I tuned in to the Grammy's at about 10:00 Eastern Time, just as Dave Chappelle was introducing the Sly and the Family Stone tribute. "Cool," I thought. I am not old enough to remember them as performers, but their music is ingrained enough into the mainstream that I was looking forward to the segment. It was odd and not exactly what I expected but interesting and not without entertainment value. The tribute was basically a medley of S&FS hits performed by young artists who have yet to record anything nearly as good as what they were singing: Joss Stone, Fantasia and Ciara were the names I recognized, and I swear I saw "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson playing bass. The performances were fine if a bit generic, but took a big step down in quality when Steven Tyler took the lead vocal. Tyler has his gifts as a performer, but they were not well suited to this occasion. And when he called Sly Stone onstage, things got really weird.
Stone came out wearing a huge platinum blonde mohawk set off nicely by a shimmery silver suit and an enormous beltbuckle with studs spelling out SLY. He looked like a reptilian cross between Dennis Rodman and Beetlejuice from the Howard Stern Show. If JIm Morrison was the Lizard King, Stone was the Lizard Wizard.
He took his place behind the keyboards, but whether it was an audio problem or a Sly Stone problem, I had a hard time hearing him sing or play. Less than a minute later, he left the stage and the ensemble continued their jam for another minute or so looking amused and confused. I think they and the audience had to be thrilled to be part of an historic moment, but at the same time had to be left wondering exactly what had just happened.
I watched a little while longer, but the show really couldn't hold my interest; the performances may have been good for the live audience, but they seemed to suffer from surprisingly poor audio and did not translate well to my family room. Bruce Springsteen was just okay singing "Devils and Dust," but it was nice that his closing plea to "Bring em home" (from Iraq, I assume) was not excised by the delay. Kanye West and Jamie Foxx's high concept performance of "Gold Digger" looked great, but, again, sound was an issue, which seems kind of important at the Grammys. Imagine watching the Oscars and all the film clips are blurry.
The Grammys have become an occasion for throwing performers of different genres and generations together just to see if something great can happen. The team of Jay-Z, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney succeeded in their collaboration. The rapper/mogul and rockers skillfully mashed together his "Encore" with their "Numb" for a few spellbinding minutes until the band made a surreal segue into "Yesterday" as Sir Paul came out. It was everything "Ebony and Ivory" was supposed to be, 25 years ago, minus the trite banality, although Jay-Z did sound a tad silly with his punctuative "yeahs" and "uh-huhs" at the end of each line of "Yesterday." The number allowed each participant to shine without overshadowing each other.
I tuned out Christina Aguilera and Herbie Hancock and when I came back for the show-closing New Orleans tribute, the audio bugaboo was back, which is a shame because this combo was bursting with star power. The Edge, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Doctor John and later Bruce Springsteen and Sam Moore. They deserved better.
So there were some good moments, and if I ever got the chance to see it in person I would certainly go, but I am not marking my calendar for next year's telecast.