If you weren’t watching last night’s Grammy Awards, you missed out–what’s usually a yawn-fest turned out to be a classy, composed and utterly talented group of performances. The awards themselves weren’t particularly surprising, but the performances were arguably among the best to air on the awards ceremony in its 55 years. Check out our ten favorite performances from the broadcast below.
1. Jack White: “Love Interruption” and “Freedom at 21″
Jack White has always been one for showmanship, and his Grammy performance was no exception. He started off the show with his all-girl band the Peacocks for a smooth rendition of his solo record Blunderbuss‘s first single “Love Interruption.” Just when we thought it was about to be too slow for too long, he dashed across the stage to join his all-male backers the Buzzards for an electrifying “Freedom at 21.” His dizzying lead guitar had just the right amount of dirt and grit to set the performance apart from the rest that evening.
2. The Black Keys w/the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Dr. John: “Lonely Boy”
This blues-rock duo hasn’t slowed down for a second since the public caught wind of them, so this year they decided to do something special for their Grammy performance. In addition to backing from the legendary horn and rhythm section in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, they had some help on the Rhodes piano via Dr. John, whose album Dan of the Black Keys produced. It was a much bolder, brassier take on their single “Lonely Boy,” so good that they inspired hope for a tour featuring that lineup.
3. Elton John, Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes), Mumford & Sons, Zac Brown, Mavis Staples, T Bone Burnett: Tribute to Levon Helm, “The Weight”
This mammoth gathering of the stars gave tribute to Levon Helm, the late singer/drummer of influential Americana staple The Band. All of the people on the stage were tastefully chosen, since Helm’s music was no doubt instrumental in the formation of their own styles, and thus in their own successes. The group played a soulful rendition of “The Weight,” a classic tune with layered vocal harmonies that had everyone belting it out.
4. Rihanna w/Mikky Ekko: “Stay”
Instead of opting for her usual “tropical robot” style, Rihanna opted for a much more refined, soulful set. She proved that she really can hit the notes on a rendition of her tune “Stay,” and although her backing by Mikky Ekko didn’t add much, it didn’t do anything to take away from her breathtaking performance.
5. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Garrett: Tribute to Dave Brubeck, “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk”
In a tribute to the recently departed jazz great Dave Brubeck, this group of all-star jazz men covered a couple of his best-loved tracks in a short performance between awards. Even though it wasn’t a main attraction, this performance was a highlight for any cognizant musicians who happened to be watching. They really took it home, and it hopefully would have made Brubeck himself proud. Unfortunately, whoever was pointing a camcorder at their television last night didn’t see fit to record this magnificent number, so we don’t have a clip to show you just yet. Hopefully something will crop up soon, but until then you can just stare at the image above and imagine movements and some sax.
6. Justin Timberlake w/Jay-Z: “Suit & Tie”
Justin Timberlake has never been one for a small entrance, so it should come as no surprise that the former boy-band star made his much-anticipated return on the Grammy stage. What was a bit surprising, though, was when hip-hop kingpin Jay-Z walked up from his seat to join Timberlake onstage for a performance of his new single, “Suit & Tie.” The debut spells promising things for the singer-turned-actor, as if there were any doubts.
7. Sting, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Ziggy Marley: “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Walking on the Moon,” and Tribute to Bob Marley, “Could You Be Loved”
Bruno Mars’ music has earned countless comparisons to the Police, so when Police frontman Sting joined him on the bass it seemed a bit tongue-in-cheek at first. When they tore into a rendition of the Police’s “Walking on the Moon,” it seemed like a more natural pairing, but when Rihanna and Ziggy Marley came out for a tribute to Bob Marley with his “Could You Be Loved,” it turned into a regular reggae rager.
8. Kelly Clarkson: Tribute to Patti Page (“Tennessee Waltz”) and Carole King: (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
Say what you will about Kelly Clarkson, but the girl’s got pipes. She’s not afraid to show it, either, as seen in her passionate tributes to Patti Page and Carole King. It was a stripped-down set that suited her well, and she really nailed the vibe. Hey, it was better than watching a peach-fuzzed Bieber hop around like a fool.
9. The Lumineers: “Ho Hey”
These breakout stars did something incredible with their Grammy performance: they took a song written for musty barrooms and turned it into an arena shouter without batting an eye. Watching the Lumineers play their smash hit “Ho Hey,” it felt like they sang personally to every member of the hordes watching from home and at the Staples Center.
10. LL Cool J, Chuck D, Tom Morello and Travis Barker: Tribute to Ad-Rock, “Refuse to Lose” and “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”
It might not have been the tightest performance of the night, but it was definitely energetic. This group of hip-hop and rock royalty blazed through Grammy host LL’s new single, mashing it up with some other rap classics before hopping into the chugging power chord riff (courtesy of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello) and singalong chorus of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Til Brooklyn.” The Beastie track was meant as a tribute to Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch, who passed last year.