Grammys 2012: Show starts with Bruce Springsteen and a prayer
This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
The 54th Grammy Awards began in a relatively no-frills manner, this time courtesy of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, who performed Springsteen's newest single, "We Take Care of Our Own." With soul traditionalist Adele already on pace for a big night and a tribute to Whitney Houston on the horizon, the straight-ahead approach put an emphasis on music over artifice. Considering Grammy host LL Cool J would soon walk on stage and lead the Staples Center audience in a prayer for Houston, an understandable but odd sight, it signaled that this may be the most heartfelt Grammys in recent memory.
"As always, Bruce Springsteen is speaking to our times," LL Cool J said after Springsteen & the E Street Band finished the song. Perhaps, as it's easy to mistake the standing-on-the-drum-set guitar strikes and hair-raising keyboards for something far more anthemic than the message in Springsteen's lyrics. "The cavalry stayed home," Springsteen sung of these recessionary times through gritted teeth, yet "We Take Care of Our Own" is built more for hands-in-the-air singalongs than it is reflection.
It wasn't long before LL Cool J made reference to the unexpected passing of Houston on Saturday. "There is no way around this," he said. "We've had a death in our family. So at least for me, for me, the only that feels right is to begin with a prayer."
Cameras scanned the crowd as the music industry, one with a reputation for progressive values and outrageous outfits, lowered their heads in prayer. It may not have been the rousing opener Grammy producers may have initially hoped for, yet nicely illustrated that these pat-on-the-back love fests are far from the most important things happening today.
LL Cool J then teased the performances for the night, focusing on Adele and her return to the stage. If the soul star wasn't feeling the pressure before, she likely was after LL Cool J noted how happy the world was to hear her voice again. There were no jokes or roasting of his peers, but LL Cool J did refer to Paul McCartney as "my homey."
Bruno Mars then closed the opening segment of the Grammy Awards with his vintage rocker "Runaway Baby." If it wasn't exactly a James Brown-like scorcher, Mars is adept at lightly touching on various styles and not embarrassing himself at any of them.
Far more inspired, however, was the pared-down take on "A Sunday Kind of Love," a standard made famous by Etta James, between Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt. Keys is a knock-out vocalist when not attempting to match the production flourishes on her albums, and Raitt tapped into a bluesy solemness.
As for the first award of the night, get used to this. The trophy for best pop solo performance went to Adele's "Someone Like You." At the podium, Adele said, "I need to thank my doctors, I suppose, who brought my voice back." She'll sing later tonight.
[For the Record, 8:25 a.m.: An earlier version of this post identified Steven Van Zandt as Stevie Ray Vaughn in the photo caption below. This post has been updated to reflect the change.]
Photo: Bruce Springsteen, left, Max Weinberg and Steven Van Zandt perform during coverage of the 54th Annual Grammy Awards Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times