Best Grammys Ever? No, Not Really: American Songwriter Blogs the Show

If you read only one Grammy wrap-up today, make it this one.

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Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP
Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was one of those rare moments in Grammy history –- The Grammys were actually good.

In fact, they were verging towards “Best Grammys Ever” territory, until someone cued the incidental music during Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s acceptance speech, bringing the night to an awkward, stilted close.

Still, no horrible award snafus were made, and many deserving people were honored. And then there was Coldplay.

We kid! On to the Awards.

Pre-show, Sara Bareilles (looking as glamorous as any movie star) name-checked the Hotel Cafe as the premier singer-songwriter venue in LA, where she and Katy Perry got their start. John Mayer had the line of the night, when asked “don’t you also feel bummed because the state of our union is in such a bad place?”

“My job is not to be bummed,” said Mayer. “My job is to find music where music is, and there’s more of a need for great music then there ever was before. Music took people through the 20’s and 30’s just fine. I’m going to leave the opining to people who are really good at it, and I’m gonna write my little ditties and hope that maybe people can take their mind off what’s going on in the world for a couple of minutes.”

U2 got the show rolling, debuting their new single, “Get On Your Boots,” with lyrics splashed up on screen for all to scrutinize. The verses have a bit of “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues” vibe to them. Or is it just me?

Justin Timberlake was at his most likeable, dueting on the great Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together with the great Al Green. The two had palpable chemistry together, and it was later revealed that their performance was thrown together last minute, when R&B singers Chris Brown and Rihanna had to drop out of the show.

Like many people, I totally thought The Mentalist’s Simon Baker was introducing Radiohead when he spoke of a transcendent British band who had went on to become one of the world’s most influential acts. Instead, he brought out Coldplay, who sadly did not duet with Joe Satriani for the win. Instead, they were joined by Jay-Z, who helped turn “Lost” (the Jay-Z-less version) into “Lost +.”

They did a decent job, but both U2 and Coldplay got blown out of the water by Carrie Underwood, who seemed possessed by the raging spirits of Lyrnyrd Skynrd and Fleetwood Mac. With badass female lead guitar player in tow, Underwood destroyed the stage with the down-and-dirty “Last Name.” Did she always sing like this? Her performance shows you what pop music is designed to do, more than rock even — please, perform, and impress.

After being subjected to the musical stylings of Kid Rock, it was time for the moment every one’s little sister was waiting for: Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus! Pairing up to sing Swift’s “Fifteen,” Miley and Taylor exuded a nice high school talent show vibe, sitting on stools as Taylor strummed a fancy acoustic guitar. It was really quite affecting and well done. I liked the two backup guitars posing as Taylor Swifts one guitar.

Then they had to spoil the moment by reciting hackneyed Grammy dialog, reminding you this was no talent show. This is the pinnacle of the American Entertainment Capitalist Machine. But it turned into a nice moment when they enthusiastically announced the winner for best Pop Collaboration, Krauss and Plant, who gave props to the song itself (“Rich Woman”) and their producer.

Jennifer Hudson managed to stay composed during her performance of “You Pulled Me Through.” I’m not sure how good it sounded — I don’t know if it was the song or the emotion, but that couldn’t have been easy.

The Jonas Brothers/Stevie Wonder pairing was a case where these constant Grammy mashups make watching more bearable (sometimes, it can be less – I’m looking at you, Justin Timberlake and T.I.) That was the most Jonas Brothers I ever sat through. They kind of sound like the Backstreet Boys with an edge. Or maybe Michael Jackson, without the vocal tics.

The band debatedly held their own on Stevie’s “Superstitious,” although I think the youngest one got a little overzealous. Also, I thought Nick Jonas (youngest) was supposed to be the cute one? So why is Joe (2nd) trying so hard? Or am I misinformed here?

When they announced the Best New Artist category right after, I was positive they’d win. But as it turns out , British newcomer Adele beat the Jonas Brothers, probably by some kinda hanging chad thing, some technical glitch. Her bewildered acceptance speech was pretty classic.

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin threatened to cry while accepting the award for Best Rock Album, after explaining why they weren’t “rock” enough for the Grammys (which is really saying something). We’re more of a soft rock, limestone-y thing, he remarked. Chris Martin’s bandmates laugh at his jokes, so they must not be plotting to kill him. Katy Perry’s performance of “I Kissed A Girl” revealed that the song is just one giant chorus, one I don’t wish to hear again anytime soon. Kanye West looks like he’s celebrating Haloween all the time now. I liked his 1980’s “member of DeBarge” costume. I don’t care what people say about his threads; to my mind, he’s a pretty great rapper.

Kenny Chesney’s performance had all this weird dust in it, for his dusty song “Better As A Memory,” performed virtually in the dark. Come on, Kenny, it’s the Grammys. Don’t you know any uptempo numbers?

Pregnant superstar MIA lent the show a pervading sense of drama, with her will-she-or-won’t-she-give-birth-at-any-second demeanor. Plant and Krauss stole candy from a baby when they won Record Of the Year for “Please Read the Letter,” over MIA’s “Paper Planes.” “It’s a little song me and Jimmy Page wrote a long time ago. It’s been given a little of that Nashville touch, and …it’s pretty good!” said the golden god in his acceptance speech.

And then it was time for one of the Grammy’s finest hours. Four gangsta rappers and one pregnant MC, dubbed the “Rap Pack,” electrified the evening with T.I.’s “Swagga Like Us.” Man, I remember when the Grammys used to suck! Now it’s must see TV. That was awesome. I give it twelve stars. Six thumbs up. Seventeen Grammys.

Foo Fighter Dave Grohl has played with everybody — he’s a rock and roll accessory, having rocked numbers with Queen, David Bowie, Motorhead, and oh yeah, a certain rock and roll icon named Kurt Cobain. Grohl joined Paul McCartney on a passable version of “I Saw Her Standing There,” which still deserves respect — being one of the songs that helped launch an entire industry. In fact, the Grammys did a pretty solid job in honoring its roots last night. They gave Achievment Awards to Gene Autry and jazzman Hank Jones – two pioneers from when music was a little realer, a little truer. Think about it: there has never been more crappy music in the world than there is right now (it’s a cumulative effect) and tomorrow, we’ll top that. But tonight, we celebrate.

Sugarland harshed my mellow a bit with the syrupy “Stay.” Then Adele performed, the healthy Amy Winehouse. Realization: pop songs that sound like other pop songs make great pop songs. It’s an old formula. Repeat ad nasuem. Okay, but what about Radiohead? Would they duet with Pink Floyd on a Nick Drake cover? Fly around the arena on wires? Rip up a picture of Obama onstage?

No, not really, but they were introduced by Chris Martin’s wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, in a somewhat incestous moment (do you think Thom’s wife ever said a nice thing about Coldplay?) Paltrow gushed, and quoted Thom Yorke’s lyrics like beat poetry – “how come I end up where I started? How come I end up where I went wrong?” She then called the band brilliant, while winking at her husband. Surreal.

Mick Jagger would have been proud of Thom Yorke’s hamming it up during the band’s riveting performance of “15 Step,” during which Yorke channeled the Stones frontman with a hint of Axl Rose. And it was good. Oh yes. The Radiohead space ship landed on your stage, and melted all your brains.

I kind of wanted to turn the TV off at this point, but I also wanted to see the spectacle of Neil Diamond.

I understand plenty of people adore the song “Sweet Caroline,” (especially drunk people) but for my money, it’s no “Caroline, No.” Or “Going to Carolina in My Mind.” Diamond worked the crowd and turned the Grammys into a night at the Catskills. He got a standing ovation for his melodious moxy.

I also dug the flashback to the classic Motown PBS Special spot, with Smokey Robinson leading a tribute to the Four Tops. Anything to get that bearded guy from NARAS who comes out every year and says sanctimonious things to go away. Everybody was in great voice. Even that Jamie Foxx whipper snapper.

Then there was the Bo Diddley tribute (wow, the Grammys thought of everything this year.) John Mayer and Keith Urban jammed with Buddy Guy and BB King and other men wearing black suits and derby hats, and it was great. Urban played some more of his tasty guitar solos. Look out now. Don’t make Buddy mad.

The grand finale, before Stevie Wonder sent everyone to bed, was Plant and Krauss’s performance of “Rich Woman” and “Gone Gone Gone,” which came off a little sleepy, given the lateness of the hour. Soon after, they picked up the show’s ultimate award, Album Of the Year.

You could hear the room buzzing, “Them? Really?”

But hey, when you think about it, it’s Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.

They’re great musicians.

What’s to complain about?

Plant thanked Krauss, the bluegrass queen, “for teaching me how to sing in straight lines, not all that swirly stuff.” You know, it just occurred to me – the perfect solution – just have Plant and Krauss open for Led Zeppelin. There’s no reason it has to be one or the other, as the reluctant Zep frontman insists. If he needs a break, make it an all-day thing. Plant and Krauss in the afternoon. Next, medieval renaissance fair and fire eaters. Whirling dervishes. Morrocan drummers. Tunisian throat singers. Then: Led Zeppelin. Krauss can encore on “Misty Mountain Hop.” I’ll take my million dollars now, please.

And then the Grammys had to go and ruin everything, by playing music over the duo’s victory speech, which just brought everything to an awkward close. No one wanted to hear Robert Plant ramble on again, apparently. Couldn’t they have just waved at them from the side of the stage? It was looking to be a night for the ages, inching towards “Best Grammys Ever” territory, before they rained on their own parade, by, ironically, hitting the music.

MVPS: Radiohead, Carrie Underwood, Al Green

Take ‘em or Leave ‘em: Jonas Brothers, Jennifer Hudson, Coldplay’s performance

Most awesome: MIA

Most unbearable: NARAS dude.

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