As the clock ticked past 12:30 early Sunday, even the famously talkative Clive Davis knew that his annual pre-Grammy gala was going long.
“In New York, this is about the time we’d head to Studio 54,” the veteran record executive told a thinning crowd at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where for years Davis has gathered luminaries from the overlapping realms of show business, technology and politics for an invite-only concert the night before the Grammy Awards.
Yet Davis, 91, wasn’t quite ready to pack it in — not least because he knew at least some of what was coming. For the finale of this year’s event, Davis summoned to the stage the great Gladys Knight, who burrowed deep into the gilded melancholy of “The Way We Were” before herself calling up two old pals, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder, for a churchy rendition of that charity-circuit staple, “That’s What Friends Are For.”
And after that? These living legends of American pop performed a seemingly impromptu take on “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” Wonder letting the band vamp as he sermonized about the necessity of kindness in a broken world.
Tender but appalled, profound yet leisurely: Four hours after the show began, the evening’s high point made you feel lucky to have stuck around.
Ostensibly held to honor Sony Music Publishing Chairman and CEO Jon Platt with the Recording Academy’s Industry Icon award, Saturday’s party drew the usual galaxy of stars, among them Meryl Streep, Cher, Mariah Carey, Smokey Robinson, Ted Danson, Frankie Valli, Lenny Kravitz, Jon Bon Jovi, Paris Hilton, Adrien Brody, the members of Boygenius and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Some A-listers were pressed into service to introduce other A-listers, including Tom Hanks, who teed up Davis’ welcoming remarks with a breathless spiel of his own — “the chef in the kitchen of the food of love,” Hanks called the exec — and Serena Williams, who prepped the audience for the night’s opening act, Green Day. The punk trio blazed through “American Idiot” and “Basket Case” to the delight of the well-heeled audience — “Don’t cheer — vote!” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said — before handing the mic to Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason for a few words about the organization’s efforts at diversifying its membership.
Platt spoke too in accepting his award, shouting out the musicians and bizzers who’d helped him on his path and making a case for songwriters as the engine that makes the music industry go.
Speeches aside, the night’s real purpose, of course, was the schmoozing and the performances, the latter of which Davis never announces in advance in order to foster an atmosphere of suspense.
Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt were joined by country singer Lainey Wilson for a gender-flipped version of “I’m Just Ken,” from the “Barbie” movie. Ice Spice twerked up a storm as she rapped “Deli.” Noah Kahan sang his folk-rock hits “Stick Season” and “Dial Drunk.” Victoria Monét did “On My Mama,” her sly throwback-soul jam, in a vaguely militaristic outfit that evoked Janet Jackson.
Jelly Roll, who’s seemed to find true enjoyment in the tactical hobnobbing of awards season, belted “Need a Favor” with help from a gospel choir then brought Wilson back to the stage for a powerful rendition of their viral country smash “Save Me.” Josh Groban paid tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim with a medley of show tunes before linking up with Michael Trotter Jr. of the War and Treaty to sing the stuffing out of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Also on the bill: Public Enemy, clearly relishing the absurdity of doing “Fight the Power” in a glittering Beverly Hills ballroom, and the Isley Brothers, pep still in their step as they revved up the ever-reliable “Shout.”