The Grammys, Guitar on TV, and Televised Performances in General

| February 1, 2010

Although I don’t normally watch awards shows or benefits, I did happen to catch some of the Hope for Haiti broadcast as well as some of the Grammys. With both shows, the good ultimately outweighed the bad. There are a lot of talented people in the music biz and most big-name stars got where they are because they’re, well, stars. But for every great artist there is someone who is, at best, green and unprepared, at worst, ploddingly mediocre. Because a lot of popular music is based around the vocal, singers get a lot of the face time. But there were notable guitarists on both of these telecasts, and we’ll talk about them too.
On the Hope for Haiti show, Alicia Keys once again proved that her middle name must be “Off.” Okay tune, subpar performance.
Coldplay left me a little cold, like they usually do. I like them, I just can’t seem to get terribly excited by them. Chrs Martin’s Guild acoustic sounded nice, though, maybe because he miked it. The non-piezo tone was a definite breath of fresh air. On electric, Jonny Buckland got a nice sound from his Tele Deluxe (with the cool, Seth Lover-designed humbuckers) but I liked his parts better the first time I heard them, when they were in a U2 song.
Surprisingly, one of the more restrained vocal performances came from Christina Aguilera. She was pretty much perfect, without a bad note in her whole performance. When she keeps her formidable chops in check, she’s amazing.
Not so with Jennifer Hudson. If there was ever a melody that doesn’t need to be embellished, it’s “Let It Be.” She sadly could not let it be, and felt the need to add histrionic scales, turns, and vibrato where they had no business being. Not to be a complete hater. J-Hud can sing. But this is a Beatles tune. Tone it down. Roots guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas played a nice solo, however, with space and the all-important respect for the original.
One of the nicer tunes of the night came from Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris, with great harmonies and an awesome vocal blend on “Hallelujah.” The impossibly handsome Charlie Sexton was on guitar, but I couldn’t hear him. That’s a pity, because that guy kills.
No big shock, but Sting turned in a stellar performance on “Driven to Tears.” He played some custom Martin acoustic and was right on the money. He had Chris Botti on trumpet, and Botti guitarist Mark Whitfield took a blazing solo on a bright red Marchione hollowbody. I don’t know where I’ve been, because I had never heard this guy, but he generated a lot of “Who the hell was that?” comments on the web the next day. 
As for the Grammys, I tuned in right at Taylor Swift’s performance. Not good. Not in tune. It was all the more shocking when I realized that she won three awards. Her duet with Stevie Nicks was obviously very calculated, which would be fine if it was good. Well, Stevie was good, but Taylor missed the Christine McVie high note in “Rhiannon” every single time. She’s young, so hopefully she can get it together and get in tune. The only other good part was Butch Walker, who accompanied Swift on banjolin.
The pitch correction that was so sorely lacking on Ms. Swift’s voice was there and then some on Jamie Foxx’s. When Slash came out it seemed like an afterthought, though. As if some focus group had decided that some huge cross-section of the world would go nuts if you put Jamie Foxx, T-Pain, Doug E. Fresh, and Slash on the same stage. For what it’s worth, the sound man didn’t find the fader for Slash’s channel until near the end, and Slash seemed to be plagued by the same intonation gremlins as a lot of the singers.
One performer who knows how to bring it was Pink. One of the more underrated singers on the scene today, she sang beautifully on her tune “Glitter in the Air.” And whoever was on guitar got a great tone that sounded like P-90s into an AC30—the clang, ring, and dimension that takes a clean tone from safe to delicious. Great performance, great tune. If you haven’t heard it, Pink’s last record, Fun House, is a pop-rock gem.
The best guitar performance of the whole show? Duh. Jeff Beck and Imelda May doing “How High the Moon” in a tribute to Beck’s idol, Les Paul. Not only did Beck play brilliantly, but it was a treat to see him play a Les Paul for a change. He classed up the place in a huge way and demonstrated that there’s nobody like him. Stephen Colbert had the best line of the night when he said of Beck: “You know the game ‘Guitar Hero’? He has the all-time high score, and he’s never played it.”


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