Over the past few years, the Universal Music showcase has become a staple of Grammy Weekend: a tightly run, three-hour-ish sampler of the company’s current and upcoming talent, ranging from superstars to brand-new artists, wherein each act plays a song or two. It was the first place we saw Ariana Grande and Chris Stapleton; the 2017 edition kicked off with a pair of songs from The Weeknd; and in recent years previews of music documentaries from the company’s growing film division have become a staple.
This year’s showcase continued in that tradition, with brief sets from Lewis Capaldi, Maggie Rogers, Gregory Porter, several new artists and a surprise acoustic jaunt from Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas (who would clean up at the Grammy Awards the following night). Perhaps most exciting of all, we got a top-secret previews of Peter Jackson’s forthcoming film on the Beatles, which was created from the dozens of hours of footage from their 1969 “Let It Be” sessions, and the Apple TV Beastie Boys documentary introduced by the group’s Adam Horovitz and its director, longtime collaborator filmmaker Spike Jonze.
Introduced as always by chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge — who noted that in the audience were Lana Del Rey, Mandy Moore, Lulu and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell— the afternoon kicked off with a brief set from Capitol recording artist Capaldi that practically doubled as a comedy act.
“I should have peed before I came up here!,” he joked. “I’m a very nervous boy up here, I might pop — I’m sorry if I do!” Accompanied by a keyboardist, he was in fine voice, hitting some impressive high notes as he cruised through “Before You Go” and “Someone You Loved.”
Gregory Porter (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)
A brief break followed and it soon became clear why, as Blue Note soul singer Gregory Porter took the stage accompanied by 10 musicians, including three backing singers and a horn section. He plays a brand of old-school R&B with powerhouse vocals and dressed the part, clad in a blue suit and Shaft-style hat.
Next up was Horovitz and Jonze jokingly introducing some of the documentary on the group. The segment focused on the creation of one of their biggest hits — “Sabatoge” — and how it all started with a distorted bass riff from the late Adam “MCA” Yauch. Rapper DaBaby followed with a pair of songs, the second of which (“Bop”) featured his show-stealing stellar dancers, who were a highlight of his spot as musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” last month.
Spike Jonze (left) and Adam Horovitz (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)
Maggie Rogers, clad in a classy suit and T-shirt, took the stage next, performing “Leave the Light on” before taking off the jacket and letting her hair down for “Love You for a Long Time.” Sets from South African rapper Nasty C; Tiwa Savage, who plays a Caribbean-tinged flavor of R&B; and Colombian singer Karol G followed.
The audience was then politely asked not to film or photograph the segment that followed: a several-minute-long preview of “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson’s forthcoming Beatles film (announced a year ago). Longtime Apple Records chief Jeff Jones (who noted that the Beatles had taken the name for their record company long before the computer colossus was formed) spoke of how the original “Let It Be” film is considered by many to be a depressing look at the group in the process of breaking up — an impression its murky, shadowy atmosphere exacerbated. Amid the ongoing extensive Beatles reissue campaigns, it’s the one project the surviving members have seemed reluctant to return to.
So instead, they enlisted Jackson, who had just completed “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a project that saw him cleaning up and colorizing archival World War I film footage, and essentially enlisted him to do the same with the many hours of “Let It Be” footage.
Da Baby (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)
“We have created a brand-new film that will attempt to bust the myth that the ‘Let It Be’ sessions were the final nail in the Beatles’ coffin,” Jones said.
And sure enough, an amazing counter-narrative to “Let It Be” film has ensued: It’s brighter both visually and spiritually, with many, many shots of the Beatles joking around, making fun of each other, singing in silly accents and generally indulging in vintage Moptop hijinks. It also features many scenes of the group rehearsing songs from the “Abbey Road” album — their true swan song, which would be recorded over the following summer — and even rough versions of songs that would appear on solo records. On the basis of this clip, Beatles fans will lose their minds over this film.
The showcase wound down with a pair of songs from Big Machine’s Riley Green — including a stellar song called “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” — New York Latin rocker Anthony Ramos and clips from the forthcoming film “Zooey’s Extraordinary Playlist.”
Finally, Billie Eilish and Finneas, both wearing sunglasses, took the stage to loud applause — which Eilish greeted in characteristic low-key fashion: “I’m gonna do two songs and then I’m gonna go away.” The pair, who played several acoustic sets in town during Grammy Week (and did the same on the Grammys), rolled quickly through “All the Good Girls Go to Hell” and “Bad Guy.”
And with that, the crowd left with a bevy of great new music and visuals ringing in their minds.