Grammy Awards 2012: Rehearsal hints at a promise of drama to come

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band ripped through a brawny version of his new protest song, "We Take Care of Our Own," Friday at the Staples Center during a Grammy Awards rehearsal.

Springsteen and his band — now, sadly, moving forward without the late Clarence Clemons — played with a 14-piece string section and plenty of guitar thunder while another Grammy performer, crooner Tony Bennett, watched from the floor.

In gray jeans, a dark V-neck shirt and a necklace laden with silver charms, the rock icon kicked off the number with the words "Let's make some noise," executed it with plenty of guitar windmills then jumped atop an amp for the song's finale.

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Drama could prove a theme for the 54th Grammy Awards, which arrive Sunday night on CBS with more intrigue than any edition in recent memory, most of it having little to do with the names sealed inside the envelopes.

For example, the Beach Boys are scheduled to perform together onstage for the first time in two decades. But nothing comes easily with the Beach Boys, a group that specialized in harmony only when members were actually singing.

So it was with some relief that Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich listened to the five members of the group — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and David Marks — perform "Good Vibrations" at a Thursday rehearsal. "That was pretty great, right? I think that was pretty great," Ehrlich said after the group had sung it for the third time.

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There were sunny expressions all around, which is a big deal when you're talking about the Beach Boys. Like so many signature Los Angeles groups — the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers — the history of the Beach Boys is defined by dysfunction and discord between the seasons of platinum. But Wilson said none of that matters now, especially since the Grammy appearance is the kickoff to larger reunion this year for the group's 50th anniversary.

"We just had to make our minds up to do it," Wilson said during a break. "It's a thrill, I like being with the guys. I didn't see them for a long, long time and then I've been seeing them recently because we're getting ready for our tour."

The challenge for Erhlich was coming up with a sequence that meshed the past and the present. That's why Maroon 5 will perform "Surfer Girl" and then hand off to newcomers Foster the People for "Wouldn't It Be Nice" before the Beach Boys step to center stage for "Good Vibrations." For the younger artists, there was a giddy excitement to the cross-generational exercise just at rehearsals alone.

"It's a total dream come true, it's one of my all-time favorites," Maroon 5 lead signer Adam Levine said after snapping photos with the older musicians. For Erhlich, the three acts were linked by harmonies, falsettos, layered approaches to music and their Southern California heritage. That made the sequence easy on paper, at least.

"It was hard to get it done," Erhlich said. "We started talking to the Beach Boys months ago. We were hoping to announce it at the nominations show [in November] but there were a couple of hitches and we weren't able to do it. Things were resolved on both sides and we worked it out. We wanted to do this from the beginning. If feels right when you see it and I think it's going to be worth all the work."

Springsteen and the Beach Boys aside, Paul McCartney, Lil Wayne, Carrie Underwood, Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson and Coldplay are among the other Grammy night performers. Along with the stars, the show will have some burning questions, including:

Is Adele really ready to sing?

With six nominations, Adele is poised for a trophy avalanche; Grammy voters love young female singer-songwriters with big hits and a strong sense of music history — remember the gilded Grammy nights of Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse.

So the crowning moment of the show should be when the 23-year-old sings her "Rolling in the Deep," which enjoyed the best single-year sales of any song in the digital era (and the best year of sales, in fact, since Elton John's Princess Diana tribute, "Candle in the Wind 1997") but Grammy officials will be holding their breath before that first note. Adele had micro-laser surgery in November in Boston to remove a benign polyp on her throat and was ordered not to speak untilNew Year's Day.

The Grammys will be her first post-surgery performance and, through Twitter, she sounded ready to let loose. "It's been so long," she wrote, "I started to forget I was a singer! I can't wait."

Noted Ehrlich: "I'm very anxious but I've built a 40-year career out of trusting talent, and if she thinks she's strong enough to sing to 80 million people, I'm not going to be the one to tell her to think it over."

Will Springsteen get political?

The spirit of Woody Guthrie and Occupy Wall Street course through "We Take Care of Our Own," which will open the show even though it is neither nominated nor a familiar classic.

Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said the choice was an easy one. "Does it reflect the times and what a lot of people are feeling in America? That's what we look for when we look to our artists, to be poets and spokesmen.

How will Glen Campbell hold up during the show?

These year's show includes a tribute to the country singer, who last summer disclosed his battle withAlzheimer's disease. Campbell will reportedly sing his signature hit "Rhinestone Cowboy" as the climactic part of a sequence celebrating his music.

How will the Grammy audience welcome Chris Brown?

Brown made headlines in 2009 when he assaulted then-girlfriend Rihanna on the eve of the Grammys and both missed the show. Now he's back to perform and has three nominations too.

Brown and Rihanna are seated in the first four rows but opposite sides of the venue — 29 seats, two aisles, Diana Ross and Neil Diamond are between them — but the former couple will be watched closely to see how they handle the evening — and the rumors that they may be romantically linked again.

Will winners or announcers protest Grammy changes?

There will be a protest Sunday outside Staples Center but will anyone use their microphone time to decry the trophy subtractions? One candidate might be Bonnie Raitt, who is performing a duet with Keyes and has expressed concern about the new policy.

Will Katy Perry wear her heart on her sleeve?

The pop singer won five People's Choice Awards but wasn't there to collect them last month — she was too raw from the split with husband Russell Brand to handle the red-carpet questioning. There are murmurs that her performance on the Grammys will speak symbolically to her state of mind but producers aren't revealing more.

Portnow doesn't mind the occasional sizzle of tabloid sensation. "We're first and foremost about the music and excellence but, that said, we live in a time celebrity lives are under a microscope and I can understand why fans and our viewers are interested in the personal story."

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