CLEVELAND – Metallica shoved the mosh pit into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Heavy metal's heaviest hitters, whose menacing, monstrous sound has banged heads around the globe for decades, were inducted into rock's shrine on Saturday night, capping a star-studded ceremony that felt much more like a concert than an awards show.
For the first time, the no-holds-barred show, back in Cleveland following a 12-year holdover in New York's Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, was open to the public.
And nearly 5,000 fans partied in the balconies inside renovated Public Auditorium as 1,200 VIPs dined below at tables costing as much $50,000 each.
Many of the came to pay homage to Metallica, which earned top billing in an eclectic 2009 class that included rap pioneers Run-DMC, virtuoso guitarist Jeff Beck, soul singer Bobby Womack and rhythm and blues vocal group Little Anthony and the Imperials.
Metallica's members have survived some of the dark themes — death, destruction and desolation — that threads through its music, and their induction was a chance to celebrate their legacy as perhaps the hardest band to ever walk the earth. The event also served as a reunion as bassist Jason Newsted, who left the group in 2001, joined his former bandmates on stage for seering versions of "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman."
"Whatever the intangibles elements are that make a band the best, Metallica has them," said Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who delivered a heartfelt speech in presenting the band. He recalled being on tour and hearing Metallica on the radio for the first time.
"My mind was blown. It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It just stood by itself," he said. "I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was a mighty thing."
In accepting their awards, Metallica's members were joined by Ray Burton, the father of original bassist Cliff Burton, who died tragically in 1986 when the band's tour bus skidded off an icy road in Sweden.
"Dream big and dare to fail, because this is living proof that it is possible to make a dream come true," said frontman-guitaristr James Hetfield, who then rattled off a long list of hard-rocking bands he feels deserve induction.
The evening ended with a jam for the ages as Metallica, Beck, Jimmy Page, Aerosmith's Joe Tyler and Flea brought the house down with a performance of the Yardbirds' "Train Kept A Rollin."
A guitar virtuoso, Beck, who was previously inducted in 1992 with the Yardbirds, was put in for his solo work. Although best known for his rock accomplishments, Beck's career has wandered a fretboard of genres ranging from blues to jazz to electronica.
"Jeff's style is totally unorthodox to the way anyone was taught," said Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, who presented his longtime friend. "He keeps getting better and better and better."
Beck, wearing all white, was joined on stage by Page, a fellow guitar god, who played bass during a searing rendition of Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."
With two turntables and a microphone, Run-DMC broke down the barriers between rock and rap. With sparse, stripped-down lyrics above pounding beats, the trio of Joseph "DJ Run" Simmons, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels and Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell changed rap in the 1980s by taking the realities of the streets to the suburbs.
"They broke away from the pack by being the pack," said rapper Eminem, looking like the band's lost member by sporting the group's trademark black fedora and black leather jacket. "They were the baddest of the bad and the coolest of the cool. Run-DMC changed my life."
"There's three of them and if you grew up with hip hop like I did, they were the Beatles."
Their remake and collaboration with Aerosmith on the rock band's "Walk This Way" changed modern music.
"We were young guys with a new music that people thought was a fad, but we knew the culture was a way of life and we just lived it," McDaniels said. "The music that we made then didn't just impact friends, it impacted a generation. So I guess that's what rock and roll does."
Any chance of a Run reunion ended with Mizell's death in 2002, when he was shot to death outside his studio. His murder remains unsolved.
Mizell's mother, Connie, accepted the award on his behalf.
"My baby is still doing it for me," she said.
Simmons cited "so many smart people and so much help" several times during his speech. He also thanked Mrs. Mizell, who allowed the group to set up their equipment in her Hollis, Queens, living room.
"She never told us to turn the music down once," Simmons said, turning to his late friend's mom. "I'd like to thank you for that."
Cleveland's Womack, the son of a steelworker, is best known for his soulful voice, but he had far greater musical range as a talented songwriter and guitarist.
He also branched into gospel, returning to the roots that got him his start with a family group, the Valentinos. He later played guitar for Sam Cooke.
Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones introduced Womack as "the voice that has always killed me. He brings me to tears." Wood then recalled a night in New York when he and Womack hid as some Hells Angels gang members were roughing up Wilson Pickett.
Little Anthony and the Imperials, who began their career singing on street corners in Brooklyn, N.Y., opened the program with a gorgeous medley of hits "Tears on My Pillow," "Hurt So Bad," and "I'm Alright." Many in the crowd mouthed the familiar tracks as lead singer Anthony "Little Anthony" Gourdine's falsetto filled the room.
Longtime friend Smokey Robinson presented the doo-wop group, calling their induction "long overdue."
Gourdine thanked his music teacher, "wherever you are" during his induction speech.
"We've been in this now for 50 years, and when we were kids we never imagined in our wildest dreams we'd ever be here," he said. "Now that it's here, the one thing we can look at and say is nobody can ever take this away from us."
Drummer DJ Fontana and the late bassist Bill Black — both of Elvis Presley's backup band — and keyboardist Spooner Oldham made it in the sidemen category.
Rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson was inducted as an early influence. Dubbed the "Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice," the 71-year-old Jackson got her start as a country singer. She was a flamboyant dresser, and her choice of skirts and high heels rankled some hardcore fans. It was Elvis Presley, whom she toured with the 1950s, who persuaded her to sing rock songs.
"She could really rock and still kept her femininity intact," said presenter Roseanne Cash. "She's the prototype for so many of us."