It seemed the night was off to a pretty tepid start when U2 gave an unspirited performance of "All That You Leave Behind," after which the veteran Irishmen went on to win Grammys for "Walk On" (record of the year), "Stuck in a Moment" (pop vocal by a duo or group) and "Elevation" (rock performance). Good album, but that good? Nah.
Fortunately, U2's proved to be the most rote delivery as artists like Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige and others put out looser, more lively translations of their Grammy-nominated numbers.
Just prior to their win for best pop collaboration, Pink, Mya, Lil' Kim and Dee Snider (Christina Aguilera) donned their Victoria's Secret best for the always saucy "Lady Marmalade," which featured a cameo by the song's original singer, Patti LaBelle.
Train, winners of best rock song for "Drops of Jupiter," performed with an orchestra. I really liked that song … the first 1,500 times it played on radio and TV.
Twenty minutes into the broadcast the musical selections started to get interesting: Latin Grammy winner Alejandro Sanz performed with a Spanish-singing Destiny's Child. Beyonce es muy good, no?
Tony Bennett and Billy Joel performing a jazzy duet of Joel's '70s hit "New York State of Mind" made me laugh harder than hosting comedian John Stewart. Joel looked fatter and older than Bennett. Christie Brinkley got out just in time.
Then there was the *NYSNC/Nelly performance. Crappy pop and crappy rap together on one stage. Where's a hand grenade when you need one?
All hype aside, the bluegrass and Americana off the "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack is truly great stuff. While most have heard and recognize "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" and "O Death," few have seen the singers behind the music since the videos and promotional clips feature the movie's stars mouthing the words. All three songs were performed live on stage Wednesday by the original musicians, Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss and members of her band Union Station, Emmylou Harris and others.
"O Brother Where Art Thou?" went on to win album of the year, among other awards, with "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" garnering best country collaboration, among other awards.
Alicia Keys, best new artist, best R&B album and song of the year winner, did a flamenco-ized rendition of "Falling." It featured Keys breaking her song down into a staccato, percussion-laden piece in which she dances the tango with some dude. Also one of the evenings highlights.
A road bump that nearly caused me to turn the telly off was seeing the Dave Matthews Band perform. God, that band sucks, and so do its adherents.
Bob Dylan didn't do much to soothe my festering Dave Matthews hate as Dylan and his band sounded as though they couldn't find the tempo to their song. Intentional as it may be, it sounded ragged.
Mary J. Blige may have given the night's most brilliant performance with a rousing take on her single, "Family Affair." The intensity was so high by song's end, it looked as if she would keel over from emotion overload. After Blige finished she appeared to be crying and the audience stood clapping in amazement. Really good stuff.
The always innovative and enjoyable Outkast came out and did "Ms. Jackson," followed by Nelly Furtado singing "I'm Like A Bird" accompanied by guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, which was an uncanny and unlikely pairing.
Alan Jackson's sentimental ode to Sept. 11, "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?," had its heart in the right place but it was a bit heavy-handed for my tastes.
India.Aire (who? That's what I said) impressed with her folky, hip-hoppy ditty "Video," which featured witty and well-written lyrics. Not witty enough to win a Grammy, though. Too bad.
An all-star gospel performance rounded out the show, featuring the Rev. Al Green and the Winanses, but I was bored by that time and drifted onto other things.
All in all I enjoyed the 44th annual Grammys. But a bone must be picked with the president of the Recording Industry Association of America. He used his time on stage to bitch about all the food being taken out of artists' mouths with the proliferation of MP3 file-sharing software, which he said denies artists royalties.
I'll admit I fall somewhere in between the sides of that issue. I don't begrudge anybody their hard-earned royalties; I've written a song or two and wouldn't want to be jerked around from getting my just desserts. On the other hand, if one believes the downloading of copyrighted material is going to put someone in the poorhouse by replacing conventional album sales, one would be surely mistaken.
What angered me so much about the RIAA president's diatribe was the way to climbed atop his soapbox (much like I'm doing, I guess) and called the issue "life or death." As if anyone could take such a statement seriously after all this country has gone through in the last year. Bulls*#t!