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Written by Josh Jackson (Concert Blast)
I have always said what an incredibly hard job it is to produce a show like the Grammys that tries to cover all the bases of what is out there in popular music today. While the 54th Grammys was a very “classic” leaning show, there were lots of styles and variations included that gave it a well-rounded feel, almost to a fault – but more on that later. Really, it all comes down to this. When you open a show with “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, and end it with Paul McCartney, does anything else in the middle matter much?
What a brilliant move to open with Springsteen. The man is a legend, and his new song is poignant and rockin’ with a classic E-Street feel. The only thing missing was ‘the big man’ blowing hard on stage right. Some might say that Bruce is irrelevant on the modern music scene, but I find that a hard statement to swallow. Any artist that is making good music and packing arenas 30+ years after their 1st record will always be relevant.
Of course, everyone wants to know how the death of Whitney Houston affected the rundown of the show. In reality, It wasn’t that bad. The whole opening got re-written overnight, and there were several ‘options’ for performances talked out, but it wasn’t near the pandemonium that the Chris Brown/Rihanna fiasco brought hours before the show in 2010. This was the first time in many years that the Grammys had an actual host, and I thought LL Cool J did a VERY classy job in bringing together the thoughts of so many with his remembrance of Whitney. And as a believer, how wonderful to hear LL say he wanted to open the show with a prayer. I thought that was great. I have to admit getting a little misty during the video, hearing Whitney’s powerful voice, and then hearing LL’s sincere words. But, after those few serious moments, it was time to get the party started again.
The throw-back James Brown feel, the dancing, costumes, killer band – it was a great way to continue the night.
The night of remembrance would continue as Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt shared a short segment of the Etta James classic “A Sunday Kind Of Love.” Honestly, I could have had a lot more of that one! Alicia was SO beautiful, and sounded great paired with the wonderful, Bonnie Raitt. She’s still got it!
As I mentioned earlier, one of the great things about the Grammys is the diversity. And one of the worst things about the Grammys is – the diversity. Sometimes to have to slip in a performance from a certain genre is a necessity that becomes a negative. I felt this was the case with Chris Brown. I actually like Chris Browns voice, but maybe there wasn’t much available in the hip-hop world this year. The performance had some great visuals, but didn’t seem very cohesive to me. It was interesting to note that Chris & Rihanna were seen together at rehearsals before the show. Do some people never learn?
Jason Aldean has become a country superstar over the last couple of years, and Kelly Clarkson has always had one of the strongest voices in the industry. That said, I think their performance of “Don’t You Wanna Stay” seemed a little sleepy. While it is a GREAT song and a huge hit, they’ve done it so many different times on so many different programs, and I think it showed. They just seemed distant. Throw in some mic difficulties and it just didn’t thrill me as it had in the past.
The Foo Fighters ended up being big winners by the end of the night, and with their performance of “Walk” showed us why. To me, they are one of the few remaining TRUE rock bands out there on the scene. They’re a simple band. They plug in, turn it up to eleven, and ROCK. It is loud, “manly” music, but with enough good looks and sweet hooks to keep the ladies on the line, too. Performing from a tent in Nokia Plaza, the Foos quickly whipped the crowd of 500+ into a frenzy. I thought it was great that before they came live to the tent for TV they performed a ‘mini-concert’ for the fans that showed up – complete with plenty of shenanigans, even playing some old Van Halen songs. In fact, in the rehearsal, the stage managers kept having to get on to them because every time you left Dave Grohl (lead singer) un-engaged, he would start up a new Van Halen song. Funny guy, and very gracious to the many young fans who showed up.
The Grammys are known for mashing artists together as it’s one way to get as many different faces on the stage as they can. Up next was a pairing that was intriguing – pop star Rihanna and British “rockers” Coldplay. Rihanna began with “We Found Love,” an upbeat dance number, and then joined Coldplay’s Chris Martin for an acoustic performance of his own “Princess of China” from the album Mylo Xyloto. I actually really enjoyed this section. Chris Martin is always solid, but you were really able to hear Rihanna’s voice on this one and she harmonized well – not something that everyone can do. From there, Coldplay ramped into their current hit, “Paradise.” It’s not their best song, but it’s classic Coldplay, and the glow-in-the-dark set was really a visual treat. I am not sure how well it played on TV, but in person it was super.
Beach Boys with Adam Levine Perfoming on the Grammys
It’s not often that someone can celebrate 50 years doing much of anything – but for 50 years, the Beach Boys (in one way or another) have been entertaining America. The Grammy producers tried to find pop stars with Socal roots to honor them, and found them in Maroon 5 and Foster The People. I knew Adam Levine of Maroon 5 had the vocals to do this, but was wary of Foster The People. I only knew them from their grating summer pop hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” and didn’t think they had the goods to really make it happen. Ends up, they had enough to get by. Adam Levine opened, putting his signature falsetto to good use on “Surfer Girl.” Digital waves crashed in the background screens as Foster The People tackled “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Like I said, they did enough. It sounded good, but perhaps another ‘name’ artist might have been a better choice.
When people look back at this performance for archival footage 10 years from now, they’ll surely ask “Who are those guys?” And now it’s time for me to get really honest. It was GREAT seeing the remaining Beach Boys together again after so long – but it was kind of sad. Mike Love seemed the only one with any vigor left – the others were just kind of ‘there,’ especially Brian Wilson. The good thing is they have surrounded themselves with an AMAZING band with UNREAL talent vocally. So, they are able to make ‘something’ out of what is available. Unlike many of the artists on the show, there were no tracks being flown in digitally, it was all real voices, sometimes up to 10 people singing at once. And it sounded GREAT. I’m not gonna hit Bonnaroo to do it, but I would love the opportunity to take my kids to see their summer show. I bet it would be a lot of fun.
I have already espoused my love for Paul McCartney, so the only thing I will say about his performance of “My Valentine” with Diana Krall and Joe Walsh is wow. Just, wow. The guy keeps re-inventing himself. It would be easy for him to put out another rock project as he has done many times over, but by tackling jazz standards and even ‘show tunes,’ McCartney has taken things to another level – proving he is as brilliant as he has been billed through the years.
I have proof of this next statement, ask any of my friends on the show. LAST YEAR at the Grammys I was telling everyone about this little group from Nashville that I felt was going to be one of the next big things on the scene. That group was The Civil Wars. I said they were gonna be huge, they would be on the awards, they would be nominated, and they would win. So, I called it! I truly love these guys – if you haven’t heard Barton Hollow, check it out. They actually made a joke before their performance about how their ‘opening act’ (Paul McCartney) was great and had promise. Little did they know that as of press time, their album is actually out-selling McCartney’s new one on iTunes since the show aired!
People make fun of Taylor Swift all the time. She can’t sing, etc. But she is a great entertainer, and deep down is an honest, sweet girl who is getting better and better all the time. Unfortunately, I did not care for her performance. “Mean” is another song that has been over-played, and her ‘trash heap from Fat Albert’ meets ‘Cracker Barrel cast-offs’ set was disappointing. I saw two shows of hers last tour and both were visually amazing. I would have rather seen a take on something I saw there instead of what she gave us here.
Katy Perry is another one who gets a lot of slack from the fact that she can’t really sing live. But, like Taylor Swift, she puts on an amazing show. You never know what you’re gonna get when she walks out on stage. Wild costumes, explosions, lasers…it’s all usually there – and she brought it all with her to the Grammys. This performance was a mash-up of her old hit “ET” and her new single, the quasi-angry “Part Of Me.”
While vocally she could use a touch up or two, the performance was fun. It doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty easy on the eyes, too – even with Smurf blue hair.
One of the most anticipated performances of the evening was the return of Adele. After an extended period of time off for vocal surgery, everyone was anxious to hear if she had anything left in the tank after so much time off. She asked that her rehearsal be ‘closed,’ meaning no one but key personnel were allowed in the arena during her rehearsal.
They even had security guards scouring the 3rd level with flashlights to make sure no one was hiding in the rafters. Luckily, I was allowed to remain, and was happy to quickly find out that she’s still got it. I truly believe she deserved all the awards she received, and am looking to see what the future holds for her.
I was really taken by our tribute to Glen Campbell at the CMA Awards this year, so I was really looking forward to seeing the Grammy version – especially since Glen was going to be performing. I vividly remember sitting in the middle of my grandfather’s living room floor listening to ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ on an old record player. So it was a real treat for me to hear him sing it live. The Band Perry and Blake Shelton both gave adequate performances to warm us up, but when Glen entered, the room erupted. He seemed to have some trouble remembering lyrics, and in rehearsals seemed somewhat confused as to exactly what was happening, but he’s still got a lot of spirit, and over-all he did a great job. Again, I’m glad I saw it – especially since this may be one of the last times he may be on stage in the public spotlight.
I always give my sister a hard time for being a fan of Tony Bennett, (I call it old people music) but he is a vocal legend, and such a super-sharp personality. I mean, anyone who shows up to rehearsal in a 3-piece suit, 45 minutes early, is a star in my book. Carrie Underwood is always a class-act as well. Put the two together and you “should” have something special. Tony has always had a way with ‘phrasing,’ but for some reason his timing seemed off on this performance. Carrie was flawless as always, they sang their 2 minutes, gave out an award and then we were moving on.
The “In Memoriam” segment of the show has always been a highlight, as we get a chance to look back and remember those that have left us in the past year. As this years package ended, Jennifer Hudson came out to share a short performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” This was one of the last minute performances that came down to the wire. In one early scenario, the video package was to end on Clarence Clemmons, and then the E- Street Band would vamp into a full-blown version of their classic, “Jungleland.” It was decided pretty early on that it should be more about Clarence, so James Brown sax player Maceo Parker was brought in to play a very classy sax solo while images of Clarence were played in the screens. Once the news of Whitney came out, it was decided that Jennifer be brought in to replace the already rehearsed segment with Maceo. Dress rehearsal was the first time we saw her, and it was a difficult performance for her emotionally. During the show she held it together remarkably, and it ended up being a beautiful tribute. I happened to ride the hotel elevator with Maceo after the show and said I was sorry to not get to see him perform. He said he understood and said something to the effect of “You can’t time death, and it was a fitting tribute.” You could tell from his face and deep thought he was really touched, as many of us were, by the death of Whitney Houston.
Dance music has always been popular, but with artists like Skrillex, David Guetta and deadmau5 getting so much press this year, it was deemed fitting that a segment featuring electronic music was on the show. Since most of this music is just mixing and matching pre-recorded music, the producers added Chris Brown and the Foo Fighters to the mix to add something visually. I have heard more than one person complain about having to see Chris Brown and/or the Foos a 2nd time in the show. And I tended to agree. Why not share the love and bring in someone new? That said, I thought Chris Brown’s performance here with David Guetta and Lil Wayne had more ‘snap’ to it and was much better than his main stage performance. And when the Foo Fighters segued from their version of ‘Rope’ into the deadmau5 version, and then kept on performing in the trance style? Man, I loved that. It just showed once again why I think they are one of the more ‘fun’ bands out there. This segment also gave me a great idea for next years Halloween costume. I think without a doubt it is deadmau5 all the way!
In commercial bumpers, CBS billed the Nicki Minaj performance as the one people will be talking about the next day. And boy were they right…but not for the right reasons. Minaj took her pop/rap stylings and paired them with a performance modeled by the movie, “The Exorcist,” to create…well, I’m not quite sure what that was. I’m all for artists creativity and allowing art to be expressed, but I think there is no doubt this was the low point in the show. And it had been such a strong show up to this point…good thing the finale would quickly set things straight.
Abbey Road was the last recorded Beatles album, and is a favorite to many. Funny that at the time of the recording the Beatles were barely a functioning unit, and on the brink of breaking up – but it worked fantastically and has become a classic. Paul McCartney has been performing most of the “Abbey Road” medley for years, and chose to end the Grammys with it. What a treat to hear the “Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End” played out live for us with his fantastic band. And to add some flavor to the guitar jam on “The End,” Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Joe Walsh came out to trade licks with Paul. I’m not sure you could have scripted a better end to the show. It’s moments like this that make the Grammys special, and will always keep music lovers coming back for more.
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