Michael John Dunaway Lifestream

February 5, 2009

Sundance Music Roundup (for Paste Magazine)

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 7:17 pm

Here’s the unabridged version of the music roundup I did for Paste. Published version here.

By the way, music was the biggest surprise of the festival for me. I was expecting to see world class films, but the folks at Harry O’s really put together an impressive roster of musical talent for the week. And those guys know how to throw a party! Be sure to include music shows at Harry O’s and Tatou in the budget for your next Sundance trip.

Sundance Music Roundup
By Michael Dunaway

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Cee-Lo is best known by hipsters these days as the vocal half of Gnarls Barkley, thanks to the inescapable 2006 single “Crazy” and two smash hit albums. But he released a couple of truly brilliant solo albums in his own right (scoring a hit with “I’ll Be Around”), and of course before that was a driving force in the seminal hip hop group Goodie Mob. His show at Harry O’s in Park City UT during Sundance was somewhat hampered by his having to use Big Boi’s band (and by his not being able to rehearse with them until that afternoon), but his talent and charm are undeniable and carried the set. The aforementioned “I’ll Be Around” was a highlight, with one of the funkiest hooks in recent years and one of the greatest opening couplets in hip hop history (it’s got a word better left unprinted in Paste, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself). And of course the crowd was delirious when he launched into “Crazy.” Cee-Lo has one of the winningest personalities on the scene, and it shows on stage.

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Big Boi’s set at Harry O’s in Park City UT during Sundance was easily the best of an outstanding group all week long. You’d think that, given the magical chemistry between Big Boi and Andre 3000 in Outkast, that the stage show might suffer with only half the team present. Not a bit of it. First of all, Big Boi has found a worthy foil in Black Owned C-Bone, a fellow Atlantan who fills in masterfully. Part of the effect is visual – C-Bone is tall and lanky and strolls the stage with a Snoop Dogg-like swagger, while Big Boi is shorter, solider, and is constantly walking in a ninja crouch, gesticulating powerfully with his hands. C-Bone holds his own in the flow as well, and should end up being a star in his own right. But Big Boi is a force of nature on stage. His staccato delivery never flagged, was always perfectly in time and stunningly effectively accented. He even sounded great doing many of Andre’s parts. It used to be said of Bear Bryant that “he could beat your’n with his’n, and then he could beat his’n with your’n.” With all due respect to Andre, who is one of the great MC’s in hip hop history, Big Boi comes close to that kind of genius. The songs from the new album sounded great as well – it should be one of the biggest hits of the spring.

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Justin Nozuka is a name that you will be hearing a lot in the coming months. A Canadian of Japanese and American descent who’s still just 19 years old, he comes across as a bizarre blend of Michael Jackson and Jeff Buckley, and I mean that in a good way. His set at Tatou (the sister club to Harry O’s) in Park City UT during Sundance was a stunner, and certainly a harbinger of great things to come. Nozuka has a gift of being sensitive without cloying, pleading without whining. His vocals have a beautifully immediate quality; there’s no artifice \ to be heard. Every now and then you don’t have to choose between the guy with the stunning talent and the guy who can give you a platinum hit. Nozuka is both, and as close to a sure bet as there is in the music industry. See him now in the club before you can only see him in the arena. Recommended listening: Golden Train.

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David Ryan Harris may just be the country’s greatest performer who’s not a household name. The voice, the songwriting, the guitar playing – he’s a three tool threat to be sure, and excels at all three. John Mayer knows enough to take him out on tour whenever he can. One of the great joys I have in hearing live music is watching Harris build an entire song – percussion, bass, rhythm guitars, and lead guitars – with just his guitar and a delay pedal, then adding his own inimitable vocals to the mix. His show at Tatou in Park City UT was an acoustic one and didn’t feature such theatrics, but the setting was a perfect one for his warm, soulful vocals to shine. “America the Beautiful” was a real highlight; I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it so lovely.

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Nas occupies a strange place in the annals of hip hop. Even casual fans know his name and a few songs, but it’s generally only the hardcore fans that put him in his rightful place in the pantheon of the five or six greatest MC’s of all time. And you get the feeling Nas is okay with that; he’s making records for the informed, not for the masses. His show at Harry O’s of Park City UT during Sundance had all the majesty and mystery that an appearance by a legend should have; no one left that venue feeling they’d seen just another good hip hop act. The highlight was the murky “One Mic,” when Nas’ quiet intensity on the verses led to the fist-pumping power of the chorus. Nas may have had a few missteps since his legendary Illmatic album, but as his set showed, the number of bullseyes he’s hit is stunning.

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