BEVERLY HILLS — The Grammy Awards may have wrapped themselves around a catchy slogan — "music's biggest night" — but the night before Sunday's awards show could well lay claim to the title.
Clive Davis' annual Pre-Grammy Gala Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel offered up yet another comically dazzling collection of stars who were treated to performances by Lorde, Miley Cyrus, John Fogerty, Jennifer Hudson, Lionel Richie, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke. Not to mention a nearly obligatory appearance by those thrift shop-lionizing guys from Seattle, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
But Las Vegas rockers Imagine Dragons summed it up well when, after opening the night with acoustic versions of It's Time and Radioactive, lead singer Dan Reynolds said, "I'm sure a lot of people out there don't know who we are. ... That's fine, we're just grateful to be here."
A quick scan of the crowd revealed a ne plus ultra name-check of recording giants, including Smokey Robinson, Rod Stewart, Russell Simmons, John Legend, Jamie Foxx, Rihanna, Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Neil Diamond, Kris Kristofferson, Gladys Knight, Herbie Hancock and Ozzy Osbourne. In fact, it's the kind of place where a business luminary like Apple CEO Tim Cook, who was on hand with his senior vice president/iTunes chief Eddie Cue, could walk past a phalanx of photographers and be completely ignored.
Among some memorable pre-show moments as the famous crowd gathered in the lobby:
Storied music manager Elliot Roberts yelling "Joan!" as he ran up to greet Joni Mitchell, who was patiently waiting in line to collect her ticket.
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich waiting to hit the red carpet, standing alongside Jane Fonda. "You and I were next to each other on a red carpet six months ago, and here we are again," he told her. "This is insane!"
Beach-loving rocker Sammy Hagar lamenting that he "couldn't wear his flip-flops" to the party, instead sporting leopard-skin loafers.
Ex-Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic, already a giant, towering over the rest of the crowd with a massive top hat.
The 4 1/2-hour gala featured a mix of music and often long tributes by the host, who rightly could call everyone in the room by first name.
After the wide-eyed and grateful Dragons came Richie, who offered up Easy and a crowd-pleasing All Night Long. Then came a break to introduce the evening's lone honoree, Universal Music chairman Lucian Grainge, honored in the Salute to Industry Icons. The obligatory tribute video cleverly turned the often-tedious tradition on its ear by featuring endless clips of musicians — Sting, U2, Jon Bon Jovi, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Stewart and Osbourne — all turning Grainge down on his request that they appear in his tribute video.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were up next performing Thrift Shop and Can't Hold Us. But even more impressive than the out-of-nowhere hits was Macklemore's heartfelt riff on what it means for "independent artists like us to be in a room like this, with 17 chandeliers. ... We made it here making our music in rooms no bigger than 500 square feet, and most of us don't see chandeliers like this. And that dessert you're eating, I haven't had any yet but it looks amazing."
After Davis asked — and got — the crowd on their feet and singing Happy Birthday to a smiling Alicia Keys, R. Kelly took the stage with a small army of African drummers and dancers in a recently composed tribute to the late Nelson Mandela. Then John Fogerty plugged in his gold Les Paul and fired up Born on the Bayou and Centerfield, before stopping to gush from the stage, "Where's Taylor? Taylor, I have a 12-year-old daughter who just loves you, we all do. You're going to win one of those things (Grammys) tomorrow." Swift put her hands on her cheeks and mouthed, "OMG!"
But Fogerty wasn't finished. In what proved to be one of the night's longest sets, he then brought on Hudson, who shredded Proud Mary in a way that would make Tina Turner proud, and to wrap things up got some help from Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters to blast away on Fortunate Son.
Davis introduced Cyrus by saying "this next performer told me she'd been coming to my parties ever since she was 15 and always wanted to perform, and I said 'Consider it done,' so here she is." Cyrus, wearing a thin, white mid-thigh-length dress and a furry lavender coat, did Get It Right and Jolene, before asking to do one more song and launching into Wrecking Ball.
Although there was an opportunity for a twerking reunion with Robin Thicke, the two took to the stage separately. After Pharrell got the crowd on its feet with his infectious Despicable Me 2-derived hit Happy and kept them there by bringing up Hudson and T.I. on Hudson's I Can't Describe (The Way I Feel), it was Thicke's turn to falsetto his way through Blurred Lines.
If there was a breathlessly awaited ingenue moment, it was provided by the teenage New Zealander Lorde, who was all emotion and Kate Bush-like dance movements (and almost no crowd chatter) during her ravishing performance of Royals.
After Davis returned once again to his podium to praise Lorde, he grew hushed as he told the thinned-out crowd, "I'm the keeper of the flame for Whitney Houston. She was the greatest ... and I don't want the world to forget that." At that, he teed up a three-song Houston medley from the 1994 American Music Awards. As Houston sang from the past, those still in the same hotel where the singer died hours before Davis' 2012 party could only stare and applaud.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified the movie that Happy appears in.