It was a night of good tunes, nostalgia, and celebratory vibes, peppered with lots of good words about the local music scene, when Nils Lofgren, The Gin Blossoms, The Meat Puppets, and Celebrity Theatre were inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame. Yep, you don’t have to be a human to secure a spot as an honoree by this organization devoted to honoring and preserving that which they deem worthy in the broad Arizona entertainment spectrum.
The venue of honor is also where the whole shindig went down. The 53-year-old Celebrity Theatre features an in-the-round setup, complete with a rotating stage. And if you went in last night wondering how the view is, a whole lot of speakers at the induction ceremony made a point to note that “there’s no bad seat in the house."
No rotating happened during the pre-induction portion of the evening. Hall of Fame president Mark Myers introduced some inductees from previous years, including Bob Boze Bell, glorious eccentric and publisher of True West magazine, choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and Pat McMahon from The Wallace and Ladmo Show.
That was followed up by a visit from Fox News anchors Kari Lake and John Hook, who proved that you can take the newscasters out of the studio, but that combo cheesy-and-cheeky demeanor and delivery style is built in. They yukked it up a bit and introduced a video that gave an overview of the venue’s history. Celebrity Theatre owner Rich Hazelwood and GM Alycia Klein accepted a plaque, and Hazelwood talked about his passion for the place.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton may have upped his cool factor, or warmly boosted his lovably dorky dad status, when he reminisced about seeing Fugazi at the Celebrity. He quoted Nils Lofgren’s song “Wonderland” and reminded everyone of “music’s ability to bring us all together,” a sentiment proven as truth countless times.
Lofgren was the evening's first musician to receive his induction plaque. A video gave an overview about his career, which spans more than four decades, includes playing with Neil Young, and stretches to his current and longtime gig as guitarist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Promoter Danny Zelisko introduced Lofgren, who gave a tender talk about his family, his love for the venue, and urged everyone to “let kindness, compassion, and equality be our mantra.” Amen.
And then, that round stage got down to business, kicking on that 360-degree spin that helped it earn its Hall of Fame spot.
Lofgren grabbed a guitar and then showed everyone what intricate weaving on the instrument he is capable of. Beyond that, the level of soul and sincerity he paired with his stunning ability made his brief performance transcendent.
He played “Wonderland,” a heartfelt ballad about an idyllic place where you don’t have to strain to find compassion. There was also “Girl in Motion,” during which he soloed magically for a good go-around of the stage.
Lofgren told a great story about working with Lou Reed years back, giving Reed some songs that he could fill in with vocals. After not hearing back for months, he got a 4 a.m. call from Reed, who said he’d written 13 sets of lyrics and if Lofgren could “grab a pad and a pencil,” he’d dictate them all to him. Lofgren complied. He played one of those collaborations, “Life,” which included some haunting, dark, and winding guitar sounds.
He closed his set with “No Mercy,” which he dedicated to Danny Zelisko.
The Gin Blossoms' video was next. People got jazzed hearing about now-defunct Tempe establishments like Long Wong’s and Tower Records. The short clip covered some of the band's history and their rise to fame, along with the Tempe music scene during those earlier years. I might have missed it, because there was a little audience chatter, but the video didn’t seem to mention the band’s co-founder Doug Hopkins, who passed away in 1993 and penned some of the band's biggest hits.
Hopkins did get a plaque, though, which was presented and accepted by Lawrence Zubia. Both Lawrence and Mark Zubia, of The Pistoleros, gave The Gin Blossoms plaques and talked more about the Tempe music scene and how The Gin Blossoms, whom he called “brothers in arms,” were instrumental in some of their own successes.
The band toured through some of their popular numbers, starting off with “Follow You Down,” backing that up with “Allison Road.” Former drummer Phillip Rhodes joined them on that tune.
Singer Robin Wilson didn’t waste any time, unfortunately, engaging the crowd in some singalongs. Even in a nontraditional show setting, that kind of stuff falls short for me. I’m interested in hearing the band sing the song, and saving that kind of interactive business for the last song or encore, if it must happen.
Wilson was into making connections with the audience, though, and spiritedly bopped around the stage high-fiving and fist-bumping the outstretched hands. You could see the pleasant nostalgia in audience members as they sang to every gooey lyric, each conjuring a slew of Mill Avenue memories.
When Lofgren joined them on “Found Out About You,” it took away a little bit of that jangly guitar edge the band is known for and gave it an interesting and hefty depth. Lawrence Zubia came out for some singing on “Hey Jealousy,” which was great, and a former girlfriend of Hopkins jumped in for some tambourine swinging. At the song’s end, she talked briefly, but emotionally, about her love for the departed songwriter and guitarist.
When The Gin Blossoms were done, that was the end for a chunk of the audience, too. Ten p.m. was looming, and perhaps it was too much for some to pay the babysitter for an extra hour. Sadly, as those folks cleared out, they were noisy AF and weren’t respectful of the fact that The Meat Puppets' video was playing.
The blabbing didn’t get much better when New Times contributor Tom Reardon and Tom Lopez of Slope Records came out to talk about the band. Reardon gave the Puppets a glowing tribute, interspersed with his own memories about the band, as well as how they have influenced him and numerous other musicians locally and internationally.
All the band's current members received plaques, but it was only the original band lineup of Curt Kirkwood (guitar/vocals), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrik Bostrom (drums), who peformed last night.
And yeah, some folks in the audience may have been too fucking self-indulgent to shut their mouths while they were being honored, and the sound guy may have had a hard time getting it right when they took the stage, but in the name of all that is good and beautiful about punk rock, it did not matter one bit, because they were as righteous as ever.
From classics like “Plateau” to newer tunes like “Backwater,” the band rocked it, and showed why they are such an integral part of this music scene, proving that a broad embrace of eclectic natures and styles can create magic. The Meat Puppets made it clear: They helped set the stage for the ever-blooming diversity in the regional musical output that pours from our community.
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Nils Lofgren Set List:
2. "Girl in Motion"
4. "No Mercy"
Gin Blossoms Set List:
1. "Follow You Down"
2. "Allison Road"
3. "Until I Fall Away"
4. "Angels Fly"
5. "Found Out About You"
6. ‘Til I Hear it from You"
7. "Hey Jealousy"
Meat Puppets Set List:
1. "Oh, Me"
2. "Touchdown King"
3. "Comin’ Down"
5. "Look at the Rain"
6. "Up on the Sun"
7. "Lake of Fire"
8. "I’m Ragged but I’m Right"
Last Night: Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
The crowd: The Grateful Dead song “Touch of Grey” comes to mind.
Overheard: “Dude, one time I found a chicken on the way home from a Gin Blossoms show. A fuckin’ chicken.”
Notebook dump: I wanna be in The Meat Puppets.