Welcome back to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles—across the street from the L.A. Live complex, which, as one tourist helpfully exclaimed while I was getting my coffee, is “totally like the Times Square of L.A.!”—for day two of Grammy rehearsals. (Read about day one here.) No press releases about new performers came out, but if Friday’s roster of stars doesn’t make you want to watch the show, you are never going to watch the show. After the jump: Dave Matthews Band, Maxwell, Green Day (with the cast of American Idiot), Black Eyed Peas, and Taylor Swift.
I have not purchased a Dave Matthews Band album since Crash, but the driving rendition of “You and Me” he’s doing on the telecast has persuaded me to go out and get Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. “My idea!” he enthusiastically crowed about the arrangement, a USC Marching Band-sized effort with a killer breakdown that showcased 1) Matthews’ oddly Pee-wee Herman-esque dance moves and 2) the Grammy Jazz Ensembles’ eight-piece horn section, made up of high school students from around the country. “They’re badass, aren’t they?” said Matthews after his run-through. “They’re outrageous players, and they’ve obviously put a lot of time and work into getting where they are. They’re so precise, so it’s a great experience for me.”
700-plus kids auditioned for the ensemble, and these lucky few are getting the musical week of their lives. I asked what the opportunity means for their future careers. “This really solidifies your chances to get into a great music school on a scholarship,” 18-year-old Matt Chalk explained. “And once you get into a good music school…” “…Sky’s the limit,” finished 17-year-old Dahi Divine. They got to play with Neil Young at last night’s MusiCares benefit, too. It is not an exaggeration to say their eyes were the size of metaphorical saucers. Dream big, Child-Sized Mixers! You never know what can happen. Matthews’ advice to up-and-comers? “Work, work, work at what you love. That’s all I’ve figured out.”
Matthews is also thrilled about DMB’s Album of the Year nom, though he’s not in it for the affirmation. “I think this is the best record the band has ever made, so it’s icing,” he said. “It’s cherry to be here. But it’s not going to change how I feel about the record.” (Number of references to Grammys as icing made to me by nominees this week: two and counting.) Since this year’s album race features a rather motley crew of competitors, I thought I’d ask him which of his fellow nominees he liked best. “I like Lady Gaga,” he told me. “She f—in’ rocks. Somebody said, ‘You’re the only rock band in there,’ and I was like, ‘Have you watched Lady Gaga?’” I made the mistake of asking if Matthews was planning to use a disco stick in future performances. “I’m wearing a disco stick right now,” he said. “On the inside.”
What a splendid/slightly uncomfortable transition into the silky, sexy sounds of Maxwell! This man’s voice is so seductive, his groove so smooth, it could strip the turtleneck off Diane Keaton. The six-time nominee materialized with his dark sunglasses and light falsetto to run through a combo of “Pretty Wings” (up for Song of the Year) and “Where is the Love” (not the Black Eyed Peas song), the latter alongside special guest star Ms. Roberta Flack. Loved watching Maxwell’s suave body language turn boyish and playful as he sang the Donny Hathaway part face to face with the R&B icon, and when they finished their first pass at the song, he grabbed her in a bear hug, then raised both arms in victory. (Fun fact: Did you know that Maxwell can be described by more adjectives starting with the letter S than any other performer on this year’s Grammy bill?)
When the cast of the forthcoming American Idiot musical took the stage with Green Day for “21 Guns,” it occurred to me that Dave Matthews really could have tried harder to get more people into his number. The Broadway-ization of this song is a little bizarre—there was a time when Dookie lived in my Discman, and I can’t say I ever envisioned this future—but I feel like the actors’ legit voices blend quite nicely with Billie Joe’s punk rasp. Then again, I liked Rent. You can get a little sonic preview of the number if you click through to the band’s site, where it’s streaming upon arrival; also, fans of Full House and the “2 Legit 2 Quit” video should get ready to learn exciting new hand gestures on Sunday’s show!
I lost my earplugs coming back from lunch, which was especially unfortunate given that the next band up was the Black Eyed Peas, a group that does not so much run a sound check as they do a systems test. Rhythmic blasts burst forth from keyboards and Pro Tools rigs. Strobe lights flashed. Some dancers dressed up as speaker-shaped robot transformers marked their moves. And then, like the collect-em-all Happy Meal figures they’ve become, the Peas leapt onto the stage via some sort of hydraulic piston system. The performance starts with “Imma Be,” but never fear—the Peas also have a feeling that Grammy night is gonna be a good night. That monster hit will be accompanied by YouTube clips courtesy of Time Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year: You. Oh, millions of Americans—thank god you are never afraid to get retarded. (What? It’s a song lyric, people; look it up.)
And finally, Friday brought the chance to see Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks collaborate in one of those moments the Grammys are known for. Swift — who has a very good shot at sweeping this year’s major categories, in my opinion — doesn’t wear her Fleetwood Mac fandom on her sleeve as a songwriter, but it is apparently there, for after running through her current single, “Today Was a Fairytale,” she used her very most dramatic voice to introduce her duet partner: “And now, my fairytale dream comes true: I get to share a stage with Stevie Nicks.” The two women’s voices complimented each other nicely on the harmonies of “Rhiannon,” before moving into a more awkward mandolin-fueled hoedown version of “You Belong With Me.” Never thought I’d see Stevie Nicks playing tambourine behind Taylor Swift, but that’s the magic of Music’s Biggest Night.
For Swiftwood Mac and all the rest of the action, tune in to the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, live on CBS, Sunday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. ET/PT — and check back here tomorrow for more rehearsals including, but not limited to, Bon Jovi (most likely featuring Jennifer Nettles), the Michael Jackson tribute (Celine Dion and Usher in 3-D!) and Beyonce. And don’t forget to sign up for our Grammy live blog!
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