Grammy rehearsals, day two: Taylor Swift, Dave Matthews, Maxwell, Green Day, and Black Eyed Peas

Welcome back to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles—across the street from the L.A. Live complex, which, as one tourist helpfully exclaimed while I was getting my coffee, is “totally like the Times Square of L.A.!”—for day two of Grammy rehearsals. (Read about day one here.) No press releases about new performers came out, but if Friday’s roster of stars doesn’t make you want to watch the show, you are never going to watch the show. After the jump: Dave Matthews Band, Maxwell, Green Day (with the cast of American Idiot), Black Eyed Peas, and Taylor Swift. 

I have not purchased a Dave Matthews Band album since Crash, but the driving rendition of “You and Me” he’s doing on the telecast has persuaded me to go out and get Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. “My idea!” he enthusiastically crowed about the arrangement, a USC Marching Band-sized effort with a killer breakdown that showcased 1) Matthews’ oddly Pee-wee Herman-esque dance moves and 2) the Grammy Jazz Ensembles’ eight-piece horn section, made up of high school students from around the country. “They’re badass, aren’t they?” said Matthews after his run-through. “They’re outrageous players, and they’ve obviously put a lot of time and work into getting where they are. They’re so precise, so it’s a great experience for me.”

700-plus kids auditioned for the ensemble, and these lucky few are getting the musical week of their lives. I asked what the opportunity means for their future careers. “This really solidifies your chances to get into a great music school on a scholarship,” 18-year-old Matt Chalk explained. “And once you get into a good music school…” “…Sky’s the limit,” finished 17-year-old Dahi Divine. They got to play with Neil Young at last night’s MusiCares benefit, too. It is not an exaggeration to say their eyes were the size of metaphorical saucers. Dream big, Child-Sized Mixers! You never know what can happen. Matthews’ advice to up-and-comers? “Work, work, work at what you love. That’s all I’ve figured out.”

Matthews is also thrilled about DMB’s Album of the Year nom, though he’s not in it for the affirmation. “I think this is the best record the band has ever made, so it’s icing,” he said. “It’s cherry to be here. But it’s not going to change how I feel about the record.” (Number of references to Grammys as icing made to me by nominees this week: two and counting.) Since this year’s album race features a rather motley crew of competitors, I thought I’d ask him which of his fellow nominees he liked best. “I like Lady Gaga,” he told me. “She f—in’ rocks. Somebody said, ‘You’re the only rock band in there,’ and I was like, ‘Have you watched Lady Gaga?’” I made the mistake of asking if Matthews was planning to use a disco stick in future performances. “I’m wearing a disco stick right now,” he said. “On the inside.”

What a splendid/slightly uncomfortable transition into the silky, sexy sounds of Maxwell! This man’s voice is so seductive, his groove so smooth, it could strip the turtleneck off Diane Keaton. The six-time nominee materialized with his dark sunglasses and light falsetto to run through a combo of “Pretty Wings” (up for Song of the Year) and “Where is the Love” (not the Black Eyed Peas song), the latter alongside special guest star Ms. Roberta Flack. Loved watching Maxwell’s suave body language turn boyish and playful as he sang the Donny Hathaway part face to face with the R&B icon, and when they finished their first pass at the song, he grabbed her in a bear hug, then raised both arms in victory. (Fun fact: Did you know that Maxwell can be described by more adjectives starting with the letter S than any other performer on this year’s Grammy bill?)

When the cast of the forthcoming American Idiot musical took the stage with Green Day for “21 Guns,” it occurred to me that Dave Matthews really could have tried harder to get more people into his number. The Broadway-ization of this song is a little bizarre—there was a time when Dookie lived in my Discman, and I can’t say I ever envisioned this future—but I feel like the actors’ legit voices blend quite nicely with Billie Joe’s punk rasp. Then again, I liked Rent. You can get a little sonic preview of the number if you click through to the band’s site, where it’s streaming upon arrival; also, fans of Full House and the “2 Legit 2 Quit” video should get ready to learn exciting new hand gestures on Sunday’s show!

I lost my earplugs coming back from lunch, which was especially unfortunate given that the next band up was the Black Eyed Peas, a group that does not so much run a sound check as they do a systems test. Rhythmic blasts burst forth from keyboards and Pro Tools rigs. Strobe lights flashed. Some dancers dressed up as speaker-shaped robot transformers marked their moves. And then, like the collect-em-all Happy Meal figures they’ve become, the Peas leapt onto the stage via some sort of hydraulic piston system. The performance starts with “Imma Be,” but never fear—the Peas also have a feeling that Grammy night is gonna be a good night. That monster hit will be accompanied by YouTube clips courtesy of Time Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year: You. Oh, millions of Americans—thank god you are never afraid to get retarded. (What? It’s a song lyric, people; look it up.)

And finally, Friday brought the chance to see Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks collaborate in one of those moments the Grammys are known for. Swift — who has a very good shot at sweeping this year’s major categories, in my opinion — doesn’t wear her Fleetwood Mac fandom on her sleeve as a songwriter, but it is apparently there, for after running through her current single, “Today Was a Fairytale,” she used her very most dramatic voice to introduce her duet partner: “And now, my fairytale dream comes true:  I get to share a stage with Stevie Nicks.” The two women’s voices complimented each other nicely on the harmonies of “Rhiannon,” before moving into a more awkward mandolin-fueled hoedown version of “You Belong With Me.” Never thought I’d see Stevie Nicks playing tambourine behind Taylor Swift, but that’s the magic of Music’s Biggest Night.

For Swiftwood Mac and all the rest of the action, tune in to the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, live on CBS, Sunday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. ET/PT — and check back here tomorrow for more rehearsals including, but not limited to, Bon Jovi (most likely featuring Jennifer Nettles), the Michael Jackson tribute (Celine Dion and Usher in 3-D!) and Beyonce. And don’t forget to sign up for our Grammy live blog!

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from’s Music Mix:
Grammys 2010: What are your predictions?
Goldfrapp dives Head First into ’80s pop on new album
Grammy rehearsals day one: Zac Brown Band, Pink, Lady Antebellum
Ayla Brown on her music career, her Senator-elect dad, and American Idol after Simon Cowell
New Mariah Carey video, ‘Up Out My Face’: Finally, Mimi does it right!

Photo Credit: John Shearer/

Comments (40 total) Add your comment
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  • Michael

    Ugh. Poor Stevie Nicks. Taylor will destroy that song with her offkey pitchy warbles!
    And if she sweeps the awards at the Grammys wither her tweeny bubble gum pop crud, music is truly dead. RIP.

    • Nerwen Aldarion

      I can’t imagine what your true feelings are, leave the hate at home

    • Chela

      YES!! I totally agree – the girl is tone deaf and don’t even get me started on her ‘head banging’!!

  • T

    I can’t wait to see Jennifer Nettles perform – my favorite by far! Love to hear that woman sing. if I can’t have my Kelly Clarkson at the Grammys (aw, she so should be there!) I’ll take Jen. Let us know how that rehearsal goes, Whitney!

    • AR

      I love Jennifer Nettles too and was so excited to see her name added! She has such a powerful, yet unique voice!

    • Glory

      T…do you reside in my head?

  • Maria

    I agree with Michael.

  • AR

    Whats with all the hate on Taylor Swift? Is she the best singer ever…no, not even close, but she also isn’t the evil incarnate, death of music devil she is made out to be. Music has survived much, much worse…Brittany Spears anyone?

    I give her props for being a teenager, writing her own songs, and playing her own instrument. How many teenage phenoms this day and age do that?? And sure, her song lyrics are “tweeny” but she is a teen, she writes what she knows. Her lyrics will mature as she does.

    All this makes me sound like a huge Swift fan, which I am not. I have a few songs on my ipod but don’t have a complete album of hers. I just hate seeing all the music snobs out there being so harsh. Like the Black Eyed Peas are really any better??

    • Jane

      Taylor is not a teenager anymore. She is 20 and need to grow up fast. I’m glad she is not whoring herself out but seriously, why is a 20 year old fixated on fairytales? “my fairytale dream comes true”, Really. Give me a beak. I’m so over the whole “I can’t believe this is happening, I’m just a little girl” act. The girl needs to act her age and get some live singing classes.

      • Kathleen

        I’m 21, and I still enjoy the idea of a fairytale. Do I think she’s the best singer ever? No. But I think that there are plenty of girls out there who want to hold onto the idea of fairytale love in a world of in-your-face sex and drama. Both sides are worth representation, and the Grammys put in a large number of performances to accommodate that fact. Why should Swift have to “grow up fast” if what she’s doing now is working? Let her grow at her own pace, and mute the TV if you don’t want to here her talk about how awed and humbled she is.

      • Jane

        I almost feel sorry for you Kathleen that at 21 you still like the idea of a fairytale. A lot of young people have these concepts put in their heads at such a young age and it’s so hard for some to break up from that idealism and see reality. I hope you don’t wait for your prince charming with whom every single thing will be perfect in your delusional world because you will be waiting for a very long time and miss out on real life. And I do mute the TV when she is acting so surprised and I change the channel whenever she sings live so I’m good and need no advice there.

      • JD

        Taylor Swift has the disadvantage of being in country music. Evolving into a woman and singing “grownup” song can be damaging, ask LeAnn Rimes. Women in country don’t stay popular long and crossing into pop too far can kill a career. She has a lot of people to please, and what she’s doing now is selling more albums than anyone else in a time where is easier to just steal it. I give her credit for simply being a songwriter, it’s more than what a lot of other “artist” have to offer.

    • Nerwen Aldarion

      They have a thing against talent and a very young artist that doesn’t prostitute herself. I really don’t care about it anymore. She’s a great artist and if they can’t see it well then that is there problem

  • temecula

    Aren’t the Grammies a celebration of music from the previous year? I’m sorry, but Nicky and Elton, your moment has passed. If the Grammies insist on duets, let it be Beyonce and Gaga since Telephone is already a duet done by two of the ‘current’ biggest stars in music. Stop being soooo lame, Grammy. It’s not that hard.

  • Susie

    It’s a travesty that Susan Boyle was not invited to perform a the Grammy Awards. She is not eligible to win anything for 2009, but she had the #1 album in the world last year after only five weeks!! She is the most talented singer ever. But it doesn’t seem that talent matters…you have to be cute, young, and trampy looking or look like a thug to get noticed.

    • Mark

      She may have sold quite a bit (not technically number one, though; that’s Swift), but I’d contest she’s “the most talented singer ever”. Or even remotely close.

  • Alice

    It’s really funny how some people pretend like Taylor is the end of music because she ‘sucks’. You think you’re music critics? Because you’re not. And even music critics don’t matter because it all depends on what each person likes. Not what a biased group of people think. And at the end of the day, all the success she’s had represents that the vast majority of the people like her and disagree with you people who can’t see beyond her tween fans. Let me tell you, A LOT of her fans are far from being ‘tweens’. And then you’ll just say people nowadays don’t know ‘good music’. Yeah we’ve heard it all before. It comes down to opinion, and obviously, many people’s opinions are that Swift is good. So stop hating because it won’t change anything. The majority counts no matter what you need to tell yourself.

    • Jane

      I personally don’t think that taylor swift’s music is bad, but just because something is popular that does not automatically mean it is good. Transformers, Twilight, Britney and so on. Popularity equals people’s choice and not necessarily an Oscar or a Grammy. But I think her music hold up that she can win grammys not only because of her popularity with the public.

      • Mark

        True, that good isn’t equivalent to popular. Taylor actually happens to be a good recording artist, though. (Live performer? More iffy). Her albums are filled with solid, well-crafted songs on the whole, not really the complete drivel they’re made out to be by some.

  • Mer

    My TV will be muted during the Black Eyed Peas’ performance. Can’t stand their drivel. Excited about everyone else. What will Lady Gaga pull out of her hat next?!

    • PNK

      And what hat will she pull it out of?!

  • Mac

    people rag on taylor for singing what they consider tween songs but then she asks stevie to perform with her and do one of Stevies songs and they rag on her for that; she will never please those who have a hate for her based on whatever reason but the good thing is she doesnt have to please those people. She just has to continue to be herself and do what she loves to do, which is write and sing songs that tell her own life and her thoughts and reactions to life itself and everything that being a human involves.

  • Josh

    I’m not going to “pick” on Taylor, there is no doubt that she has been the “it” artist of the year, what I do want to say is that I am amazed by her success. The girl just can not sing, why the world just won’t admit it makes no sense at all. I wish her no harm, but really listen to her live performances and tell me that she deserves the adoration she receives. I guess that the commercial success and the almight $ is all that is important to the critics. I just wish one just one music insider would be honest about her lack of vocal abilities. Instead we are told over and over again how wonderful she is. We have ears peeps! lol

    • catlin

      Thank you Josh! I totally agree with everything you said and wonder exactly the same thing.

    • Allison

      Well, I think some people make the distinction between Taylor the recording artist and Taylor the live performer. Quite frankly, I think she is a whole lot better at the former than the latter. It’s easy to argue that the former is easier than the latter, and maybe that’s even right, but you could look at any number of artists who are really great live performers who haven’t really made much in the way of great records. (And there are those who can do both, which is the best, obviously) So when Taylor tends to get good feedback, it’s usually based on the records, which are worth of it.

  • Cyndy

    People keep saying taylor can’t sing but if people like britney and rihanna can have a music career why can’t taylor? She sings better than those two. If you want to make a critique about her songs then you have to be sure about what you are saying not just making an ignorant remarks about how most of her songs are about fairytale. Music has been dead a long time ago and Lady gaga and kesha just worsen the music situation. Why? Because their songs lack lyrical depth, but they have been successful because they’ve fooled us with catchy tones. People compare lady gaga to Madonna but they forgot that most of Madonna songs spoke against discrimination, human/gay rights and other meaningful things that matter to the society.

    • Allison

      Eh, I wouldn’t put Lady Gaga in the same category as Ke$ha, especially lyrically. Lady Gaga has taken her turns into the banal, but it’s not all a bad affair, really. And it’s not really true that all Madonna songs were about lyrically heavy stuff; that’s cherry picking out of a longer catalog.

  • gb

    I sorta like Taylor Swift and I’m 40. She writes her own songs. That is to be commended. Most country singers lack that ability. Af far as performing with Stevie Nicks is concerned, Taylor sorta reminds me of her; long flowing hair, writes her own songs and has a different kind of voice. I think they make a good pair. I’m kinda glad that Taylor chose a real legend to perform with. Sorry, to all the Taylor haters but she is talented and she does make good choices.

  • couchgrouch

    that’s great to hear the Black Eyed Peas are testing out their machines before the show. a recent EW column said Zoe Saldana should not be nominated for an Oscar because much of her “performance” was computerized. such a suggestion would never be made for rap or the BEP. “music” that’s totally mechanized coupled with kindergarten lyrics is standard now. and in 20 years I’m sure Mike Myers will receive his first Oscar nom for Shrek 12. a shame.

  • Jennifer

    Beyonce is overrated and Lady Gaga autotunes herself to death. Hope they both lose.

    • catlin

      You must have never heard Lady Gaga sing live because you wouldnt be making those accusations.

  • LOL

    Stop writing “after the jump” when there is no jump! And even when there is, we can see it and don’t need to be told about it.

    • Ned

      Agree! I am always wondering ‘what jump’ as there never seems to be one. I think they just like saying it because it sounds cool to them or something.

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