54th Grammy Awards – Feb 12, 2012 – CBS Music has fragmented into so many sub-genres that the Grammys have recently become one trainwreck after another. But, something was different on this night; an energy surrounding the event that hasn’t been there in a long time. There was the question of whether heavily-favored Adele would be able to still sing following her throat operation. The inclusion of so many legendary performers (Springsteen, McCartney, reunited Beach Boys, Glen Campbell) ensured that even those who had given up on new music would tune in. And, the recent death of Whitney Houston, who had dominated these same awards, seemed to bring everyone together.
Adele pulled off a sweep of the awards – grabbing Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album. She quieted the critics with a soulful live rendition of her much-played “Rolling in the Deep.” She seemed incredibly moved by the showering of accolades, especially for the final Album of the Year award, breaking down onstage. It was telling that her performance lacked the crazy pyrotechnics and stage antics of any of the other acts, yet she still stole the show.
The night opened with Bruce Springsteen, who wasn’t even nominated, yet turned in the anthemic “We Take Care of Our Own,” easily his best single in years (and the closest thing he’s done to his “classic” E. Street Band sound in a long time). Bruno Mars was impressive in his James Brown tribute, complete with signature dance moves. An early surprise was the pairing of Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt for a stripped-down tribute to Etta James in “A Sunday Kind of Love.” Also surprising was the teaming of Rihanna and Coldplay for “Princess of China.” The Foo Fighters rocked it up, and when accepting their award for Best Rock Performance, leader Dave Grohl remarked that the album had been recorded in his garage, showing that “it was about the music and, not about perfection and what a computer could do.”
There was a great deal of buzz surrounding the reunion of the remaining members of the Beach Boys, who plan to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a summer tour. Maroon 5 showed how difficult it is to try and replicate those tight harmonies in a ragged version of “Surfer Girl,” before Foster the People played a more faithful take on “Wouldn’t it Be Nice.” Then followed the original Beach Boys, who, with help from the other two bands, ran through a fun, but kind of messy “Good Vibrations” (although, I really couldn’t hear much of Brian Wilson singing).
Even though the Grammys are supposed to be about recognizing current music, the entire evening seemed dominated by the past. Paul McCartney showed off his new, Sinatra-like stylings with help from Joe Walsh on guitar and the lovely Diana Krall on piano. Of course, the recent passing of Whitney Houston was on everyone’s lips, and Jennifer Hudson gave an emotional, yet classy performance of her “I Will Always Love You.” Even Tony Bennett got in on the action, singing a duet with Carrie Underwood in “It Had to Be You” (although, I couldn’t help thinking that it should’ve been Amy Winehouse up there).
Also honored was the great Glen Campbell, who is stricken with Alzheimer’s and is going into retirement. He was joined onstage by the Band Perry and Blake Shelton. Even Taylor Swift was on her game, adding a little meat to her hit “Mean” (although, is it me, or did Jason Aldean seem a little stiff singing with Kelly Clarkson?). Only Nicki Minaj, with her tuneless slam on the Catholic Church, missed the mark (I mean, c’mon, haven’t we gone there before?).
The night was capped off by Paul McCartney (this time joined by his touring band) who played the “Golden Slumbers” medley off Abbey Road. When it came time for the ending, McCartney left his piano, grabbed his Les Paul, and joined Walsh, Springsteen, and Grohl for a guitar duel for the ages. The song (and evening) concluded with the classic lines “and in the end / the love you take / is equal to the love you make.”
Kudos to the Grammys – it’s been years since they’ve turned in a great show like this. The new music was decent, with lots of great stage shows, the legendary performers were excellent, and the tributes to performers who had passed were moving. Everything sounded live and energetic, with no sign of lip synching. In an age when many question the direction the music business will take, it’s refreshing to see a show come together like this. –Tony Peters