With a listless opening number, flaccid, seemingly ad-libbed hosting by comic Ellen DeGeneres, ballad-heavy performances and what seemed to be more time devoted to commercials than music, the 39th Annual Grammy Awards TV show was a decidedly downbeat affair, despite event’s being held in its largest venue ever, Madison Square Garden.
First show of enthusiasm came more than an hour into the program, with numbers by casts of Grammy-nominated B’wy musicals “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” and “Riverdance,” connected by a faceoff between “Funk’s” Savion Glover and Colin Dunn from category winner “Riverdance.”
Other performance highlights included two-category winners the Fugees, backed by members of Bob Marley’s family and the Wailers, for a version of Marley’s classic “No Woman, No Cry”; a tribute to the late inventor of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, by Vince Gill with Alison Krauss and her band, Union Station; and Gil Shaham performing an exciting (and brief) section of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto; and a medley of songs from “Waiting to Exhale” by singers Brandy, CeCe Winans, Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston.
Notable among the presenters was folk music icon Pete Seeger, introducing a performance by Bruce Springsteen, whose most recent album attempts to cast the singer-songwriter in a troubadour mold; it was a juxtaposition that could be regarded as a totally shameless attempt at credibility or a symbolic passing of the mantle down several generations in one move. Just as strange, perhaps, was pop singer Natalie Cole singing “Mr. Paganini,” backed by an all-star jazz combo (Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, etc.) in tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.
Many awards had been presented earlier in the day, though first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was honored for Spoken Word recording (of her book, “It Takes a Village”), was the only pre-telecast winner whose acceptance was shown during the program proper.
Michael Greene, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences prexy, announced producer of the year Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, and winners of Lifetime Achievement awards, though none of the living recipients (Oscar Peterson, Bobby Blue Bland, the Everly Brothers and Stephane Grappelli) was around to take a bow. Other winners were Charles Mingus, Judy Garland, Buddy Holly and Frank Zappa.
Longest acceptance speech by far was from Album of the Year winner Celine Dion, who seemingly thanked everyone she’s ever met — album credits 14 producers. Even the swell of “get off the stage” music faded out while Dion was still conveying her seemingly limitless gratitude.
Tech credits were OK for on-the-fly live event, though producers found it difficult to convey sheer size of the venue to TV audiences, an accomplishment that would have made viewers even happier that they weren’t there in person.