Monday, February 13, 2012

it's the music that matters

Before he got cut off during his rambling but heartfelt acceptance speech at last night's Grammy's for Best Rock Performance, Foo Fighter Dave Grohl urged everyone in the audience at the Staple Center and beyond to get back to what matters — real music made with real instruments. There could be no better illustration of his plea than the performance later in the evening of Rolling in the Deep by Adele, who swept every category she was nominated in, taking home six trophies. Rolling in the Deep was one of the most-played songs of last year, but Adele, in her first performance since her vocal chord surgery, made the song sound fresh and new, as if we were all hearing it and her for the first time. She is a true talent, and provided one of many emotional moments during the course of the evening.

The entire Grammy broadcast couldn't help but be touched with sadness, due to the death the previous afternoon of pop icon Whitney Houston. The tributes to the fallen star were woven into the broadcast, and felt sincere and well-placed. There was also a touching tribute to singer Glen Campbell, who recently announced that he is suffering from Alzheimer's and would be putting together a final album and tour before stepping out of the limelight. Campbell appeared onstage and performed his hit "Rhinestone Cowboy" with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton.

Many other people performed, with synchronized dancers and pyrotechnics — Rihanna, Nicky Minaj, Katy Perry, Chris Brown — but it was hard not to be drawn to the more direct performances by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band who opened the show, to the Foo Fighters who rocked out on two songs, to Paul McCartney debuting a new love song and singing some Beatles' classics. Jennifer Hudson's straightforward and touching rendition of Whitney Huston's biggest hit, I Will Always Love You also impressed. The most energetic production number of the evening belonged to Bruno Mars, whose energy and enthusiasm was infectious — and whose major special effect was his pompadour and shiny gold bowtie.

Adele thrills the audience with Rolling in the Deep
Katy's Perry's thinly veiled divorce/revenge song came across as more high school taunting than female empowerment. Nicki Minaj's strange production number combined all the worst pretensions of Like A Prayer-era Madonna and Alejandro-esque Lady Gaga. The Gaga herself, bedecked in her usual kooky couture, looked strangely out of place and uncomfortable. The woman, like Adele, can sing. Maybe she needs to rethink the sideshow.

Not everyone will want to record their next album in their garage a la The Foo Fighters, but maybe this Grammy Awards will help some performers get back to what matters, the music. Dave Grohl has certainly issued a call-to-arms. Maybe Whitney Huston's too-early death (and Amy Winehouse's, whose photo led off the "people we lost this year" tribute) will help prevent some performer from letting drugs take over their voice, their talent, their life. Because it really should be about the music.
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