A few shockers on music's biggest night

Grammy Awards Show
Skylar Grey performs onstage at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

NO ONE can grouse that the 53rd annual Grammy Awards was "out of touch" with the marketplace.

Most winners scoring big at last night's Los Angeles to-do were among last year's biggest disc and download sellers - including the creamy country harmonizers Lady Antebellum (scoring five Grammys - including song and record of the year), hip-hop comeback star Eminem (three Grammys, including best Rap Album), dance pop phenomenon Lady Gaga (with two) and the ever reliable Jay-Z (two).

But there were a couple of "leftfield" shockers. The first came when the charming "triple threat" jazz bassist/singer/composer Esperanza Spalding snatched the "New Artist" prize away from the overhyped (but odds-on fave) Justin Bieber. Yeah, we first interviewed Esperanza in 2009, and the talent now has two major label albums (plus a couple indie releases) under her belt, but who's counting?

Then, in the event's waning moments, the artsy, Canadian alt-rock darlings Arcade Fire snatched Album of the Year from all the above superstars. Well, the Grammys gotta keep their "hip on," too.

Even more than last year, unnecessary stuffing was pulled out of the show. With just 10 awards doled out during the three-and-a-half hour national telecast, back-patting took a back seat to super-powered performances, sending the message that the music industry is still alive and kicking (at least in concert) with faces fresh (Bieber, Arcade Fire, Bruno Mars with Janelle Monet and B.o.B.) and mature (Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger). Or both. Folk rock newcomers Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons opened for then backed Bob Dylan on a roughly rehearsed "Maggie's Farm," almost as forgettable as Streisand's brief "Evergreen."

The show commenced with an extra strong one-two punch - an intense tribute to the ailing queen of empowering soul music Aretha Franklin as walloped by leather lunged sistas Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Yolanda Adams and another new artist nominee Forence Welch, followed by another eye opener from Gaga flashing weird body prosthetics on "I Was Born This Way."

Equally goofy was a dressed for the Mummer's Parade Cee-Lo Green hamming it up with puppets and Gwyneth Paltrow on their scrubbed for prime-time "The Song Otherwise Known as Forget You" which earlier earned Mr. Green a Grammy (Best Urban/Alternative Performance.)

And Mr. Jagger, in his first ever (?!?) Grammy performance, did well in tribute to the late great, Philly spawned King of Rock and Soul, Solomon Burke.

For those with longer attention spans and deeper musical tastes, the earlier, on-line-only portion of the awards ceremony hosted by Spalding and Bobby McFerrin was almost as interesting. This year the "pregame" was beefed up with more star studded performances and a considerably "looser" attitude. (You can find and watch that production for the next 30 days at grammy.com.)

Notable among the 98 (of 108 total) awards doled out in the pre-telecast were long overdue first solo Grammys for veteran talents Mavis Staples and Neil Young, with Staples especially emotional as she claimed the Americana album award for the inspiring "You Are Not Alone" project created with Jeff Tweedy. (Young claimed Best Rock Song).

Also touching to behold were two honors each for guitar legend Jeff Beck and the wonderful "Crazy Heart" soundtrack album, paying posthumous tribute to the late Stephen Bruton, who fine-tuned the twangy movie score with T-Bone Burnett.

Another historic first - online viewers got to hear comedian Kathy Griffin take the awards event into the gutter with numerous wild and wooly, f-bomb dropping ad-libs which would have had the CBS network guys repeatedly hitting the panic button.

Early arrivals also got to relish a fair amount of love spread to Philly. Local prides and joys The Roots shared in three Grammys with (former local) John Legend for their vital reappraisal of protest soul classics "Wake Up Everybody." The project earned Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for "Hang on In There," Best R&B Song for the John Stephens (a/k/a John Legend) scored "Shine," then Best R&B album. "Does that mean we can stop complaining now? We're like four time Grammy Winners," declared Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson. (Until recently, The Roots were notoriously outspoken about their shoddy "treatment" by the music industry.)

Also bringing it home, veteran jazz bassist Stanley Clarke copped the Best Contemporary Grammy for his eponymously named band and album.

And the righteous West Chester-based folk label Appleseed polished off a Grammy for best musical album for children, "Tomorrow's Children" starring the 91 years young Pete Seeger with the Rivertown Kids and Friends.

Shut out, sadly, were Philly transplant Bobby McFerrin with his amazing jazz/classical vocalese project "Vocabularies," Jill Scott (up for a share of the best R&B Performance by a duo or group with vocals, taken by Sade with "Soldier of Love") and the dynamic Jazmine Sullivan, bested by Fantasia with the aptly named "Bittersweet" in the Female R&B Vocal category.