Billboard Battle of the Bands winners Patent Pending. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
Speaking just for myself, the past 48 hours in Vegas have had more action than two weeks back home. The 2012 Billboard Music Awards red carpet opens in (gulp) a few hours - here are my hastily written highlights so far:
*BBMA rehearsals Saturday afternoon: All I'm allowed to say right now is that Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys' performance is looking like it will be legendary; instead of taking it easy during rehearsal (as so many singers understandably do), Carrie Underwood belted the same song five times like she was onstage at Madison Square Garden; and according to Billboard's Gail Mitchell, John Legend and Jordin Sparks' tribute to Whitney Houston will also be soul-stirring. We'll all see for ourselves when the show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.
*At the Billboard/Sundrop Pre-Party at the MGM on Saturday night, Kelly Clarkson soared through a full hour-plus-long set before a small but ecstatic invite-only crowd: She's indisputably one of the very best singers in the pop landscape and killed every song, but the biggest standouts were (not surprisingly) "Stronger," "Mr. Know-It-All" and "Since U Been Gone." The intimate setting also made her stage banter hilarious: One gem came when she asked a crowdmember where she was from: "You're from Vegas? Gosh, nobody's from Vegas. What, are you, born gambling? Do they hand you a five [when you're born]?" (she was kidding); another was "Here is a new song from my new album -- I really like it, but if you don't, don't worry -- I'll be playing a string of hits for you next!" (she wasn't).
*Friday night at Surrender Vegas in the Wynn, Diplo played an absolutely crushing set that started at 1 a.m. and was still rocking when we left at around 3:30. I've been a fan of his work since MIA's first album almost eight years ago but had never seen him live: suffice it to say he's a master, with his dancehall influence and chest-crushing bass seeming like his main secret weapons. My favorite mix was a deft rhythmic juggling act from Lil Wayne's "A Milli" into Blur's "Song 2" (just imagine Weezy's chorus overlaid with Blur's opening drums), but it was just the best among many, although I could have lived without hearing "Roxanne" for the 458th time in my life. Big thanks to Dave Nadkarni for the hospitality.
(L-R) Jimmy Kimmel Live music bookers Scott Igoe, The Hollywood Reporter's Shirley Halperin, and Warner/Chapell's Charlie Amter hang out. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
*Also during rehearsals, BBMA chief scriptwriter/longtime Rolling Stone ace David Wild told funny stories about actually writing a few lyrics for LL Cool J for a Grammy skit, and having to sing several of Stevie Wonder's songs to him when describing a television segment. He added that he had to do the same thing for Ray Charles, and it was even worse ...
*On Friday Night, Billboard & Chevrolet's Battle of the Bands saw six impressively solid and diverse acts competing for a slot on tonight's awards show. Speaking as a lifelong music snob, I can honestly say that there was something special about each act: Take the Day's big hooks, sharp look and energy; Doe Eye's innovative haunting soundscapes (featuring two string players), reminiscent of St. Vincent and Lost in the Trees; After the Smoke's unusual mixture of hip-hop, funk, rock and WTF - "We're from the future" the singer insisted; Savanna Outen's stadium-sized mainstream rock and powerful voice; Saints of Valory's M83-ish melodic alt-rock; and finally, Patent Pending's explosive stage show. They went on last and the crowd had thinned considerably, but this Fall Out Boy-ish quintet hit the stage like they were the Super Bowl's halftime entertainment, and when the lead guitarist played a solo from a balcony all the way at the back of the venue, a lot of us (who hadn't noticed him leaving the stage) thought, "OK, they deserve it."
*Dave Nadkarni and the Surrender Vegas crew put on yet another great night on Saturday, with guests from Billboard, Shazam and even Scooter Braun himself in attendance. Cee Lo Green performed a late-night set that started around 1:30, and literally brought the club to a standstill (well, everyone except the dancers) when he took the stage. Camera phones were out in full force to capture his set, as expected, and the crowd was singing along to every word. Bingo Players played a rocking set before Cee Lo came on, but stuck a few too many Gotye remixes in for my personal taste. Are Gotye remixes the new Levels remixes? Judging by the variety and times I heard them played, I think so. (Katie Morse)
(L-R): Good Morning America's Monica Escobedo and Lindsey Meyer, and Jennifer Lee. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
The judges were tough but generally fair, and the whole thing would have made a good reality-TV show: in fact, you can watch it HERE and get a full written recap of the event HERE. Big props to colleague and pal Jessica Letkemann for her hard work on the show.
*After the Battle, in a different venue at the Hard Rock, Natasha Bedingfield played a short but beautiful Magnum Ice Cream-sponored set with her three-piece band including songs like "Pocketful of Sunshine," "Single and Gay," "Weightless" and "Unwritten." Her powerhouse voice was in top form and she looked lovely in a sparkling white dress with equally sparkling heels.
Natasha Bedingfield performs at the Magnum Party during Billboard Music Awards weekend. (Photo: Taylor Jones)
Other conversation topics over the past couple of days include:
* Usher's new album (collective favorite tracks include the ones produced by Swedish House Mafia, Diplo and Salaam Remi);
*people's predictions for big winners (not telling but the biggest one has a five letter name that begins with ADELE);
*Whether LMFAO's RedFoo would be on time for rehearsals after his 2am-4am DJ set
*the fact that today's red carpet is outside;
Among the many other people we've chatted with throughout the nights and days are Warner/Chappell's Charlie Amter, The Hollywood Reporter's Shirley Halperin, Jimmy Kimmel Live music booker Scott Igoe, Interscope/Geffen/A&M's Christine Wolff, Linkin Park publicist Kym Britton, RCA's Sarah Dennison Weinstein and Tom Muzquiz, Gavin DeGraw, and Good Morning America's Monica Escobedo and Lindsey Meyer.
I'll be tweeting and reporting all the behind-the-scenes and backstage action from @billboardbiz starting at 3 p.m. ET today - and don't miss the 2012 Billboard Music Awards, airing tonight on ABC at 8 p.m. #BBMA