BEVERLY HILLS — In some ways, Clive Davis‘ Pre-Grammy gala is almost a bigger deal than the Grammys themselves.
It’s definitely a bonanza of celeb sightings — and the crowd that gathers in a cordoned off area of the lobby in the Beverly Hilton is armed with better technology every year — but it isn’t always easy to get the revelers to stop and chat.
Janelle Monae walked the red carpet with her Grammy-nominated protege Jidenna, but would only pause briefly to purr, “I love Atlanta,” when asked to talk to her hometown media outlet for a minute.
That was more than anyone got from Zayn Malik, who furrowed his brow and shrunk further into his pink-tinged hair as he scurried past the entire press line. Ditto Russell Wilson and Ciara, who certainly looked thrilled to be there – and made quite the handsome couple — but were only in the mood to smile rather than talk.
Stars ranging from Jon Voight (he’s looking forward to Lady Gaga’s Grammy tribute to David Bowie) to Alice Cooper to James Bay to still-going-strong couple Josh Groban and Kat Dennings to are-they-back-together? twosome Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger strolled by, with most stopping to make goofy faces in a GIF mirror set up by Twitter.
The Sunday night concert to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the record mogul’s legendary party began with a surprise appearance by former Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic and guest Beck to pay tribute to David Bowie. In prefacing their performance, Davis noted the many friends he’s lost this year, including Natalie Cole and B.B. King and also used the moment to remember Bobbi Kristina Brown.
Here are some highlights and photos from the red carpet and the gala performances.
The venerable Carly Simon said of Davis, her longtime friend, “Clive is a constant. He’s predictable, yet he’s forward-thinking. He’s remarkable in his stamina. He’s very loving, he has a big heart. People he loves he stays with and he’s been very supportive of me. During some hard time that I had, he was always with me.”
Simon also said she has no regrets about exposing her life in her recent book, “Boys in the Trees: A Memoir.” “I feel really good, as if I’ve cleansed myself by putting it down on paper and now I don’t have to be as concerned with it as I was. It was very worthwhile.”
Barry Manilow, meanwhile, was just a few days recovered from severe oral surgery (“Oy, what a week!” he proclaimed from the stage) but summoned the strength to celebrate not only the 40th anniversary of Davis’ gala — Manilow, Davis said, was the artist who started the tradition of having musicians gather to perform the night before the Grammys — but also the four-decade anniversary of “Mandy.” He performed the song Sunday night alongside video footage of his baby-faced self singing the ballad on “The Midnight Special” in 1975.
The remaining Nirvana members and Beck performed “The Man Who Sold the World,” the Bowie classic that Nirvana introduced to a new audience with their 1993 “Unplugged” rendition. “This is for two geniuses who are no longer with us,” Beck said at the start of the song.
Melissa Etheridge told a story about seeing the Eagles perform in her hometown of Kansas and then opening for them on their “Hell Freezes Over” tour in the mid-’90s before unleashing a potent version of “Take it To the Limit” in memory of Glenn Frey.
Chicago’s James Pankow said while their upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is “overdue,” the group is thrilled nonetheless. “The fans, the FANS came out in droves. We had 40 million votes, we blew the competition away in terms of popular vote. To be inducted the same year (as getting a first nomination) was a mind blower.”
The band is also planning another summer package tour with an act that Pankow said will be “totally unexpected.”
Trumpeter Lee Loughnane said more bands are beginning to see the value of teaming up onstage the way Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire have done. “They see it’s something that’s added for fans of both bands and it’s something they’ve never seen before.”
On Feb. 20, the Sedona International Film Festival will premiere the documentary, “Now More Than Ever : The History of Chicago.” Joked Pankow, “It will forever dispel the squeaky clean image of the band.”
Kathy Griffin bopped over to talk about her history with Davis and his party.
“My late friend Jackie Collins introduced me to Clive,” she said. “I used to sit with her because she was the most fun to dish with and I’ve sat with Joan Rivers, too. It’s such a celebrity-fest. It’s so much fun. It’s about who to see as well as who is singing.”
When asked how her mother, Maggie, is doing, Griffin didn’t miss a beat. “My mother is drunk. Now, it’s not personal. She’s 95. She watched the debate last night and said, ‘Who are all of those white men yelling at each other?’ And I said, ‘Oh mom, it’s all a nightmare, it will go away soon.’
Jazmine Sullivan is “excited and happy and honored” about her three Grammy nominations heading into Monday and said she’s looking forward to seeing Rihanna and Andra Day perform.
As for her next move, “After the Grammys and I close the chapter on this album (‘Reality Show’), I will probably start thinking about the next album,” she said. Though she’s currently working with heavyweight Mary J. Blige, Sullivan’s wish list includes, Lauryn Hill, Beyonce and…Andre 3000.
The effervescent Elle King was being hustled inside, but stopped for a few seconds to talk about her musical heroes.
“I have three queens – Wanda Jackson, Dolly Parton and Aretha Franklin,” she said, before spotting pal Meghan Trainor – unrecognizable with auburn hair — and swooping her into a big hug.