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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Box set a rollicking trip through rock and roll


Here's what's so great about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live DVD set:

Where else would you get to see Kid Rock hit Keith Richards up for a cigarette in some backstage kitchen — Keef, who's out of cigs, really does act like Johnny Depp acting like him — before turning to Dusty Hill and bumming a smoke off the ZZ Top bassist? But not before Rock calls Dusty a “hillbilly” and tosses in an epithet for good measure.

It's a weird off-the-cuff voyeuristic moment tucked away among hours of music, induction speeches, rehearsals, and backstage footage in the nine-disc set, but it says a lot about why this massive package is so much fun.

There's something about seeing alpha dogs of rock — Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, John Fogerty — reduced to trying to figure out how to play “Who'll Stop the Rain” and basically standing around like a group of guys in a garage trying to remember who plays what.

Or Pete Townshend with an acoustic guitar imposing his musical will on an unruly, crowded stage of drunk rock luminaries. Or Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen sharing a microphone. Or a relatively obscure performer like Ruth Brown proving why she's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by delivering a galvanizing performance of “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean” with Bonnie Raitt?

The concept behind this package from Time-Life (timelife.com or rockhalldvds.com; $119.96) is simple: Gather dozens of performances from the annual rock hall of fame concerts and induction ceremonies over the past 25 years, toss in some snippets of acceptance speeches, and let the music carry the weight of the package on each disc.

Bonus features included in the set are 52 entire acceptance speeches from folks including Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and dozens of others, along with backstage and rehearsal footage.

The result is a rollicking trip through rock and soul's main roads and back streets. An entire disc is devoted to groundbreaking artists such asWilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Percy Sledge, and Al Green. With the exception of a disc that cherry-picks from the 1995 rock hall concert, the other seven DVDs are loosely organized with performances that kind-of/sort-of fit a theme.

There's a supercharged vibe to many of the songs, given the setting: the greatest rock musicians in the world — basically people who make a living off being sublimely talented show-offs — performing with, and for, each other. Certain people — Mick Jagger, Eric, Clapton, Springsteen, Jeff Beck, Kid Rock, Billy Joel — show up frequently as both lead musicians and in support roles.

Highlights include Prince slipping on stage with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Dhani Harrison (George's son) and ripping through the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” solo, Neil Young and the Pretenders on a pummeling, inspired “My City Was Gone,” and a guitar lineup for the ages — Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, Metallica, Ronnie Wood, Jeff Beck — blistering through “The Train Kept A-Rollin.'”

Toss in Elvis Costello, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doors with Eddie Vedder, Green Day, Sheryl Crow, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney, Cream, Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Parliament/Funkadelic, Crosby, Stills and Nash, AC/DC, The Kinks …

For a rock fan, consuming the entire set is kind of like gorging on chocolate for a week and not getting sick.

The Rock Hall has been criticized endlessly for its nakedly industry-friendly standards for induction (Madonna is in the rock hall of fame and Alice Cooper is not?), its snobby emphasis on obscure soul acts versus important off-shoots like punk or metal, and the fact that just having an institution to honor rock seems antithetical to music that was born among rebellion and frustration.

But this time they got it right.

Contact Rod Lockwood at:rlockwood@theblade.comor 419-724-6159.

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