The 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards kicked off with one of the show’s most animated opening performances ever. The imaginary cartoon band Gorillaz and the legendary superstar Madonna engaged in a high-tech collaboration that mashed up the former’s global smash “Feel Good Inc.” featuring De La Soul and the latter’s resurgent retro hit “Hung Up,” all to fine and altogether funky effect.
Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder then took the stage as the first presenters at this host-less GRAMMY show, using a lower-tech approach to soulfully set up the first GRAMMY Awards since the destruction of the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. “We can’t ignore that the past year has been a hard one for a lot of people including our friends from New Orleans — that most musical city — and the Gulf Coast,” Keys noted before she and Wonder reminded a watching world of music’s ability to lift us up to “Higher Ground.” This dynamic duo got the Staples Center crowd singing and clapping along to an a cappella version of “Higher Ground” that Wonder also dedicated to “the first lady of civil rights” Coretta Scott King, who died just days before the GRAMMY ceremony.
The pair then presented the first award of the evening for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (“Since U Been Gone”) to Kelly Clarkson, whose later performance was introduced by a clip of her speaking of her dream to someday sing on the GRAMMYs — an inspiring self-introduction on a night that featured a few such moments. Bono, for example, set up U2’s performance this way: “U2 is not a rock band really. I think it’s like we’re a folk band or something — the loudest folk band in the world. But once in a while there arrives a song like ‘Vertigo’ that makes you want to burn your house to the ground.”
Indeed, U2 were burning brightly throughout this stunning GRAMMY night — winning five awards, including Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb), and Song Of The Year (“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”). “Being in a rock band is like running away with the circus, except you always think you’re gonna be the ringmaster,” Bono explained at one point. “You don’t expect that on more than a few occasions you may end up being the clown, the freak. But even that’s okay because you’re in show business.”
One of the other notable winners on this GRAMMY night was Mariah Carey who won three GRAMMYs, her first in fifteen years. Yet this was one of those nights when all the talk was not about the awards. Wittily and fittingly introduced by comedian Dave Chappelle in one of his first appearances on TV since famously leaving his beloved Comedy Central series (“Folks, the only thing harder than leaving show business is coming back”), the famously reclusive Sly Stone returned to show business, albeit briefly, at the end of a musical salute to his extraordinarily soulful music with the Family Stone that featured members of the original band along with Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Best New Artist John Legend, Joss Stone, Ciara, Maroon 5 and many other admirers.
Ellen DeGeneres, meanwhile, offered one of the most honest and minimal introductions in GRAMMY history, stating, “Our next performer needs no introduction,” before leaving the stage as Paul McCartney launched into a rousing rendition of “Fine Line” from his nominated Chaos And Creation In The Backyard album. McCartney then explained this was his first GRAMMY performance and, referring to a famous John Lennon line, now that he had “passed the audition” he’d like to rock a little, before offering a blistering take on the Beatles classic “Helter Skelter.” McCartney would later return to provide a brilliantly multigenerational highlight of the show when he joined Jay-Z and Linkin Park to mash up his classic “Yesterday” with “Numb/Encore” for a classic moment of GRAMMY musical harmony.
After many other highlights — including Kanye West and Jamie Foxx showing lots of cool old-school spirit in a big production number of “Gold Digger” — the show ended with a tribute to the sound and spirit of New Orleans. First, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow acknowledged the quick response of MusiCares in offering financial aid in the Gulf Coast. “Go to New Orleans,” Portnow declared before such Crescent City greats as Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Dr. John took the stage, along with The Edge, Elvis Costello, Yolanda Adams and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Then they were joined by Sam Moore and Bruce Springsteen to salute the late great Wilson Pickett with the nearly fitting “In The Midnight Hour,” a stirring ending to a night of great soul and substance.