Steely Dan, U2 have 'Beautiful' night

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Once again, the Grammys went the safe route. Truly, no static at all.

Pop veterans Steely Dan had a surprising run Wednesday night at the 43rd annual Grammy Awards, taking home three awards for “Two Against Nature” and the single “Cousin Dupree.”

Steely Dan’s first album of new material in two decades earned album of the year trophy, besting Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” and albums by Paul Simon, Radiohead and Beck.

Released by the Warner-distributed Giant, it also earned nods for pop vocal album and for engineered album.

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.

Early on, though, the night looked like it was indeed going to belong to 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.

Eminem 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.”

His Grammy nominations have been protested as observers say Eminem should not be honored for lyrics that are homophobic, violent and misogynistic. To that point, a protest, organized by GLAAD, was held outside the Staples Center prior to and during the ceremony.

The Grammy folks had clearly braced themselves. Besides airing public service announcements about hate crimes and domestic violence, NARAS prexy Michael Greene gave a lengthy introduction on censorship before introducing Eminem and Elton John, who closed the show with a performance of the rapper’s celeb diatribe “Stan.”

“We should be genuinely concerned about the younger kids … (who can’t determine) what’s real and what’s shock theater,” Greene said, his speech greeted with a gradual low moan.

Bette Midler, who presented the album trophy with Stevie Wonder, began her introduction by saying, “I brought the most beloved figure in music to hide behind” in case Eminem wins.

John, who won the musical show trophy for “Aida,” and Eminem hugged at the end of their perf, Eminem said thank you to the standing, applauding audience and then raised a middle finger.

Many musicians, however, were on Eminem’s side, among them Radiohead’s Phil Selway, who said backstage: “He has made the most culturally significant album” of the year.

Label leader

In effect, a year in which the musical field was wide open, it was a label — Interscope — that walked away the big winner. U2, which had recorded for Island before the Universal-Polygram merger, now appears on Interscope and Eminem records for Aftermath/Interscope.

Not counting classical or gospel recordings, Warner Music appeared to be the top winner, with talent taking home 18 statuettes.

Macy Gray, wearing jeans and a long-sleeved red shirt with the word “goofy” on the front, received the first televised award of the night, female pop vocal performance, for “I Try.” Although the song appears on her album, which was nominated last year, the song was deemed eligible this year due to its May release as a single.

The new category of Native American music 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 accepted her awards with her two new bandmates and not her former songwriting partners LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, who collaborated on “Say My Name.”

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.

“Ours,” said the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, explaining that their RCA album was recorded in his home studio, “was the only album nominated that was done for free.”

A new beginning

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 how a new level of honesty she found in making “I am Shelby Lynne.” “I stand here tonight representing nothing but music.”

Colombia’s Shakira, who sprang to prominence at the Latin Grammys telecast in September, won the Latin pop album award for her “MTV Unplugged” disc.

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.” Eventually he 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 of Sheryl Crow and Shelby Lynne, a trio of Blue Man Group, Moby 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.

Of course, songs go over better in an arena than jokes. “In the Staples Center, it is hard to do comedy,” Ray Romano said, accompanied by “King of Queens'” Kevin James. The two then shot T-shirts into the crowd from an air bazooka.

Movie music

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.

On the local front, Los Angeles’ Rage Against the Machine accepted their award as a trio sans Zack de la Rocha, the band’s lead singer who left the band late last year.

Regarding replacing him, guitarist Tom Morello said the band has been jamming with friends and has made no decision on a replacement. “We will know it when it feels absolutely great,” he said. Among those they have jammed with are former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell.

Taj Mahal won for his live album recorded at the Mint nightclub in Los Angeles, and Angeleno Dave Alvin won a folk award for his first nomination ever, dedicating it to family members and “all the musicians who are in vans on their way to beer joints.”

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.

Asleep at the Wheel, which has won six awards for its instrumental prowess, won its first award for a vocal performance.

Many of the artists delivered light-hearted 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.”

Non-televised awards started with a humorous “how to give a speech” segment by David Foster. Handing out the awards were singers Charlotte Church, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lee Ann Womack and Olga Tanon, producers Jimmy Jam and Phil Ramone, guitarist Steve Vai and jazz pianist Chick Corea.

Lifetime achievement awards were handed out Tuesday to Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., the Beach Boys, the Who and Bob Marley. Grammy Trustees awards went to producers Arif Mardin and Phil Ramone. Camera men were unprepared when the awards were announced, showing only Beach Boy Mike Love.

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