At the beginning of Saturday night's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, the biggest story seemed to be the guests who would not attend. Axl Rose's tantrum made the most headlines, but the illness-induced absences of cancer-stricken Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and flu-sidelined Rod Stewart all threatened to put a damper on things. By the end of the five-hour ceremony, the story was, appropriately, more about the music.
- The 800-pound gorilla made his presence known shortly before midnight when Green Day came out to induct Guns n' Roses, carefully avoiding mention of the words "Axl Rose," but defending the singer as a genius against loud crowd boos. The original band's remaining members -- other than Izzy Stradlin -- also skipped mention of their missing singer, and all delivered classy speeches. They later performed three early classics -- "Mr. Brownstone," "Sweet Child o' Mine" and "Paradise City" -- with Slash's solo band singer Myles Kennedy filling in for the wacky Axl and Stradlin's replacement, Gilby Clarke, on guitar.
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers not only brought a slew of past members to the party, they gave them prime placement during the induction ceremony, allowing original skinsman Cliff Martinez to offer up the first speech. Flea and Anthony Kiedis gave sweetly nostalgic acceptances, prominently mentioning late founding guitarist Hillel Slovak, before bouncing through an energetic set keyed by a three-drummer-powered "Give It Away." The Peppers later invited a slew of other attendees -- including Billie Joe Armstrong, George Clinton and Ronnie Wood -- for a short but punchy jam on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."
- Donovan, inducted by a cigarette-toting John Mellencamp, had the most fun with his induction speech, reading a wildly spacy poem before walking off giggling equally madly. He returned to perform note-perfect versions of some of his classics, including an extended "Season of the Witch," with Mellencamp supplying harmonies.
- The Small Faces-turned-Faces proved equally jovial, taking potshots about their diminutive size in stride, and offering speeches rich in humor. Their set included The Small Faces' "All or Nothing" as well as The Faces' "Stay With Me" and "Ooh La La" with Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall at the helm (even though the very present Ronnie Wood was the singer on record of "Ooh La La").
- Public Enemy leader Chuck D and LL Cool J both lavished praise on The Beastie Boys, giving credit for the group's role in establishing their own careers. The two attending Beasties, Adam Horowitz and Michael Diamond, gave surprisingly nice speeches, and read a note from bandmate Adam Yauch, who is suffering from cancer. They didn't take the stage themselves, and a posse led by Kid Rock and Travis McCoy filled in admirably on a sharp medley of their hits.
- Bette Midler misted up and nearly broke down in inducting the late Laura Nyro, who she worked with on numerous occasions. Nyro, a native New Yorker, was celebrated onstage by Sara Bareilles, who turned in a powerful version of her "Stoney End," originally made famous by Barbra Streisand.
- Blues legend Freddie King's posthumous induction was equally potent, thanks to a wry speech by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, who would later take the stage, flanked by younger guns Derek Trucks and Joe Bonnamassa. That combo ripped through two King tunes: "Goin' Down" and "Hideaway."
- Lesser-known acts and non-performers got their due as well. Don Kirshner, who famously created the Monkees and brought rock to late night TV, was honored with Darlene Love's performance of the Brill Building hit "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Long-ignored backing groups like Smokey Robinson's Miracles, Gene Vincent's Blue Caps, Bill Haley's Comets, Hank Ballard's Midnighters also got a chance to shine -- clearly important to the members, who are now in their 70s and 80s.
- Green Day kicked off the show with a furious take on their own "Letterbomb," punctuated by dozens of F-bombs and topped off with a powerful cross-stage guitar throw by Billie Joe Armstrong.