Exile on Main Street: Music at Sundance Day One
While Sundance is about movies—it is the Sundance Film Festival, after all—there has always been a strong musical component. Music flows everywhere you go, whether it’s the mariachi band playing on Main Street or a duo busking on the corner.
Ground zero for the musical experience is ASCAP’s Music Café. For eight afternoons, Jan. 22-29, the performing rights society brings in artists it represents to play at a small gallery on Main Street. The idea is that directors and music supervisors will see these acts and consider them for future projects. If you’re an artist who skis or snowboards, it’s about as sweet a gig as there is.
It’s been snowing at Sundance since the Hitfix crew arrived on Wednesday and today inside the Music Café, there was a wonderful solace from the storm. Today’s performances started with Sonos, a co-ed a capella sextet who reinvents pop songs like Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in fun and inventive ways. Their music would be perfect for lighthearted rom-coms. I missed the start of their set, but they, like most of the acts on ASCAP’s docket, are playing twice so I hope to catch their set, which they promise will be different, tomorrow.
Next up was Colin Devlin, who used to be part of the Irish band the Devlins, but has now moved to the U.S. and is concentrating on a solo career. Armed with just an acoustic guitar (which he sometimes traded for an electric), he charmed the audience with his literate lyrics and pleasing melodies. Quite a few of Devlin’s songs have been used in film and TV, including “Six Feet Under,” “Closer, “Batman Forever,” and “Six Feet Under.” “My songwriting is hugely inspired by movies,” he told the audience. “Some of my songs have been used in movies, usually when the girls are about to throw themselves off the balcony.”
And with good reason. Devlin mines the depths of love lost and found, but mainly lost, such as on “What Good is Love?” Songs like the gorgeous “The Heart Won’t Be Denied” or the uplifting “There’s a Light,” would be perfect for shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.” While most songs were ballads, “Outside” which was played during Natalie Portman’s strip scene in “Closer,” was sinewy and hypnotic.
At one point, Devlin asked how many directors were in the audience and only three people raised their hands. That may not have been the result he was looking for.
John Forte followed Devlin. The name might not be familiar but his work is. Forte produced and wrote songs for the Fugees. His career came to an abrupt end in 2000 when he was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine after accepting a briefcase filled with more than $1 million in liquid cocaine at Newark Airport. Forte did not go into detail today, merely saying he served time on a “first time, non-violent drug offense.” He served eight years before he was pardoned by President Bush in late 2008 after years of lobbying for his freedom by Carly Simon. (We interviewed Forte, who is working on his memoirs, and will post that Q&A shortly).
While in prison, Forte taught himself to play acoustic guitar and now the former rapper performs a hybrid of singing and spoken word. This was utilized to great effect on his cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” during which he interjected spoken verse, much of it about his incarceration. He served up compelling images, such as how he was “resurrected on my 33rd” birthday, his age when he was released from prison.
Forte’s singing voice is gruff but expressive. There’s a palpable joy he feels while performing that spread to the audience who embraced his charismatic performance. Forte told me that he would love to have his music placed in film and TV. He’s already off to a good start in that he scored the Sundance bumpers that play at the beginning of ever screening here.
Next we saw Brendan Benson, who’s best known as a member of the Raconteurs. However, Benson with his band, brought the rock out and turned the Music Café into a sweltering sweatbox so jammed that it was impossible to move. His band plays power pop so tight and juicy that it sounds like Cheap Trick crossed with T Rex,especially on such delightfully buoyant songs as “A Whole Lot Better.” We had to leave his gig early to get to a screening, but we'll catch his entire set on Saturday.