Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The 58th Grammys was more about tributes than awards

Last night was the first time in decades I watched most of the Grammys. Being a lifelong, diehard Bowiehead, I was excited to see Lady Gaga's tribute to one of her heroes — and mine — the late great and unsurpassed David Bowie. (For my six-part "Bowie at his Best" series, go here.)

The Grammy producers smartly set Lady Gaga's tribute late in the show. Pretty brilliant, as I'm sure countless fans like me tuned in just to watch her performance.
Lady Gaga has always made it clear that the late David Bowie (who died Jan. 16 after fighting liver cancer
for 18 months) was one of her heroes. Here she wears a variation of Bowie's "Ziggy flash," the lightning bolt
on Bowie's face as seen on the cover of his 1973 ALADDIN SANE album.

As a result, I ended up watching most of the award show — although it ended up focusing as much on tributes to music greats we've lost as it celebrated new music.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts (in chronological) order of the various tributes performed at Monday's 58th annual Grammys.

Lady Gaga rocks a Ziggy Stardust-inspired hairdo, makeup and
dress on the red carpet for the 58th annual Grammys.
Four minutes before the show started, host LL Cool J was asked by"Entertaintment Tonight" what performances stood out to him during rehearsals. The second one he mentioned was Lady Gaga's, which he described as "amazing."

When LL Cool J gave the audience a preview of what to expect, he said Lady Gaga's tribute pays homage "to an artist who understood changes, the late … great … David Bowie."

The camera went to Nile Rodgers, who produced two of Bowie's greatest and most danceable albums, LET'S DANCE and BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE. (I listed those two killer albums in my list of top-10 Bowie albums in part 1 of the Cary's Comics Craze "Best of Bowie" series.) LL Cool J's comment prompted a nice round of applause and Rodgers had a big smile on his face.

Lionel Richie tribute: Lionel Richie received a nice tribute from several A-list singers when he was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year. 

Photo courtesy of US magazine
John Legend sounded like Richie reincarnated as he accompanied himself on piano crooning the Commodores' 1977 hit "Easy." How well did he nail it? The camera caught Richie saying "Yes!" during the middle of Legend's spot-on performance.

Demi Lovato (who looked stunning and the sexiest I'ver ever seen) belted out a dramatic "Hello" and Tryese Gibson did a surprisingly good take on "Brick House."

By the time the man himself was pulled on stage to sing "All Night Long," it was a party. I love how Richie ended it: "That's how we do it" Yes sir, it is indeed!

Stevie Wonder and Pentatonics' a capella tribute to Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire: What else do you need to say?

Stevie Wonder has a good time with the Grammy audience at the Staple Center,
teasing fans that they couldn't read Braille.
Photo courtesy of the NEW YORK DAILY TIMES
Class act: You gotta love Taylor Swift being genuinely excited for Edward Sheeran winning Song of the Year for "Thinking Out Loud."

I loved her reaction and how she hugged him. It's obvious Swift was excited for Sheeran; she jumped up and down as soon as Stevie Wonder announced his name as the winner. (Swift was up for the same award BTW.) There was no faking her reaction.

Eagles' tribute to Glenn Frey: It's unfortunate there was a significant audio drop right before the remaining Eagles and Jackson Browne paid tribute to the late Glenn Frey, who died Jan. 18. (CCC guest columnist David Hudson wrote a wonderful tribute to Frey at my request. It's a must-read for Eagles fans!)

Jackson Browne and the Eagles pay tribute to band co-founder Glenn Frey during
the 2016 Grammy awards ceremony at the Staple Center in Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of THE BOSTON GLOBE
The Eagles couldn't have picked a better song than "Take It Easy." Not only is it my favorite tune written by Frey, but it encompasses the quintessential Eagles sound.

I loved seeing Don Henley on the drums and for a change, Joe Walsh on acoustic guitar. Like me, you may not have recognized lead guitarist Bernie Leadon, who played lead when the Eagles recorded "Take It Easy" in 1972. What's especially fitting is Leadon reunited with the band on the last tour. So aside from missing guitarist Don Felder, Eagles fans couldn't have found a better way to honor Frey.

Browne did a fine job filling in for his longtime friend. He fit in with the tight harmony for which the Eagles always have been known, but it was just as apparent Browne struggled to keep his emotions in check while singing the band's first single.

Lady Gaga opens her David Bowie tribute by singing "Space Oddity."
The Ziggy flash and spider (an homage to Ziggy Stardust's band, the Spiders
from Mars) were the result of computer effects added to her face.
Monday's one-song performance at the Staples Center may have historical significance; it's quite likely the last performance of what remains of the Eagles.

Lady Gaga does Bowie: Sheeran did the honors of introducing the performance many fans had been waiting for: Lady Gaga's Bowie tribute.

Sheeran called the late peformer "one of England's greatest songwriters." How nice it was to hear Bowie being honored for more than just his theatricality, his history or being a chameleon as a musician, performer and in his fashion.

First, here's Lady Gaga's set list for her Bowie medley: "Space Oddity"-"Changes"-"Ziggy Stardust"-"Suffragette City"-"Rebel Rebel"-"Fashion"-"Fame"-(the opening riff of "Under Pressure which led straight into) "Let's Dance"-"Heroes"

Let me be completely straight: I say Lady Gaga nailed it and I've heard much the same. There are some haters on Facebook Bowie groups who complain it was too much like a Broadway show, a spectacle and was overdone. Even his son, Duncan Jones, via Twitter, couldn't exactly put into words what he thought of her energetic performance. 
Lady Gaga or Lady Stardust? She puts the glitter in her tribute to David Bowie, king of the glitter rock period.
Photo courtesy of People,.com
Now wait just a damn minute!

Bowie was -- and is -- known for his theatricality. Whatever he did, the Thin White Duke did so with flair. Also, Bowie, in a very generic way presented things just off center. And this was Lady Gaga paying tribute to one of her musical heroes. She's never done anything halfway. And she's never been known for being subtle. What else did you expect?

Let the haters hate. Lady Gaga gave it her all. This die-hard Bowiehead lifer enjoyed her performance.

There were many things we Bowie fans could appreciate. For one, Lady Gaga dared to be different and bold -- something I feely strongly that Bowie would have approved. She also delivered his songs in a very strong voice. (You can see the entire nearly seven-minute performance here.)

There were plenty of details in Lady Gaga's theatrical tribute for Bowieheads to love.

The image of the computerized bubbling material on her face which morphed into the Ziggy flash (from Bowie's 1973 ALADDIN SANE album) was visually arresting. A nice touch was the spider appearing on Lady Gaga's face, a nice homage to the Ziggy Stardust band, the Spiders from Mars.

The Japanese kimono robe she wore as she took the stage singing "Changes" was straight from the 1972-'73 performances Bowie did onstage in Japan.

And check out the wardrobe for Lady Gaga's dancers! Not only did they strip off the robe -- as Bowie had done in concert (in itself an homage to James Brown), but Lady Gaga's dancers wore a suit in homage to what Bowie wears in his video for "Fashion."

Don't forget that massive horn section Lady Gaga had.

Bowie's band featured a saxophone trio called the Borneo Horns -- led by none other than tenor saxophonist Lenny Pickett, who played sax (and a whole mess of other woodwind instruments) on "Saturday Night Live" and before that, the fusion-funk band Tower of Power -- in the 1980s. The Borneo Horns played on three Bowie albums and was part of the ultra-tight band (one of many for DB!) on his massive, 1983 "Serious Moonlight" world tour. The trio even released an album in 1991 of upbeat, classical songs composed by Pickett; it's hard to find and ridiculously priced, but well worth pursuing.
Nile Rodgers plays guitar during Lady Gaga's Grammy tribute to one of her musical heroes, the late David Bowie.
Rodgers produced two of Bowie's albums.
Photo courtesy of kgw.com
Best of all, I dug seeing Nile Rodgers playing guitar in the band. And judging from the rehearsal footage shown in the related Intel commercial which played immediately after the Bowie tribute, it's a safe bet he may have been the band leader or music director.

Rodgers, who never stopped smiling, seemed to have a blast! He wasn't the only one.

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