstrong said, after discussing every original member of the band but Rose in detail. After the audience responded with raspberries, Armstrong broke in. "Shut the [bleep] up!" he said, in a not-too-admonitory way that made it clear he knew why the crowd was upset. "Shut up. This man's a bad-ass [bleeping] singer--one of the best frontmen to ever touch a mic."
Despite Armstrong's implicit plea for forgiveness, it was clear that Rose has, for this week, at least, become the kind of villain rarely seen outside a superhero movie. In his open letter declining the honor earlier in the week, Rose wrote, "Unfortunately I'm sure there will be those who take offense... God knows how long I'll have to contend with the fallout"—and more prophetic words were never spoken.
In his introduction, as if to offer an apologia for the MIA singer, Armstrong broke into an imitation of Rose singing a lyric about being "crazy." "Most singers are crazy," the Green Day singer added, describing it as a vocational hazard. "I can vouch for that right now."
When the band members came forward to speak, there were no specific references to Rose, but the musicians did use their allusions.
"The fans are the ones who made it possible for us to get together tonight with all the adversity and everything that was going on," said Slash. He particularly thanked his wife, saying, "When all this drama was going on, I was like [bleep] it, but she said 'Go and do it with the guys,' and I said 'You're right.'"
Drummer Matt Sorum took the highest of high roads, saying, "I want to thank the other bandmates that aren't here tonight [and tell them] that I love and respect them and I'm honored to have been on stage playing music with them."
In his otherwise laudatory introduction, even Armstrong seemed to make an implicit, indirect criticism of Rose, who wrote in his open letter that reunion talk surrounding the induction was being used as a "distraction" from the current Guns N' Roses lineup.
"Being in a band is a very complex thing," the Green Day singer said. "It goes through eras and chapters of their lives... Sometimes you've got to look back at the old chapters if you want to move forward… Know where you've [bleeping] come from. Ladies and gentlemen, Guns N' Roses!"
When the band performed a brief set, it was with Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge singing "Sweet Child o' Mine" and other chesttuts, as he has on tour with Slash in the past. Fans had mixed reactions to seeing another rocker handle Rose's parts, but without Kennedy, the performance part of GNR's introduction truly would have been a bridge to nowhere.
Chris Rock put things in perspective later, while introducing the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "Let's face it," Rock said, referencing the legendarily tardy singer, "even if he had come tonight, he wouldn't be here by now!"
Although GNR's appearance was by far the most anticipated of the night, the Hall of Fame saved the Red Hot Chili Peppers' induction for last, surely figuring it was most celebratory to go out on the one band that was able to perform without a guest lead singer.
In a streak of bad luck for attendees at Public Hall (and those who'll tune in to an edited version of the show on HBO May 5), there were other acts with members out of commission. Rod Stewart came down with the flu and wasn't able to perform with the Faces, but Simply Red's Mick Hucknall drew kudos for sitting in and singing from that band's repertoire as well as that of the concurrently inducted Small Faces, who were led by the late Steve Marriott.
The two present members of the Beastie Boys declined to perform without cancer-stricken cohort Adam Yauch, so the Roots gave tribute, fronted by Kid Rock, the Gym Class Heroes' Travie McCoy, and Black Thought standing in for the celebrated trio.
ZZ Top both introduced and did the performing honors for Freddie King. The late Laura Nyro was covered by Sara Bareilles, after an emotional introduction by Bette Midler, while Donovan was thankfully around to sing his own "Sunshine Superman" after an introduction from fan John Mellencamp, who said, "I wasn't just listening to Donovan, I was stealing from Donovan."
Naturally, everybody had an opinion on the night's proceedings—even Donald Trump, who tweeted, "Axl Rose should take his #rockhall2012 honors and be happy. Stop the no induction nonsense. Do it for your fans." Disenchanted fans to Axl: Welcome to the bungle?