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Grammy Awards: Handful of high notes among the clinkers

Updated 2:44 am, Monday, January 27, 2014

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Justin Bieber didn't show up seeking redemption, Miley Cyrus got shut out and Kanye West's invite got lost in the mail. It almost seemed like the producers of the 56th annual Grammy Awards went out of their way to ensure the show would be uneventful.

In that regard, the broadcast was a resounding success. Hosted once again by LL Cool J, the event stretched well past its designated three-hour time slot. Some awards were presented between the extended jam sessions, odd collaborations and endless piano ballads - congratulations Lorde and Daft Punk! - but not many. We rank all the performances, from best to worst, from music's biggest night of back-slapping.

Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder

The all-star mashup, led by Williams, played a wedding-reception-worthy version of the huge summer hit "Get Lucky," leading into Stevie Wonder's "Another Star." The band, which won the album of the year and record of the year prizes, was great, but the best part was watching the luminaries in the audience - people like Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler, Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars - joyously showing off their shaky dance moves.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

The independent Seattle rap duo, winners of the best new artist prize, received a lot of criticism leading up to the awards show, but the group's production of the equality anthem, "Same Love," was one of night's rare hair-raisers, touting a full band production and Queen Latifah officiating over the marriage of 33 different couples - gay, straight and in-between. Then Madonna showed up in a white suit and cowboy hat looking a bit like Col. Sanders, singing a country lounge version of her ancient hit "Open Your Heart." It was so good it made Keith Urban cry, and he's less human than the Daft Punk 'bots.

Taylor Swift

Wearing Farrah Fawcett hair and head-banging away, the singer opted to play the weepy piano ballad "All Too Well" off of her "Red" album. Coming an hour into the show, it wasn't exactly the jolt any of her other recent singles could have given the evening ("I Knew You Were Trouble," "Everything Has Changed") but it still proved she's a powerhouse performer who keeps getting better and better.

Beyoncé

Appearing like a burlesque dancer in fog of dry ice, Beyoncé gave a kitchen chair the time of its life as she opened the show with a steamy version of her song "Drunk in Love." Although at least 20 percent of the lyrics were bleeped out and her lip-syncing gave us serious "American Bandstand" flashbacks, it still got the show off on the right note - especially when husband Jay-Z showed up in a tuxedo to add a few verses.

Kacey Musgraves

Playing against a neon desert backdrop, wearing a barely there dress and cowboy boots lit up with Christmas lights, Nashville newcomer Kacey Musgraves delivered one of the night's most charming and effortless performances with "Follow Your Arrow," sweetly singing, "Make lots of noise/ Kiss lots of boys/ Or kiss lots of girls/ If that's something you're into."

Lorde

New Zealand teen Lorde, winner of song of the year and best pop solo performance, brought a witchy vibe to the show early on with an icy performance of her breakthrough hit "Royals," which sublimely denounced a good half of the millionaires sitting in the room. It would have been nice of her to finally admit that she's actually 37.

Billie Joe Armstrong and Miranda Lambert

Paying tribute to the late Phil Everly, the Green Day front man and the country music star delivered a refreshingly stripped-down version of the Everly Brothers' staple, "When Will I Be Loved." Who knew his voice could go twang like that?

Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton

Resurrecting the Highwaymen, the three country music icons (and "The Voice" judge who somehow elbowed his way onstage) served up appropriately ragged versions of old-timey hits like "Okie From Muskogee" and "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," inspiring lots of swaying in the audience. And even more chatter.

Metallica with Lang Lang

The Bay Area metal veterans, paired with classical pianist Lang Lang, performed a suitably epic version of their old hit, "One." It was a great performance, short-circuited slightly by the requisite piano solo, but knowing the Grammys it was hard to shake the feeling that Jethro Tull would appear out a trap door and knock them off the stage at any moment.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr

With Olivia Harrison, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon halfheartedly grooving along in the audience, the two surviving Beatles performed a song from McCartney's latest album called "Queenie Eye." It sounded like a Wings B side and contained a chorus that went, "O-U-T spells out."

Katy Perry

Like Stevie Nicks on a bad trip, Katy Perry appeared in a gothic landscape draped in a purple cape and light-up bustier for her performance of "Dark Horse," with backup dancers using broomsticks as stripper poles. It felt like a high school drama club's production of "The Craft." Still, it was nice to see her with a different horse's ass.

Nine Inch Nails, Lindsey Buckingham, Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters

Accompanied by lots of strobe lights and celebrities making for the exits, the show's closing performance by these agents of '90s alternative rock (and a random member of Fleetwood Mac) came on a little too heavy after over three hours of pure pop spectacle. The producers thought so too, rolling the credits midway through the Queens' song.

Carole King and Sara Bareilles

The Grammys love piano ballads and these two one-upped the rest with their dueling ivories. It felt more like an obligation than a necessity.

John Legend

Nothing against his smooth vocal stylings, but at this point many of Legend's songs sound like tattered duplicates of past glories - all melodramatic piano melodies, lovelorn lyrics and canned charm. He's ready for Vegas. In the lounge, of course.

Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar

Making the Compton rapper join the Las Vegas rock band on the hit "Radioactive" is one of those half-baked ideas that can happen only on the Grammys. It sounded like when two people on the bus have their iPods on too loud.

Pink and Nate Ruess

Climbing a muscular, topless male dancer Pink sang along to a pre-recorded version of her single "I Try" before joining fun.'s Nate Ruess and his new porn 'stache for a duet on "Just Give Me a Reason." Never has an awards show segment felt more like filler.

Ringo Starr

Performing "Photograph" with his all-star band, featuring Peter Frampton and Don Was, the former Beatle showed that his voice has in no way improved with age. Nor has the song. Worse yet, McCartney didn't appear in a flash of lightning to save the whole thing.

Keith Urban

The song was whatever, but all we could think was who his new haircut resembled most: Jennifer Aniston, the guy from the Goo Goo Dolls or Kate Gosselin? It's a shame Gary Clark Jr.'s otherwise excellent solo got lost in the debate.

Hunter Hayes

Someone by that name apparently performed, but we may or may not have taken a quick nap through it.

Robin Thicke and Chicago

In a jam session planned in hell, Thicke was joined by the '70s hit-makers for a medley that could sound good only on a cruise ship. Chicago made a poor replacement for a twerking Miley Cyrus, but there was one good thing that came out of the onslaught of blaring horns and vanilla crooning: Hearing "Saturday in the Park" morph into "Blurred Lines" finally helped contextualize the song that served as one of the year's biggest earworms.

SFGate.com

-- More photos and coverage of the Grammy Awards.

-- The best and worst Grammy looks on SFUnzipped.

Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle's pop music critic. E-mail: avaziri@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MusicSF