Some Grammy Thoughts

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Wow.  Okay, still sort of marshalling my thoughts about last night’s Grammy Awards, but here goes:

Early returns:  A nice idea to start with a tribute to Aretha Franklin.  But it was WAY too long.  Not a fan, but Jennifer Hudson looked and sounded great.  Am a fan of Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, but she seemed miscast here. 

Train is still around?  And you’re giving them a Grammy?  Well, the category, “Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals,” was an uninspiring one.  And at least they get off the night’s best line. “Thanks to Justin Bieber for not being a Duo or Group.”  Little did any of us know the 16-year-old juggernaut was about to be derailed…

Bruno Mars: terrific, old-school performance in black-and-white with the finger-snapping, call-and-responding backup singers.  Then he skips behind the drums for Janelle Monae, who also impresses. 

Is It Live or Is It Memorex?  Janelle Monae starts with a corded microphone.  Gotta be live, right?  But then, after body surfing through the weird little patch of crowd between the runway and the main stage, she reappears singing on a wireless.  Later, Rhiannon windmills her arms over her head – while still holding her mic – as her voice continues on.  Probably some backing tracks, but still…

On the other hand, Super Bowl-style sound problems reoccur: Bob Dylan’s mic isn’t working when he starts singing (this IS obviously live). 

WTF moments:  The bikes careering around the runways in front of Arcade Fire. The epilepsy-inducing lights in the same performance.  The gang/dancers running downstage during Muse.  Can’t we just watch the bands?  You presumably booked them because they’re good…

Really??? “Need You Now” is the best song in the land?  The anodyne Lady Antebellum hit walks off with two of the top three Grammy Awards, and I’m thinking that Eminem and Jay Z split the hip hop/pop/normal people vote, while the strong Nashville contingent – and maybe a few of Grammy’s geriatric white voters, for whom the band’s name doesn’t conjure up images of slavery and who like nice, safe pop songs – vote for the trio, who seem as shocked as I am. 

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time:  Mick Jagger is unconvincing as a soul singer.  Gwyneth Paltrow adds nothing to the Cee-Lo song with the unprintable title.  (What fun watching the Academy dance around that one!)

Esperanza!!!  What’s a Bieber?  Or a Drake, for that matter?  Sure, Mumford & Sons and Florence & The Machine are terrific, but they stood no chance against Bieber Fever.  Esperanza Spalding, a young jazz bassist and singer whose fans include Barack Obama and the Soundcheck staff (hear her performing for us here), is the rank outsider – until they call her name.  I’m startled and delighted.  No amount of rationalizing about split votes can explain this…

Kids playing with the stars. A favorite Grammy theme gets mixed results: Florence Welch gets to sing with Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, etc.  Mumford & Sons and Avett Bros sound like they’re having the time of their youngish lives backing up Bob Dylan.  Raphael Saadiq (on Soundcheck here) doesn’t get to sing much, but he plays guitar and gets pushed around a lot by Sir Mick Jagger. 

ARCADE FIRE!!! Expected to see Marshall Mather’s unsmiling puss again – and would’ve welcomed it rather than having to listen to Lady Antebellum again, which was now seeming likely.  Lady Gaga also an unstoppable force.  Arcade Fire?  When we did our Soundcheck Picks of the Year in December, “The Suburbs” was my pick as the best of 2010.  That has always been enough to kill any Grammy hopes in the past.  But the Texan/Canadian indie rockers make history.  Guess the Academy’s rock bloc finally grew a pair and made the unexpected, right call. 

“Month of May” was kind of a mess, but “Ready to Start” was a great ending, and offered us the single best image of the evening: a quick shot, mid-song, of the Grammy sitting on the riser in front of the drums, where singer Win Butler had put it so the band could play us out.  They got to play almost the whole song, too, which Butler clearly didn’t expect (“you can all leave to this song,” he said). 

What did you think of the Grammy Awards?  Leave a comment.