Taking home the lioness' share

Awards: It wasn't a thrill a minute but it was girls' night out as Lauryn Hill, Madonna, Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion, even the surprise winners Dixie Chicks took home the Grammys.

February 25, 1999|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Some years, the Grammy broadcast feels like a roller-coaster ride, hurtling us from shock to thrill with no sense of what's next.

But not this year.

It was a quiet night, with little in the way of surprises and suspense. Celine Dion won Record of the Year for the "Titanic" hit, "My Heart Will Go On," and the song itself was named Song of the Year.

Needless to say, her victory was no surprise to anyone who saw last year's Academy Awards show.

Lauryn Hill, who was nominated for 10 awards, took home five, including Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song and Best R&B album.

Madonna, who up until this year had been roundly ignored by the Grammy voters, was a winner in three categories: Best Dance Recording, Best Pop Album and Best Short Form Music Video. Her album "Ray of Light" also won an art award for Best Recording Package.

There were no incoherent remarks from crazy rap stars, and no appearance by "Soy Bomb," the quirky conceptual artist who disrupted Bob Dylan's performance at last year's show.

We did, however, get to see "Soy" and "Sauce," two Japanese sushi chefs host Rosie O'Donnell brought on for her stand-up routine. It was that kind of evening.

In short, last night's Grammy broadcast was more TV than pop music -- smooth, professional, well-paced and, frankly, kind of boring. Granted, that's a fair reflection of the year it was meant to celebrate, but it didn't make the three-hour award-athon any easier to endure.

Fortunately, the musical performances were unusually good. Things got off to strong start as Madonna performed "Nothing Really Matters." Offering a near-perfect re-creation of her current video, her act was very Japanese, with the stage set like a Zen garden while the singer herself wore a sort of red silk kimono -- though she did balance the look with matching red leather pants and platform shoes.

"How about Madonna, the little geisha that could?" O'Donnell quipped afterward.

Madonna may have had the show's most elaborate set and costumes, but the competition was tough. Shania Twain turned up dressed like a dominatrix to sing "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" (her band, complementing her look, wore bondage-style black patent leather pants), while Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin offered "Vuelve" in a production so elaborate it made the average Broadway musical look minimalist.

But it wasn't all flash and dazzle. Wynton Marsalis led an all-star big band -- featuring flugelhorn soloist Clark Terry -- in a heartfelt tribute to Duke Ellington, while Alanis Morissette brought in a full orchestra for a lush, Indian-inflected version of "Uninvited."

Luciano Pavarotti, who fell ill last year and was unable to perform, finally honored his commitment and performed Puccini's "Nessun Dorma." Unfortunately, it was not really worth the wait.

Perhaps the evening's most stunning performance was also the simplest. Sheryl Crow, relying on nothing more than the strength of her band, ripped through "There Goes the Neighborhood." Looking surprisingly like glam rocker Suzi Quatro with her short hair and bell-bottoms, Crow did little more than sing and play bass.

But that was more than enough, as she and her band rocked the house in the truest sense of the term.

If it was a good night for music, it was also a good night for doubles, as a number of stars took their Grammys home in matching sets.

Twain landed Best Female Country Vocal Performance and shared Best Country Song with her husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange; Morissette won the Best Female Rock Vocal and Best Rock Song Grammys; the Dixie Chicks took both Best Country Album and Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group; Brian Setzer got two Pop Grammys, for Best Instrumental and Best Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal; and Pierre Boulez won the Best Orchestral and Best Opera Grammys.

Perhaps the most impressive double-winners were those whose Grammys spanned multiple fields. The Beastie Boys, for example, won Grammys in both the Rap (for Performance by a Duo and Group) and Alternative Music categories, while Pat Metheny got trophies both as a jazzbo (for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance) and a rocker (for Best Rock Instrumental Performance).

The late Robert Shaw also won two awards, both for an album of choral works by Samuel Barber, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Bela Bartok.

O'Donnell wasn't the funniest host the Grammys have ever had -- most of her jokes were cornier than Iowa -- but she was unquestionably the most enthusiastic. In fact, she was forever bursting into song, doing parodies of nominated numbers.

"Celine, here's a commercial for you," she said at one point, and then -- to the tune of Dion's hit "My Heart Will Go On," sang, "Near, far, the cross-your-heart bra "

Celine Dion, bra saleswoman? I don't think so.

Actually, some of the evening's best lines came from the winners, not the show's host.

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