As usual, Clive Davis had no trouble filling his pre-Grammy gala with stars.
The annual dinner and show, which the veteran record executive co-presents with the Recording Academy, is well known for its appearances by music’s biggest names ahead of music’s biggest night.
And Saturday’s edition was no exception, with the spotlight landing at different points on the likes of Barbra Streisand, Maren Morris, Joni Mitchell and Beck.
Yet none of those famous singers was onstage in a ballroom at the Beverly Hilton; each was compelled to stand and wave from his or her seat in the audience as Davis went through his signature roll call, which also included such non-musicians as David Hockney, Tim Cook, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Calvin Klein, Ted Sarandos and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
That final guest, whom Davis described as “the highest-ranking elected female politician ever,” received a standing ovation more robust than any reaction to the performers to come, beginning with Travis Scott.
“Y’all are looking a little tense in here,” the rapper told the crowd after he opened the concert with his hit “Goosebumps.” Then Scott said that if he’d wanted a quiet night, he would’ve stayed home with his 1-year-old daughter, Stormi.
“I came to rage,” he added.
But who could blame folks for not raging with him? As with Sunday’s Grammys ceremony — expected to be sat out by A-listers like Ariana Grande, Kendrick Lamar and Drake — the party’s lineup of acts this year felt considerably lower-wattage than in the past.
Keala Settle was there to sing “This Is Me,” her corny, feel-good anthem from “The Greatest Showman.” Brandi Carlile turned up at her zillionth awards-season event to do “The Joke.”
And Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha teamed for a rendition of “Meant to Be” that exuded only relief that they might soon be finished with this inescapable pop-country smash. (The rapper Future, who’d been scheduled to perform, might’ve provided a burst of intensity, but he didn’t show.)
A funny acceptance speech by Clarence Avant, the 87-year-old music exec given the academy’s Industry Icon award, was a highlight; he said that when he was told about the prize, his first question was whether he’d be paid.
Lively too was a quick performance in Avant’s honor by the Time, the long-running Minneapolis funk band featuring Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who went on to work with Janet Jackson) and singer Morris Day.
After that, though, the show turned into a variation on the academy’s recent Aretha Franklin tribute, which wasn’t particularly strong to start with.
Jazmine Sullivan and Rob Thomas sounded good in “I Knew You Were Waiting” but displayed all the chemistry of two people sharing a dentist’s waiting room. And Ledisi made a medley of “Think” and “Respect” that felt like professional Aretha karaoke.
As they did at the earlier Franklin salute, the sister duo Chloe x Halle sang “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” though not before Davis hyped the show-closing performance by promising it would conclude with an all-star finale.
So who turned up for that (even as the crowd was quickly thinning out)? Carlile, Settle and Valerie Simpson, the great soul songwriter behind vintage hits by Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan.