The unlikely duo of Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss led the Grammy Award winners in Los Angles last night with five, including for best album for their ethereal, country-flavored Raising Sand.

New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne, who had led with eight nominations, won four awards, including for best rap album, Tha Carter III, while British soft-rock band Coldplay took home three, including the best-song honor for "Viva La Vida."

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"I'm bewildered," the golden-haired Plant, 60, said during his acceptance. "In the old days, we would have called this selling out, but this is a good way to spend a Sunday."

A shadow was cast over the 51st Grammys when officials announced just before the show that multiple-nominees Chris Brown and Rihanna would not perform at the Staples Center. Brown turned himself in and was booked last night by Los Angeles police on suspicion of making felony criminal threats in an alleged domestic-violence incident involving his girlfriend, Rihanna, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Brown was expected to post $50,000 bail. The alleged incident took place the night before, after the couple appeared together at record executive Clive Davis' pre-Grammy gala in Beverly Hills.

Neither Rihanna nor Brown won an award last night (though Rihanna's Cover Girl cosmetics ads did air during the telecast). The incident was not mentioned during the show.

The evening also began on an uncharacteristically serious note when, after U2 opened the show by performing "Get on Your Boots," the single from their forthcoming album, No Line on the Horizon, Jennifer Hudson took home the show's first award, beating Al Green and others for best R&B album.

Hudson, whose mother, brother and nephew were killed in October, said, "I would like to thank my family in heaven, and those that are here today." Later, she held back tears after singing, "You Pulled Me Through."

Her performance was one of the highlights of an evening that started slow but gained credibility as it went on. Rihanna was scheduled to follow U2. Instead, Green, Justin Timberlake, Keith Urban, and Boyz II Men got together to sing Green's "Let's Stay Together."

That hastily thrown-together aggregation delivered a performance that was a little rough, but it least it made a measure of musical sense. Not so some of the others. Neil Diamond, singing "Sweet Caroline," was more tuneless than usual. A particularly awkward pairing had Stevie Wonder backing up the Jonas Brothers before he got to sing his own "Superstition."

Many of the performances later in the show, however, were strong. Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters tore through the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There." With a nod to Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," Radiohead did an wildly percussive "15 Step," from album-of-the-year-nominated In Rainbows, with the help of the University of Southern California marching band.

Timberlake joined rapper T.I. - and Philadelphia string conductor Larry Gold - for a moving rendition of T.I.'s "Dead and Gone." Lil Wayne was joined first by Robin Thicke and later by fellow New Orleanians Allen Toussaint and Terence Blanchard for the sorrowful (and then celebratory) Hurricane Katrina-inspired "Tie My Hands."

The killer performance of the evening came from the so-called Rap Pack, the teaming of a tuxedoed T.I., Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne and a polka-dotted, pregnant M.I.A. - whose baby was due yesterday - for a cock-of-the-walk, standing-ovation-inducing "Swagger Like Us."

The battle lines were drawn early between Coldplay and Plant and Krauss, widely supposed to be the Brit band's chief competition for top awards. The singer and fiddler won for pop collaboration with vocals for "Rich Woman," and won two more awards in a pre-telecast ceremony. Later, when Plant and Krauss won the record-of-the-year award for "Please Read the Letter," which Plant wrote with his Led Zep partner Jimmy Page, T-Bone Burnett, the producer of Raising Sand, stressed the unpredictable nature of the project. All he could think of to say as a thank-you was, "Good things come out of nowhere."

The first major award of the evening was the songwriter trophy for song of the year, with Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" taking it. The song also won the Brits the award for best pop performance by a duo or group.

Coldplay also beat out the considerably tougher-sounding Kings of Leon, Metallica, Kid Rock and the Raconteurs for best rock album. Accepting that award, singer Chris Martin disarmingly joked that the band plays a "limestone kind of rock - a little soft, but just as charming."

Early in the show, Martin had performed "Lost" alone at piano, joined midsong by Jay-Z. Hova dropped a freestyle verse, and then Martin scurried off to do "Viva La Vida" with his bandmates, slipping in a lyric from Bruce Springsteen's "Working on a Dream." (Springsteen won one Grammy for best rock song for "Girls in Their Summer Clothes.")

Philadelphia R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan came up short in all five categories in which she was nominated. In the most prestigious of those categories, best new artist, the award went to British singer-songwriter Adele.

Other Philadelphia-connected acts were more successful. Philadelphia-based jazz critic Francis Davis won in the album notes category for Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition. Cheltenham-bred jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker won best contemporary jazz album for Randy in Brasil. R&B singer (and University of Pennsylvania graduate) John Legend won with Green for their duet on "Stay With Me (By the Sea)." And folk patriarch Pete Seeger's won the award for best traditional folk album for At 89, released by West Chester label Appleseed Recordings.

Lifetime-achievement Grammy Awards went to Gene Autry, Brenda Lee, Dean Martin, Tom Paxton, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and jazz pianist Hank Jones.

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Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inthemix