If 2011 was the year the Grammys caught on to alternative rock about 15 years late, with the Arcade Fire win, 2012 seems to be when they’ve caught onto the Elephant6 vibe: These young bands, they love them some Beach Boys! Tonight’s three-song medley of Garçons de la Plage classics was a steeply climbing test of vocal and instrumental prowess—with the original Boys, naturally, coming off best.
Maroon5’s “Surfer Girl” was wobbly from the get-go, mainly because they’re neither a full-on doo-wop-style vocal group nor are they known for their harmonies—Adam Levine, that ham, only really shines solo. As such, the song came alive at the end, when Levine could unfurl that high keen in the closing “Little one/oo-eeeeeee” vamps.
Perhaps the hardest task was left to Foster the People, who with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” had to take on, with minimal assistance, both peak Boys vocals and a peak Boys production circa Pet Sounds (bonus points for the onstage Wurlitzer). The rhythm was downright plodding, and Mark Foster had the opposite vocal problem from Levine—wobbly by himself at the start, only improving by the end when supported by the band. They didn’t come off well, but one feels for the Grammy debutantes—this must be exactly the sort of nerve-wracking performance Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon wanted to avoid.
After a pause covered up by a cut to presenter Ryan Seacrest while the stage was reset, the Boys themselves came out for a confident two billionth run-through of “Good Vibrations,” accompanied by near-flawless theremin-playing. Can Brian Wilson or Mike Love go half as high as Levine or Foster these days? Of course not, but what they possess is effortless confidence, which meant theirs was naturally the strongest of the three perfs; they brought Levine, Foster et al. back to accompany them, more out of sympathy, one suspects.