It has been billed as "music's biggest night" forever, but Sunday night's Grammy Awards presentation gig actually came close to living up to its title. That hasn't happened in an awfully long time.
The responsibility for all of this fell squarely on the shoulders of the live performers. For too long, we've sat idly by while the Academy doled out plaudits to folks who were clearly the product of modern recording technology's incredible bounty. On Sunday evening, live music reclaimed its proper place at the head of the table.
Of course, when a television show kicks off with the performance of a brand new U2 song, something's going right from the get-go. The Irish band was not nominated this year, but was in the house solely to promote the upcoming release of its new album, "No Line on the Horizon." The new song "Get on Your Boots" is a cross between the experimental electronica of its "Pop" album, and the pop-punk of "Vertigo," and boy did it sound good on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, much the night was all about Coldplay. Was the band rewarded too enthusiastically for its "Viva la Vida" album and its massive hit single title tune? Probably. But if you're going to overdo it, at least overdo it on something worthy of serious plaudits. "Viva la Vida" is an outstanding album. The band's live performance -- including a cool take on "Lost," with Chris Martin alone at the piano and a certain mega-famous rapper showing up for a surprisingly apt rap, and of course, "Viva la Vida" in all its regal glory -- made it plain how powerful this band is.
Sunday was also about Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, who took home a few statues, and proved that, as far as acceptance speeches go, much can be said with little.
A certain Sir Paul, with his former Nirvana drumming pal Dave Grohl and the touring version of the McCartney band, gave "I Saw Her Standing There" a kick in the hindquarters, too. To borrow some influence from Chris Farley's famous SNL skit, "That was awesome!"
Radiohead took it home in its hip pocket, though. The traditional (and traditionally annoying) Grammy habit of teaming a pop act with an orchestra, or a brass section, or even a ballet troupe, fell prey to the Radiohead way of doing things. "15 Step" found the UCLA marching band offering massive percussive underpinning to the freakish anti-rock song. With singer Thom Yorke out front and guitarist Johnny Greenwood playing wing, this was simply an incredibly arranged and performed piece of music.
The Jonas Brothers joining Stevie Wonder felt gratuitous, but the three siblings accorded themselves rather well. Justin Timberlake with T.I. was pretty inspired as well. The tribute to lifetime achievement honorees the Four Tops, led by Smokey Robinson, Jamie Foxx, and Ne-Yo, did a good job reminding everyone of the emotional power of that group's music.
There were the mandatory absolutely horrific moments, of course. (Yes, that means you, Katy Perry. Hope you're enjoying your 15 minutes.) But on balance, this year's Grammys suggested that popular music is in a far more healthy state than is the industry that disseminates it.