He's back

The reclusive Sly Stone returned to the stage for an all-star tribute performance. (Richard Hartog / LAT)

4:58 p.m. — Valentine's Day is still six days away, but, moments away from the 48th annual Grammy Awards, it's hard not to feel the love already.

First, there's this heartwarming inkling that this, finally, will be the year poor, struggling Mariah Carey gets her full due from The Recording Academy. In the pre-ceremony awards, Carey grabbed three trophies. And Les Paul, at 90, won two. How's that for feel-good?

Then there are all these duets they have lined up for the evening.

Faith Hill with Keith Urban. Mary J. Blige with U2. Jamie Foxx with Kanye West. Christina Aguilera with Herbie Hancock. Madonna with some cartoon characters. You, slave to your web browser, with me, stationed in a cubicle 1.78 miles from Staples Center with the East Coast feed of the CBS telecast unfolding nearby.

(Left Coasters: The festivities are starting at 5 your time, but you won't get the telecast until 8.)

So, sacrificing a riveting night of "American Idol" and forgoing "Lost," I will remain glued to the Grammys to provide this play-by-play report. If I get longwinded, an indie rock band with a yelpy female front woman is standing by to cut me off. They may be noisy, but they don't need 23 producers.

The early returns are portending an amazing evening, providing nobody busts out a suggestive Rolling Stones lyric. Carey is already toting awards for best contemporary R&B album ("The Emancipation of Mimi"), best R&B song ("We Belong Together") and best female R&B vocal performance (for the same tune). John Legend was also an early winner — best R&B album for his platinum debut, "Get Lifted." So was Damian Marley, with best reggae album and best urban/alternative performance for "Welcome to Jamrock."

Follow along, won't you?

5:08 p.m. — Don't be confused: It's not Saturday morning cartoons, and it's not the tryouts for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Those animated guys were Gorillaz, and that wispy young thing in the baby blue number was Madonna. And those dancers were krumping. And whatever Madonna did onstage ... wow. And they turned down Mick Jagger's vocals during the Super Bowl?

5:18 p.m. — After Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys reach "Higher Ground" a cappella — clap your hands, everybody — Wonder reads (in Braille) the winner for best female pop vocal performance: Kelly Clarkson. Her "American Idol" experience serves her well, as she delivers a heartfelt, squeaky acceptance speech for "Since U Been Gone." Quickly, Coldplay busts into "Talk."

5:30 p.m. — No, the telecast didn't switch to black-and-white. It was simply the lighting on John Legend at the beginning of his dusky "Ordinary People." It was ... well, perfect, actually. But the juxtaposition of that number with SugarLand couldn't have been more jarring. And that was before the sound problems a minute into "Something More." Maybe it was the cartoon characters.

5:34 p.m.Alison Krauss and Union Station win best country album for "Lonely Runs Both Ways." Nice. But in saloons with sawdust on the floor everywhere, Gretchen Wilson fans are gritting their teeth.

5:42 p.m. — During a commercial break, somebody points out that Aimee Mann, a favorite in this cubicle, won a Grammy. Woo-hoo. Hey, it was for best recording package, but it was hardware nonetheless. It's nice to see artistry — even graphic artistry — rewarded. Then somebody points out that it wasn't a commerical break; it was U2 performing their seemingly ubiquitous "Vertigo."

5:50 p.m. — OK, we've toweled off from Mary J. Blige's vocal calisthenics. Now Matt Dillon and Ludacris follow Blige and Bono to the stage to present the award for best rap album. No surprises here, it's "Late Registration" by Kanye West, which moved critics to write superlatives and sold 2.5 million copies. Next album title? "Thank You List."

5:59 p.m. — So leave it to the football player to wear the cap back wards, first one we've seen all night. But Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, didn't win the Super Bowl with sartorial splendor. After a taped snippet from a Kelly Clarkson interview in 2001 — she wanted to be on the Grammys someday! — she sings "Because of You." Please hurry. Best rock album is next.

6:02 p.m. — U2 wins for "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." Nuff said.

6:08 p.m. — Thank you, Ellen DeGeneres. After saying the next performer needed no introduction, she turned on heel and walked offstage, giving Paul McCartney no introduction. And we thought subtlety was dead. After "Fine Line," he punks up "Helter Skelter." Take that, Billie Joe.

6:19 p.m. Bypassing one legend, Stevie Wonder, for another, John Legend, voters give the rookie soul singer best male R&B performance for the song he performed 45 minutes ago — and a tune he initially undertook writing for the Black Eyed Peas — "Ordinary People."

6:30 p.m. — Was it really 1990 when Mariah Carey won best new artist? The other nominees that year were Wilson Phillips, Lisa Stansfield, the Black Crowes and the Kentucky Headhunters. And here in the cubicle while the angelically gowned Carey sings, we're wondering: What ever happened to the Kentucky Headhunters?