Guns N’ Roses Songs, Chuck D’s Call To Arms Highlight Rock The Vote Awards

Vanessa Carlton, Flaming Lips, Robbie Williams, more perform.

So as not to compete with the plethora of post-Grammy soirees Sunday night, the folks at Rock the Vote and Blender magazine decided to get their party started a day early with an awards ceremony that featured performances by Robbie Williams, the Flaming Lips, Vanessa Carlton and Public Enemy, and a midnight bash spiked by a set from the most star-studded supergroup cover band in the world. (Click here for photos from the red carpet.)

In keeping with tradition, the 10th annual Rock the Vote Awards in memory of Patrick Lippert, hosted by MTV’s Quddus, took place the night before the Grammy Awards, at New York’s Roseland Ballroom Saturday. The rationale was that an array of celebrities in town for music’s big night would make an appearance, and once again the logic worked. Film and music stars, from actor Vince Vaughn to P-Funk’s George Clinton, were on hand to witness Peter Gabriel and Alanis Morissette receive Rock the Vote Patrick Lippert Awards, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D accept the 2003 Rock the Vote Founders Award.

Named for the organization’s first executive director, who died from an AIDS-related illness in 1993, the Lippert Awards recognized Gabriel’s Witness project, which arms activists with video cameras, and Morissette’s involvement with a variety of benefit concerts. Chuck D was honored with the Founders Award for working with advocacy groups like Rock the Vote, the National Urban League and the National Alliance of African American Athletes.

After receiving the award, which was presented by India.Arie, Chuck D’s acceptance speech read like a call to arms in the tense international climate. “Somebody out there please tell your president that he has to listen to the rest of the world,” he said.

The Public Enemy MC also accused Grammy organizers of warning anyone scheduled to take the stage Sunday not to speak about the conflict in Iraq, or else they’d be censored (CBS spokespeople said on Sunday [February 23] that was not the case). “That to me is ridiculous,” he said angrily.

Chuck furthered his politically charged tirade with Public Enemy’s set, setting aflame such songs as “Welcome to the Terrordome,” “Fight the Power” — which featured a cameo by Bootsy Collins — and the condemning “Son of a Bush,” off the group’s latest album, Revolverlution, that was punctuated by a buffoon in a George W. mask.

“You see this f—ing guy?” Chuck asked. “He stole the presidency.”

While Public Enemy were all seriousness (save for the unintentional comic relief derived from comments by the group’s Flavor Flav, decked out in his prison issue orange jumpsuit), Camp Freddy, the supergroup cover band composed of the Cult’s Billy Morrison, GN’R’s Matt Sorum, Dave Navarro and Donovan Leitch, simply brought after-hours unadulterated fun. Joined by a host of guests, including actress Gina Gershon (see “Gina Gershon Fronts Ex-GN’R Members At Sundance Concert” ), Slash, Moby and Linda Perry, to name just a few, the band tore through classic rock covers such as David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” and “Rebel Rebel,” Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” A tribute to the Clash featured Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider singing “Tommy Gun” and Bush’s Gavin Rossdale performing “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais.”

“Check this sh– out, New York, we got the real Guns N’ Roses here onstage,” said Fuel’s Brett Scallions, surrounded by Sorum, Slash, and bassist Duff McKagan, before they blasted into GN’R’s “It’s So Easy.”

The cameo-spiked jam culminated with Melissa Etheridge joining Kid
Rock for a cover of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Rock, emphasizing his expected lewdness, just wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t alter a few lyrics to reflect that he felt like making that sweet love with Etheridge. A sing-along cover of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” brought out the entire cast for the first encore, while the second one ended with Kid Rock straining his vocal chords on GN’R’s “Paradise City” after everyone else had left the stage.

The Flaming Lips performed first, offering up three songs from their last two albums, 1999′s The Soft Bulletin and last year’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Flanked by troupes of plushy-suited dancers with flashlights and accompanied by four inflatable robots, the Oklahoma City oddballs also provided the cutesy amenities that make their shows so compelling. The video screen behind the band flashed images of erotically aerobicizing women, scenes from “Cool Hand Luke,” and the perspective of the mic cam, which mostly showed the interior of singer Wayne Coyne’s nostrils. The band sang “Happy Birthday” to one lucky fan, and some of the giant red and green balloons that fell from the ceiling at the first note lingered until the end of the night.

Before a black lacquered grand piano, Vanessa Carlton, in a demure blue and gray dress, played “Ordinary Day” off her Grammy-nominated debut, Be Not Nobody, and three new songs, including “Papa,” written for her father, and “C’est La Vie,” a self-described ode to her “lack of speaking French.” All were constructed around a cascading piano foundation and her hushed vocals.

Robbie Williams commanded attention with his set, acting the boisterous rock star even if many in the audience weren’t familiar with the wildly successful British import.

“I’m Robbie Williams and I’m from England,” he announced after performing “Let Me Entertain You.” “I come over here once in a while to play for my fan … and there she is.”

The cheeky humor permeated the entire set, as Williams performed sexual innuendo with the mic stand and a Poland Spring bottle, while alternately posing for the camera and showing off his bum. His six-piece band and two backup singers aided him through “Let Love Be Your Energy” and “Rock DJ” from 2000′s Sing When You’re Winning, and a couple of tunes from his forthcoming Escapology, including its single, “Feel.”

Someone needs to teach old dog Triumph some new tricks. With his opening monologue, “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” ‘s Insult Comic Dog may be on his way to meeting former MTV personalities Jesse Camp and Pauly Shore in obscurity, as he joked comedian Andy Dick was in the process of doing, if he doesn’t update his act a bit. There were some zingers, sure. Honoree Peter Gabriel was immune to the puppet mutt’s barbs, having suffered enough by “working with Phil Collins for 10 years,” and Triumph’s obsession with “schtupping” one of the Flaming Lips’ plushy pink bunnies was obscenely amusing. But dragging out the tired jokes about Eminem, whom he clashed with at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards (see “Was Eminem Out Of Line At VMAs, Or Just Being Real? Fans (And Triumph) Weigh In” ), was a bore, except when the shtick turned offensive when he accused Slim Shady of “being just another white guy stealing black music.”

Luckily, the ill-received humor was over early, freeing the crowd to enjoy the remainder of the evening without any such awkward moments.