Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 2011 Grammys: Where the Points Don't Matter

I don't go to many live music shows. In fact, I think I've been to just three concerts in the past four years - and two of them were Rush. Going to see live music just isn't my "thing" - in the same way that going to live baseball games IS my "thing." So, naturally, I was excited about Sunday night's Grammy Awards telecast, as it afforded me the opportunity to see some live (on tape) performances from some of the biggest names and most important players in the music industry.

The Grammys have long ceased to be an "awards show" in any significant way. The "honor" of receiving a Grammy inspires more lampoon than praise nowadays. The award categories themselves are so confused as to basically not mean anything anymore (as expertly spoofed by Dave Letterman in a mid-broadcast "Top 10"). And the the format of the show reflects this opinion, focusing on the big performances, while sneaking in an awards presentation right before the commercial break.

That being said, the Grammy Awards themselves can have cultural implications, such as when Esperanza Spalding's win over Justin Bieber in the "Best New Artist" category sparked a spree of Wiki-crime from fans crazed with the Bieber-fiever. (I guess synchronizing the release of his big movie with the Grammys didn't help his award chances.) However, the Grammys are and have been about the performances, some of which I saw, and will relate here.

The Bieber-snub wasn't the only award of the night I remember; I also recall Southern pre-Civil War feminist revival band (or so I'm led to believe) Lady Antebellum pick up an award for best song in the something or other category. I remember that win because they had just performed the song moments ago. And lo-and-behold... (The same thing happened in a previous category for some country singer I'd never heard (of), Miranda Lambert.) Again, Bieber aside, I'm willing to bet that a Grammy pool is much more predictable than an Oscar pool.

The other "lady" of the night, Lady Gaga, hatched herself from a futuristic-looking egg and performed her new song, which critics have... criticized for sounding too much like Madonna's music. I would criticize her for her mid-performance break where she tried to play a riff from Bach on a Phantom of the Opera-esque organ. And here I was thinking that Matthew Bellamy from Muse was the only musician who was allowed to bastardize classical compositions in the middle of songs.

Speaking of Muse, their performance of "Uprising" had some impressive set-design aspects and cool pyrotechnics. I hear they're awesome live, and I would definitely like to go see them do their thing, but it seemed to me that Bellamy was having significantly more fun up there than the other two members of his band. He definitely has the most responsibility, pulling triple-duty as lead singer, guitarist, and keyboard jockey. But when you have three dudes playing music about breaking the establishment with anything less than 150% energy, the message kind of falls flat.

Speaking of falling flat, did you see that one one Mortal Kombat-dressed guy take a spill in Justin Bieber's performance? Ouch! Am I right? That guy does not have an easy profession, and we wish him the best in his long road to recovery. Biebs performed with another hot young star, Jaden Smith. Those Smith parents are sure making the most of their kids while they're still kids. I mean, seriously, let them have a bit of a childhood, am I right? I don't know, maybe it's necessary for them to sacrifice so that thousands of other kids can have unrealistic dreams about childhood stardom...

Cee Lo Green wins the prize for best dressed, hands down, with his feathery, sparkly ensemble. Gwyneth Paltrow didn't look so bad in her catsuit, leading me to think that she wouldn't have been half bad as Catwoman in the upcoming Batman feature, were she not already attached to the Marvel property Iron Man. But, then again, wouldn't pretty much anybody make a better Catwoman...

But the real story of the night was Bob Dylan's benchmark performance of "Maggie's Farm." Dylan is 69 years old, and it would be putting it too gently for words to say his voice has not aged well - not that it was that palatable when he was in his prime. He also apparently forgot how to use his signature harmonica, blowing just a couple of random, atonal chords during the course of the performance. It was so bad that I decided to skip performances from other oldies Mick Jagger and Barbara Streisand.

Dylan thankfully wasn't alone onstage - he needed not one but two modern folk groups to beef up his sound. His accompanists - Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers - didn't show too much spunk up there. I'm sorry, based on what I saw on Sunday, there's just simply not going to be a folk revival. Not when the best new blood the genre can throw up there are just bearded, emo, Pacific Northwest-looking slacker types.

I was able to go to sleep with a good taste in my mouth thanks to emotional performances from Eminem & Rihanna and a return to the stage by Dr. Dre. It certainly was refreshing to see one of the baddest-asses in all of hip hop history make such an impact. Sadly, I missed the performance by the Arcade Fire, leaving me still blissfully unaware of who they are or what kind of music they make (take THAT, hipster culture...).