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Concert Reviews:
Grammy Awards: Eight best performances

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2019

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It's no surprise, but still a bit sad, that the Grammy Awards are no longer about...well, awards.

If you tuned into the 61st Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, hoping to see people take home trophies, it didn't happen very often -- just a handful during the three-hour and 40-minute telecast, including only three during the first 95 minutes. Instead what purports to be Music's Biggest Night was about the music, and keeping viewers tuned in during the marathon.

There was certainly a lot of music, and despite what's become a natural tendency to hate on the Grammys, quite a bit of good amidst the 18 performance segments. There were surely some that fell flat, of course -- Lady Gaga's over-emoted "Shallow," Diana Ross' shrill 75th "happy birthday to me" moment, Travis Scott's squandering of some all-star collaborators -- and the pontifications from host Alicia Keys that replaced James Corden's humor schtick started to wear as the show went on.

But there were enough genuine Grammy "moments" on Sunday -- including "Who dat?" discoveries for the masses such as H.E.R. and Brandi Carlile -- to stay tuned in. The eight best performances, in no particular order, included...

The tribute to Dolly Parton -- honored as this year's MusiCares Person of the Year -- started rough as Katy Perry over-modulated "Here We Come Again" alongside a more on-point Kacey Musgraves. But Parton herself stepped in to bring things back to keel and the rest of the set stayed strong with goddaughter Miley Cyrus joining her for "Jolene," a rendition of "Red Shoes" with Little Big Town" and a full-cased romp through "9 to 5." And no "Islands in the Stream," so ch-ching.

R&B chanteuse H.E.R., who won two Grammys on Sunday, was joined by a string section and vocal choir for a rendition of "Hard Place" that surely had viewers ordering some downloads before it finished.

Keys, low-key but gushingly passionate as host, delivered a musical highlight as she sat between two pianos and paid homage to some of her favorite songs, and good songs in general. The scope was wide -- from Juice WRLD's "Lucid Dreams" to Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" to Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" -- and while it started to feel long, Keys' tribute was movingly sincere.

St. Vincent and Dua Lipa looked like twin daughters of different mothers as they joined forces for a taut, electrifying medley of "MASSEDUCATION," "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and "One Kiss."

After winning three Grammys during the pre-show Premiere Ceremony, Brandi Carlile, sparkling jacket and all, over-sang parts of her anthemic "The Joke" but still made it work, and the final 10 seconds were breathtaking.

There were no, er, hidden figures as Janelle Monae and a corps of dancers executed a sinewy "Make Me Feel," and you could almost hear the non-initiated around the world asking, "Wasn't that the woman from (insert movie title here)?"

Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day gave the late Aretha Franklin her propers with an exuberant "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman" following the annual In Memoriam segment. Over-sung at times, particularly by Day (who, a friend noted, apparently left her pants in the Green Room), it still struck the right tone and proved again the song, and Franklin's definitive performance of it, are indestructible.

Then there was the Motown 60th anniversary tribute -- which, not unlike this year's Super Bowl halftime show, was widely condemned before a note was played. But in the end the Jennifer Lopez-led salute, filled with pyrotechnics and fiery dance moves, was plenty of fun as it ran through a selection of the iconic Detroit label's hits -- with founder Berry Gordy Jr. watching in the crowd -- and was leveled just enough by contributions from Ne-Yo and Motown's own Smokey Robinson.

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