Steely Dan, U2 cop top nods; Eminem gets props

LOS ANGELES — Steely Dan hadn’t made an album since 1980′s “Gaucho” and their 2000 reunion release, “Two Against Nature,” garnered what appeared to be only a modest head of steam critically and commercially.

But the record clearly hit a nerve with their peers as the duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen took home the album of the year trophy and two other honors at the 43rd annual Grammy Awards held Feb. 21 at the Staples Center. The album also won the engineering award.

Asked why Steely Dan had never won a Grammy in its 30-year existence, Becker saw it as a result of the band’s fans, “at least those that have survived,” gaining positions of “power and influence.” Fagen dryly added, “It gave us time to work on our speeches.”

U2, whose “Beautiful Day” single was released at the very end of the eligibility period of Oct. 1999 to Sept. 30, 2000, walked off with the other two major awards, song and record of the year.

“There are many bands applying for the best band in the world. For right now, it’s our night,” Bono said, accepting the record of the year trophy.

The wins for the pop veterans were not predicted by many, as the music industry held its collective breath waiting to see what happened with the record industry’s latest bad boy, rapper Eminem.

He took home trophies for rap album “The Marshall Mathers LP,” rap solo performance for “The Real Slim Shady” and shared with Dr. Dre the best rap performance by a duo or group.

Besides Eminem and Steely Dan, U2 and country singer Faith Hill took home three trophies each.

In accepting the rap album statuette, Eminem said, “I want to thank everybody who could look past the controversy to see what it was and what it isn’t.”

Eminem and Elton John, who won the musical show trophy for “Aida,” closed the telecast with a performance of the rapper’s “Stan”; the two hugged at the end of their perf, then Eminem said thank you to the standing, applauding audience and then raised a middle finger.

Labels major

The real winner, in this wide open musical year, was, however, a label. Interscope walked away with several of the top honors.

U2, which had recorded for Island before the Universal-Polygram merger, now appears on Interscope; Eminem and producer of the year Dr. Dre record for Aftermath/Interscope.

But not counting classical or gospel recordings, Warner Music appeared to take home the most awards, with 19 statuettes in its pocket.

The new Native American music category was presented on-air by Robbie Robertson and Val Kilmer. Tom Bee and Douglas Spotted Eagle won the award for “Gathering of the Nations Pow Wow,” a disc of 16 drum groups recorded at a festival held in Albuquerque, N.M.

Beyonce Knowles of Destiny’s Child took home two of the five awards for which she was nominated. Knowles’ former songwriting partners, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Robertson, who collaborated on “Say My Name” but are no longer in the band, did not appear.

Singer D’Angelo powered his way through the other major R&B awards, winning trophies for R&B album and male R&B vocal. Others taking home two awards each were B.B. King, Bela Fleck, Foo Fighters, and Dr. Dre. Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” won two awards.

Shelby Lynne benefited from a rule change a few years ago that redefined the category she won in, best new artist. “Thirteen years and six albums to get here,” Lynne said, before talking about the new level of honesty she found in making “I Am Shelby Lynne.” “I stand here tonight representing nothing but music.”

Talent on parade

Host Jon Stewart, dressed conservatively in a charcoal suit and tie, dealt with a handful of music celebs in his opening monologue — Madonna, Puffy Combs, Elton John and, of course, Eminem.

“I have to deal with it right off the top,” Stewart joked. “I met Eminem backstage and he’s really gay.” As the evening moved along, the host took shots at Napster, Kiss, Mystikal and Oscar de la Hoya.

The CBS telecast carried a TV14 rating despite being marketed to young pop fans through promos featuring teen faves such as ‘N Sync and Christina Aguilera. The dozen performances included Destiny’s Child accompanied by the movement troupe Eros, a duet by Sheryl Crow and Shelby Lynne, a trio of Moby, Blue Man Group and Jill Scott (which earned a standing ovation), and U2.

In the opening number, “Music,” Madonna got in a plug for her husband Guy Ritchie’s film “Snatch” by dancing on and around a car with a vanity plate that read SNATCH’D.

Hoorays for Hollywood

Winners in the movie-music categories were Thomas Newman’s score of “American Beauty” and the 1970s-packed soundtrack to “Almost Famous,” which won the compilation soundtrack.

In a bit of a surprise, Randy Newman took home the trophy for song written for a motion picture — “When She Loved Me” from “Toy Story 2″ — besting Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” and Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women Part 1.”

Hollywood had other victories. John Williams’ “Theme From Angela’s Ashes” took home the instrumental composition trophy, “Woody’s Roundup” by Riders in the Sky, an offshoot from “Toy Story 2,” won musical album for children, and Sidney Poitier earned the spoken word award.

Columbia Legacy made a clean sweep of the historical categories as the Miles Davis and John Coltrane set won two awards and the Louis Armstrong box won one.

Many of the artists delivered lighthearted acceptance speeches and cracked wise for the press and television. Bono questioned the practice of thanking a deity for a record.

“I see God looking down and saying, ‘Don’t thank me for that song,’ ” he said.

When asked if he saw the Grammy award as a reward for the album “Two Against Nature” or for Steely Dan’s body of work, Walter Becker responded, “It’s for our bodies that still work.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more