Stream of consciousness thoughts and a meaningless rating out of 10 for each live performance as I watch the 2013 Grammys. Personal bias fully acknowledged on these reviews. In order of appearance…
1. Taylor Swift performing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”… 7/10
A crowd-pleasing song to start the show, I guess. What was with the dancers and the props though? It was like an Alice in Wonderland and/or circus sort of thing going on, but it was really bizarre and kinda didn’t fit with the theme of the song, right? Taylor sounded very good, almost to the point where I sorta wondered if she was lip synching. She’s always good live.
2. Ed Sheeran and Elton John performing “The A Team”… 8/10
A somewhat raw, stripped-down performance of a raw, stripped-down song. The combination was a little strange, but they sang well together and overall it sounded good. Elton’s piano was honestly a little overpowering at times, but Ed Sheeran has a great voice and sang his song very well. A great performance of the song.
3. fun. performing “Carry On”… 6/10
Right off the bat, I’m disappointed they didn’t perform “Some Nights”, which was the far more popular and well-regarded song this year, right? “Carry On” isn’t bad, but it’s not quite as dynamic and intense of a song. Lead singer Nate Ruess has good stage presence, though, and sings well. His band played with energy and made it sound good. Ruess had some trouble staying on pitch at times, and overall I didn’t feel like the performance brought down the house down.
4. Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley performing “Home” and “Over You”… 5/10
Miranda’s voice was a little shaky to start, but she picked things up. Dierks was good but not great. The performance overall felt a touch uninspired, like there just wasn’t quite enough energy. Maybe it’s that the song doesn’t fit the ranges of their voices or something, like neither of them were really singing loudly or with tremendous emotion. Overall it gave the performance a bit of a “blah” feeling.
5. Miguel and Wiz Khalifa performing “Adorn”… 4/10
Who is Miguel? What is this song? Never heard of this. Kinda cool that they started out in the crowd. Miguel has a good voice but he was trying too hard here and just swung and missed at times. Not the most ear-pleasing performance. Wiz was good, he sounds just the same recorded or live, but it’s pretty good. The performance was really short, too. Also, how weird is it that these two guys were the ones to introduce the Best Country Solo Performance Grammy? How non-sequitur is that?
6. Mumford and Sons performing “I Will Wait”… 8/10
Was looking forward to this performance before the show started – the other live performances I’ve seen of Mumford have always been great. Did it sound like the lead guitar was out of tune or something? Kinda sounded weird at the beginning. I liked the little breakdown at the first chorus right before the big instrumental. All the live musicians were great, especially the banjoist — he was killing it up there. I liked the simple backdrop of lighting behind each performer. A great performance, not show-stopping but very good overall.
7. Justin Timberlake performing “Suit & Tie” and “Little Pusher Love Girl”… 10/10
Not crazy about the first song, but Justin is awesome onstage. Loved the black-and-white theme and the snappy dressing. Cool dancing, great musicians backing him up. Jay-Z is good at what he does, even if I’m not a fan. His rap interlude was very good. I got really into this performance after the transition to JT’s new song, though. I loved the string section that like, rose up out of the floor to back him up. “Little Pusher Love Girl” is a great song for live performances, and JT and all of his backup vocalists were full of energy and swag. All in all, this was a great show.
8. Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys performing “Daylight” and “Girl on Fire”… 7/10
I’m also disappointed this performance was “Daylight” and not “Payphone”, but what are you gonna do. Adam Levine is another natural onstage, and puts on a good show. Daylight is a little more laid-back and sounded great. Then Alicia Keys came in with the weird drumming and the song change and I didn’t feel like it played quite so well. She’s a great singer too, though, and definitely sounded good. I liked the performance more when it focused on “Daylight”. But overall, the duet of Keys and Levine played out pretty well. A good performance but I think I would have just preferred Maroon 5 by themselves.
9. Rihanna and Mikky Ekko performing “Stay”… 9/10
Wow, this is not what we’re used to seeing from Rihanna, right? She can really sing (which we already knew), but she can definitely make the slow, introspective kind of song work great for her too. I really, really liked this performance. Way better than most of her other stuff. And, in the words of my sister, “she looked unusually classy… normally she’s a hot mess”. This was very nearly a show-stopping, career-making kind of performance, such a departure from what she had been doing recently. Excellent.
10. The Black Keys performing “Lonely Boy”… 7/10
The Black Keys put on a unique show. I guess they’re the kind of group that belongs squarely in the category of “alt rock” – they have their distinctive quirks. What the hell was the keyboardist wearing on his head? There was a cool scene to their performance, with the big marching bass drums in the background and the in-your-face bass guitar licks. The song is catchy, and the lead singer, while unremarkable, carries the group pretty well.
11. Kelly Clarkson honoring Patti Page and Carole King… 6/10
To be honest, I can’t really assess this performance for how well it paid tribute to the artists it was intended to honor. I have never heard of Patti Page, and I know like one song by Carole King. I’m a little tired of Kelly Clarkson, but she does have a great voice, and she sang the tribute songs well. I had to rely on Wikipedia to find the connection between (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman and Carole King…turns out she co-wrote the song. Huh. Kelly Clarkson is a poor substitute for Aretha Franklin, but it wasn’t a bad performance.
12. Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna, and Ziggy Marley performing “Locked Out of Heaven” and Bob Marley tribute… 4/10 (mostly for the first part)
This performance started out well, anyways. “Locked Out of Heaven” has really grown on me recently, and Bruno Mars is another one of those guys who’s always dynamic live. Sting… was weird. He and Bruno are very, very different singers and hearing the second verse of this song coming from Sting legitimately made me laugh. It was awkward.
But then they transitioned into the really, really weird Bob Marley tribute. Now, admittedly, I have never, ever been a fan of Marley or reggae in general, but this performance just got out of hand. It was certainly energetic, but I just was not into it at all. I know they were trying to pay tribute with this cool new mix of artists and musicians, but… yikes. I’m sure a Marley fan probably enjoyed this performance a lot more than me, but it really didn’t do it for me.
13. The Lumineers performing “Ho Hey”… 6/10
You can tell these guys just have a good time playing music and being super chill. The performance was a little raw, but went over pretty well. There was some trouble with the sound mixing, though – you could hardly hear the guitars or anything… it just didn’t sound very together. I really like this song, but the performance was underwhelming.
14. Jack White performing “Love Interruption” and “Freedom at 21″… 3/10
This was pretty rough around the edges. In the first half of the performance, Jack and his female duet were having some trouble staying on key, but the musicians backing him up did a nice job, and she had a nice voice. Then a total shift of gears to this hardcore, driving rock totally turned me off. I’ve never been a Jack White fan, but this was the kind of performance you think of when you think “hard rock” and dudes smashing guitars on the ground at the end of their set. It was loud and obnoxious and intense and I couldn’t take it. I can appreciate the energy and intensity of the performance, but the music itself was lost on me. I’ve never been a hard rock fan, but this was out of control. Shrug.
15. Carrie Underwood performing “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs”… 5/10
I’m actually a big fan of “Blown Away” despite the fact that I don’t normally gravitate toward the country genre. Carrie chose to perform an acoustic version of the song, and I felt it was a little lacking, really. I like the upbeat, powerful nature of the recorded version – it completely fits with the lyrics describing a tornado tearing through a house. I wasn’t blown away (no pun intended) by the second song, but she sang well and the crowd certainly seemed to appreciate it. It was kinda cool how the lighting on her dress matched the design on the backdrop. Neat effect.
16. Large group tribute to those who passed away in 2012… 8/10
Overall, a nice medley and a good tribute. Of note: Zac Brown sounded great singing the first verse of “The Weight”. Elton John’s rockin’ piano permeated throughout. Other vocalists were a little shaky, but all told, for such a large and disparate group of performers, the rendition really went off pretty well.
17. Frank Ocean performing “Forrest Gump”… 5/10
Ehhhhhh… I appreciate the minimalist performance, which mostly focused on Ocean’s voice. I wanted to like it, but both he and his keyboard missed quite a few notes and it was pretty dissonant at times. The whistled conclusion was kinda a cool effect. This was sort of bizarre.
18. LL Cool J and friends concluding the show… 2/10
Yeah no. Travis Barker is an insanely awesome drummer, but that was the only part of this performance I liked. That and LL’s buddy who was wearing the Pirates hat. Right on. The rest… yeesh. My favorite part was when the credits interrupted it and it ended early.
Justin Timberlake definitely wins in my book for best performance of the night, but Rihanna surprisingly came in a close second. I love the Grammys and I love that such a menagerie of artists perform. It’s a great tribute to the year in music. Already looking forward to next year.