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The show, as usual, was heavy on performances more than awards. Among those was Chris Brown, who was performing on the stage for the first time since he dropped out of 2009’s broadcast; his attack on Rihanna the night before led to both of their absences, an assault charge for Brown and a career low.

But 2011 marked an amazing comeback for Brown and he was rewarded with two planned performances during the show, the first time he and Rihanna performed at the same event since the attack (she sang solo and with Coldplay during the ceremony).

Brown also won best R&B album: “First and foremost, I gotta thank God, and thank the Grammys for letting me get on this stage and do my thing,” he said “All my fans, I love you. We got one. Thank you.”

Justin Vernon, whose band Bon Iver beat Nicki Minaj, The Band Perry, J. Cole and Skrillex for best new artist, accepted the award with admittedly mixed emotions.

“It’s really hard to accept this award. Well, there’s so much talent out here, like on this stage. There’s a lot of talent that’s not here tonight. It’s also hard to accept because when I started to make songs I did it for the inherent reward of making songs, so I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here,” he said. “But with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to all the nominees, all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here.”

The Grammys did their best to keep a tone that balanced the many moods of the night: The Foo Fighters performed in a tent outside the Staples Center, where the awards were being held, amid a throng of bouncing fans; but moments earlier, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt paid tribute to Etta James, the legend who died last month.

There was also a tribute to the recently reunited Beach Boys that featured Maroon 5, Foster the People and Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson, the three remaining members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, all pitch-perfect as they brought the groups California rock sound and harmonies back to life.

Glen Campbell, who announced his retirement last year after disclosing he had Alzheimer’s disease, also performed with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton, singing his classic hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

The Foos and Brown also returned for another dance-themed performance, a first for the Grammys. It also featured deadmau5, David Guetta and Lil Wayne.

And with Lady Gaga not performing, Minaj stepped in to give the night’s most bizarre/headscratching performance. The rapper-singer’s number included a clip that referenced “The Exorcist” and a stage show that had her levitating on stage amid a church-like background, with hooded choir members and religious imagery.