Sara Barielles is wearing a magnificent dress of floral appliques. Macklemore beat Kanye West for Best Rap Album. And I’ve been drinking Crown Royal and other concoctions the past 24 hours as a rapidly-organized gathering of Rostans celebrated the life of my Uncle Donald. But I promised I would live-blog the Grammy broadcast, so here it is.
I spent a long time talking to my father and uncles about music, and they mentioned they could not get into modern sounds…and of course I would take the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, ’70s progressive rock Miles and Trane and Monk, over most of today’s music any day…it just sounded better, more organic, meant more. But that is not to say today’s music is worse, for there are always examples of joy, beauty, and wonder. Pure pop that gives the masses a glorious time, social commentary done in clever ways, songs that cut to the heart of human emotion. And the best writers are getting younger all the time…
So let’s see what’s the new Sound of Young America (don’t sue me, Berry Gordy) in a continuing series of updates after every commercial break (when I’ll be composing and refining sentences).
The opening clips of duets are great, although “historic guitar jams” typically need spontaneity and extended time to make them work…and I’m wondering how many of these amazing performances will fit that bill. Surprised every Album of the Year nominee is playing, but that is a brilliant choice. And I start off by watching something out of a German expressionist movie, chiaroscuro and mirrors…and it turns out to be Beyonce Knowles (Mrs. Carter), looking sexier than ever with that close-cropped hair, singing “Drunk In Love.” The demure pin-up style is working, and her voice is as terrific as ever. I haven’t heard this song before and I question the idea of using “surfboard” as a vocal hook, but she’s pulling it off. And Mr. Carter enters in his trademark tuxedo…having never seen them perform before, I am unsurprised but delighted how well they synchronize, how much fun they are clearly having dancing together…her movements get looser with him on stage, and he’s actually smiling with genuine happiness. Walking off arm in arm is a sweet touch.
I like Kanye’s hat. I also like that Daft Punk are still wearing their helmets.
LL Cool J grins like a madman all through this, and his psychological insight into people is pretty interesting…so when he breaks into “Mama Said Knock You Out” it’s strange. Bruno Mars has zombie eyes…Kendrick Lamar looks classy…and my mother recoiled in horror from Daft Punk.
ANNA KENDRICK! Oh, I love her, and Pharrell Williams’s Ranger Smith hat is very well-eclipsed by her gorgeousness and eye-rolling. They present Best New Artist, which goes to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. No surprise there…I mean, the album isn’t perfect but when you give the world “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” you’ve done a service. Ryan Lewis’s suit is snazzy, and Macklemore’s fiancee’s tears are pretty darn sweet.
We go right into LL Cool J introducing Lorde to a wildly cheering audience…there’s a somewhat scary a capella intro, and then Lorde breaks into “Royals,” just as a cappella, in front of a weeping angel lookalike. Lorde looks like a schoolgirl without sleeves and she’s swaying to her own beat, smiling her own smile. My mother, who’s in the room with her, thinks her zombie-tye movements are “spastic…I don’t mind listening to her but I can’t watch her.” The minimal synth and drums are good…I can’t tell if these are tapes of the original backing vocals are not, but Lorde’s new arrangement obscures any complaints on this end.
Incidentally, Paul and Ringo and Yoko all look really dignified, while Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl look like they stepped out of a Magical Mystery Tour outtake.
Hunter Hayes…I’m not sure who he is, I don’t like when LL Cool J says “kids need to pay attention to the lyrics of this song” because that signifies preachiness in extremis like “Same Love,” and the John Lennon/Steve Jobs/Lady Gaga/Johnny Depp as great philosophers set is annoying…apparently he’s the CMA 2012 Best New Artist…and as I listen to “Invisible” he is really darn good. This is convicted singing, and I ALWAYS appreciate that. Download this one!
My mother told me that Robert Duvall gave him his first guitar when he acted in The Apostle. She also had to have me tell her who was Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Juanes and Anna Faris give Best Duo or Group to “Get Lucky.” YES. Though apparently Daft Punk will not be speaking tonight. (Mom: “Can they talk in those things?”) Apparently all they can say is “Thank you” according to Pharrell, though Nile Rodgers looks classy in the purple beret.
What the heck is Steve Coogan doing at the Grammys? Though he darn well knows that it’s an honor to be in the room with the Beatles, and his very dry delivery is killing as he introduces “the indefatigable” Katy Perry…who comes out in a horrific Grimm’s Fairy Tale production with full moon, Evil Dead trees, demons, and our leading lady in in a purple cape as she belts “Dark Horse.” The red headless cross shirt thingy is interesting, and Perry’s voice, which has grown the last few years to the point where I can hear her actually sing more than stretch her voice rhythmically, is even more interesting. “Charlie Parker’s on steroids because her love is so strong” is a really weird lyric. The dancers look like they’re offering her jars of blood…this isn’t a great song, but it’s a way better performance than “Part of Me” two years ago.
My mother laughs at the idea of an intimate performance by Taylor Swift, while the great Charles Pierce has described Lorde as “the female Joe Cocker” due to her movements.
Lorraine Cink of Marvel Comics media (@lorrainecink) is doing a magnificent live tweet, as is Mr. Pierce, whose sense of humor is very much in sync with my family’s (although none of us would write about comics or politics the way Miss Cink and Mr. Pierce do).
LL Cool J referring to “our late great friend Phil Ramone” is nice…and the reference to Chicago Transit Authority is even nicer as that is one of the greatest albums of the 1960s…and now Robin Thicke joins Chicago, Robert Lamm still on lead vocals (and sounding GREAT) as they duet on “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and now “Beginnings…” oh my God, Robin Thicke, why do you not just cover “Beginnings?” This is really good…almost magical…the horns are blaring terrifically, Thicke’s vocals fit in perfectly….and now another Thicke takes grand piano (!) and leads us into “Saturday in the Park…” it’s all great…and now the Chicago horn section of Pankow, Loughnane, and Parazaider take Miley Cyrus’s place for “Blurred Lines.” And it’s really wonderful. This is a damn great mix, and it almost erases all twerking memories.
Keith Urban and Gary Clark, Jr. You may remember Travis’s document of his incredible journey to Austin to find Mr. Clark on vinyl. These are two of the best guitar players in the world, and their vocal and instrumental interplay…on a lovely ballad…gets incendiary. And I’m getting amazed the Grammys are doing this collaborations so well. The song was called “Cop Car,” which is what my mother and I THOUGHT he was singing…but could someone write about falling in love in such a scenario? Of course, country gets a wider subject matter birth than many. And when a song is this good and the melody lends itself to such jamming…
I’ll admit it…the last ten minutes made up killer performances. Past, future, styles colliding and making great stuff.
John Legend at the piano with no corny intro is a welcome thing. Mom and I agree he’s a great singer and a darn good piano player. He’s singing “All of Me” and the romantic air in this arena is palpable. The man can sing…the repetition in the last chorus sounds angelic.
Now it’s time for, as I heard on Doug Loves Movies recently, Kevin Hart to be Napoleonic. (Incidentally, John Mayer looks a decade younger.) “Cut Me Some Slack” by Paul McCartney and everybody from Nirvana wins Best Rock Song. Dave Grohl is very gracious, and yes, the idea of slamming a bunch of chords together in two hours IS what rock and roll is all about.
Taylor Swift comes out at a grand piano to sing “All Too Well” which was one of the BEST songs on Red and right now, this is the completion of her maturity. The flowing dress, the discreet make-up, the genuineness in her vocals, the perfect pop songcraft…and now the headbanging. Oh the headbanging. This is just a songwriter sitting still and letting it out with no production number. And at the end, there is NO embarrassed “oh, you like me!” smile, just a stare out into the audience, like any great performer should have, that says “take me or leave me, that was me.” The standing ovation suggests that yes, they took it.
Bruno Mars, one of the most popular singers of our time, is now just “Super Bowl Halftime performer” and “merely” introduces P!nk, who comes out in a spinning harness. Mom asks “Why does she have to do this stuff? Can’t she just sing? Why does she have to be on trapezes and all this crap?” I want to know HOW she is singing “Try” while spinning so damn fast. This has to be pre-recorded, and after the last few performances it’s just sad. Getting brought down to earth by a skeevy-looking topless dude does not help matters. It’s sad and a real letdown after the brilliant liveness we just heard. Nate Ruess and his John Waters mustache and purple suit now bring us back to the actual live music. Mom: “I want to see HIM do that stuff with her…he looks like a stick!” “Just Give Me a Reason” in the bigger version of Katy Perry’s spooky fairy-tale set is alright, and at least it’s clearly here and now…though why P!nk insists on those all-over-the=place flaming hair styles is still beyond me. (By the way, I like P!nk’s songs…the look has always gotten to me.)
Ariana Grande looks about thirteen as she and somebody I messed gives the Best Pop Solo Performance. The “all-covers” clips are a nice touch. Lorde wins a very well-deserved Grammy! And the fluttery giggle in her acceptance speech is a nice reminder she’s still 17. Also, “Metallica with Lang Lang” is a phrase too crazy to hear.
Black Sabbath “My God, they’re old!” Mom cries. Ringo Starr, still incredibly youthful at 73, is also still Ringo; and “Photograph,” co-written with the late, great George Harrison, is still a damn great song. The collection of 1960s memories is a lovely touch. I’m really curious who all these musicians are with him, because they’re doing a great no-strings arrangement. Chicago’s horn section is on horns and Ringo is dancing almost as energetically as Robin Thicke. And it wouldn’t be Ringo without peace and love.
Taylor Swift hooting for Ringo = great. Jamie Foxx coining the term “rap-collabo-song” = not so great. He’s hooting it up, and Jay-Z planting a quick cheek kiss on Beyonce is nice. Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake, those legends of the summer, win Best Rap/Song for “Holy Grail.” And I have to say, Jay-Z is sweet and not very scary on stage. “I want to thank God a little for this award and a lot for putting this beautiful young lady in my life…Daddy got you a sippy cup!” Adorable.
Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” in the Maleficent commercial now rivals the Pleasure Island and Snow-in-the-Forest and the Horned King calling up the army scenes as the scariest of Disney moments.
LL, you’ve come a long way from Def Jam. Now, Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons, who won “Best Rock Performance” for the song Travis hates, come out…and yes, they’re singing the song Travis hates, “Radioactive,” only it quickly gives way to “m.A.A.d. city” and the shots of white girls dancing in the front row as everyone on stage gyrates and smashes gives me an image of Leonard Cohen’s future. Especially when the smoke blares out all over the place. Kendrick repeating the “Radioactive” lyrics is fun, the freestyle set to the band banging on massive snare drums rules…Mom recognizes both these songs from the radio and is SHOCKED they are two different compositions. Steven Tyler looks like not a porn star but a porn entrepreneur with his facial hair and white tux. And “Radioactive” becomes eons better when Kendrick Lamar raps over it…band on their feet…
And we go from this excitement to the neon cactuses of Kacey Musgraves, whose performance of “Follow Your Arrow” is an incredibly stupid song…my Dad walks in and says “What the hell is that?” “Kiss lots of boys or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into…” I appreciate the sentiment of this song but oh is it embarrassingly delivered. Hunter Hayes’s “be yourself” song was way better. In my mother’s words, “This song is crap. Don’t clap for this!” We agree that Harry Nilsson sang about arrows and being yourself way better. Kacey Musgraves is 25 and should know better.
I have now heard Mike Ditka sing. I can die happy.
Ennio Morricone now has lifetime achievement Grammys and Oscars. I am delighted with this.
Julia Roberts is as odd a choice as Steve Coogan, but she’s introducing the most important televised live performance in rock music history. AND Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. “What’s left of the Beatles” my Mom says. “Queenie Eye” from the New album comes out, clips from the video behind them, and at 71 Sir Paul is just as unchanged. And with Ringo on drums, it sounds like a continuation and NOT a remake of “Hello Goodbye” more than ever. A KILLER late 60s style Beatles track. And yes, I may have stopped typing just to dance around in my seat a little.
“Gloria Estefan looks like she’s bleeding.” Mom “Pharrell Williams is so charmingly dopey.” Me. Yoko Ono had a lot of fun dancing. And Unorthodox Jukebox wins Best Pop Vocal Album. Bruno is very low-key, clearly saving it for the Super Bowl. Taylor gives him a big hug and Lorde is the most enthusiastic clapper.
Neil Patrick Harris is introducing Daft Punk. This just keeps getting better….
The Lifetime Achievement montage…I’m happy to hear “Loving Her Was Easier Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again.” One of the saddest and loveliest country songs ever. And now Jeremy Renner (YEAH!) introduces Kristofferson, Nelson, Haggard, and Shelton: “Highwayman” without the 80s production, and Nelson is still his idiosyncratic best…though Kristofferson seems to be forgetting the lyrics. They cut off the song after two verses, as Haggard and Shelton join them to launch into “Okie from Muskogee.” These four are having a real grand ole time at this (pun intended), Taylor is first on her feet (as she should be), Yoko, Katy, John Mayer, Ringo are all enamored at “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Apparently this is THE performance: Imagine Dragons, even BEYONCE AND JAY-Z are grinning like mad and swaying along. Country is the universal language…maybe…and Martina McBride and Zac Brown (in his skullcap) come out and pay tribute to George Jones and Ray Price before Best Country Album.
THIS IS THE STUPIDEST AWARD CHOICE EVER. NOW RED IS NOT A PROPER COUNTRY ALBUM BUT KACEY MUSGRAVES FROM THE THREE MINUTES I HEARD DID THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF IMPRESSING ME AND WHAT THE HELL IS THIS AND I AM SO HAPPY THEY HAD TO PLAY HER OFF THE STAGE. My mother approves this message.
And thankfully, thankfully, Neil Patrick Harris tells us we are all about to Get Lucky. Daft Punk! Stevie Wonder! Pharrell! Nile Rodgers! Mom: “It’s a good thing Stevie Wonder can’t see them!” They’re in a 70s recording studio, Pharrell is wearing the Ranger Smith hat, Stevie is at his funky best, Nile Rodgers is jamming, Daft Punk shows up in the control room…and now the entire arena is dancing. The “Le Freak” and Stevie interpolations are great…and Mom is not impressed. “What a way to make a ton of money! You and I could dress up in weird outfits and do whatever!”
Cyndi Lauper introduces Carole King (swoon) and Sara Bareilles (lovely) for a two-piano duet of “Beautiful/Brave” A song from the greatest female pop album ever meets a song from pure mediocrity…both are uplifted by Bareilles’s explosive voice and King’s plaintiveness, which has lost none of its quiet power, combining well. Very well. And their big-little sister presentation of Song of the Year is cute. Lorde wins again for co-writing this one with Joel Little, who is very, very dapper, and with a very dry British humor. Lorde is still an adorably overwhelmed figure. And I don’t understand why Norah Jones isn’t singing with Billie Joe Armstrong on this darn tribute.
Jared Leto, please don’t recite Lou Reed lyrics. PLEASE. You are pissing me off. And I like you in movies. He introduces Lou Reed’s last backing band, Metallica, with Lang Lang tickling the ivories against a continuing roll of fire to play “One.” James Hetfield looks older–still good, but older–as he sings with all the same passion. The crescendo and roaring into place is excellent. Everyone is crushing and playing this with pure energy. It ends with great applause…and Steven Tyler proving he cannot sing “You Really Got a Hold on Me” but “Get Lucky” wins Record of the Year. France, all things considered has only them to be proud of right now.
Queen Latifah, always enjoyable, introduces the last Album of the Year nominee still to play, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Trombone Shorty, and Madonna. Macklemore live is as hyperactive as Lorde. But this song, I must say, comes across far better live than in the studio…seeing Macklemore giving himself to the message, hearing Mary Lambert’s gorgeous vocals, and Trombone Shorty adds a really wonderful touch. The mass wedding is nice. And thanks to Travis for editing in the cut-off line, which I had no time to do in my haste.
My Mom is yelling “You go!” at the music teacher with a long beard. And I agree that honoring music teachers, as an educated classical musician in high school, is darn important. Lang Lang returns to pay tribute to Van Cliburn, in a song Mom recognizes from her childhood as his signature piece. The memorial piece is a great mix of TV clips to Woodstock…love the clip of “Peg” and I know my dear friend Megan Boatright is smiling that they played Mindy McCready. And I’m happy they mentioned Tony Sheridan and played “My Bonnie” with the Beatles. Lou Reed singing “Sweet Jane” is always welcome. Now Billie Joe Armstrong and Miranda Lambert duet on “When Will I Be Loved.” Adds nothing to the original but a sweet sentiment…really curious to hear the Armstrong and Jones tribute album.
I never imagined that my mother and I would be singing along together to a Lana Del Rey record. These things happen.
Alicia Keys, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison present Album of the Year. Alicia calls John Lennon “John Legend” and Yoko giggles when Double Fantasy is brought up. Random Access Memories wins Album of the Year, and my mother is shaking me going “You cannot tell me that there isn’t somebody there who just wants to rip those helmets off their heads!” Paul Williams is speaking for Daft Punk now and he’s speaking at the height of his Gratitude and Trust. “They sail on a ship called generosity.” Mom and I have shared quite a bit of Chateau Ste. Michelle by now and we’re getting loud…she wants me to reiterate that SHE HAS A TOUGH TIME WITH DAFT PUNK AND THEY SHOULD TAKE THE DAMN HELMETS OFF! The final jam is “Copy of A” with Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Lindsey Buckingham, and Dave Grohl, Reznor crashing around his vocals, QOTSA taking over for a song called, I don’t know…and we’ve had us a Grammys. A fun one at that.
Glad you stayed around for the ride.