Sundance: Music From Main Street: Part 1 with Josh Ritter and Manchester Orchestra
PARK CITY—People come to the Sundance Film Festival for the movies, to be sure, but the event has also become a hotbed for music with concerts all over the city for the duration.
Ground zero for the music scene at Sundance is the ASCAP Cafe on Main Street, which for seven days features live music from 2-6 p.m. We’ll be bringing you several reports from there throughout our stay at Sundance. The line-up focuses primarily on singer/songwriters since they are, in many cases, performing acoustically.
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Today’s (Jan. 21) ASCAP Cafe kicked off with Madi Diaz, a spirited, young songwriter who recalls Ingrid Michaelson and Sheryl Crow. Accompanied by Kyle Andrews on guitar and backing vocals, she delivered a beguiling set of mid-tempo tunes anchored around love’s vagaries. Among her best were a “song about making out, “It’s Only a Kiss”; as well as the lilting sing-a-long, “Let’s Go.” She capped the show with the lovely “If Only You Knew,” her voice and Andrews’ circle eachother in beautiful harmonies. Diaz’s new album, “Plastic Moon,” produced by John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews), comes out later this year.
Next up was Josh Ritter, whom Paste Magazine right so named one of the 100 greatest living songwriters. Alone with his guitar, Ritter is a compelling, must-see/must hear performer. His lyrics are intelligent without ever appearing pretentious. Yes, boy meets girl in Ritter’s song, but that’s where any resemblance to a formulaic pop song ends. In “Wolves,” the animals surround and invade his life after love leaves a void. On “The Temptation of Adam,” he finds love in the atomic age. “Kathleen” is a passionate potent song with the perfect come on: “I’m here and I’m ready. I’ve saved you the passenger seat.” The cinematic “Folk Blood Bath” is a love song with a body count. If Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and John Prine had a son, he’d sound like Ritter.
Like Ritter, Manchester Orchestra have no interest in writing conventional pop tunes. Stripped down to a trio for this electric, plugged in set, the Atlanta-based outfit and Bonnaroo favorite brought a woozy, slightly psychedelic vibe to the Cafe. Upon first listen, it’s a little shocking to hear the clear, resonate, slightly high-pitched voice coming out of bear-like frontman/lyricist Andy Hull, but the adjustment comes easily when the songs are as impactful as “In My Teeth,” on which he slightly sounded like Kurt Cobain. Alternative hits, “Shake It Off” and “I’ve Got Friends” were highlights, but so was set closer, the powerful, sweeping “Where Have You Been.” I don’t really understand what the song’s about, but all I know is its yearning ache of disillusionment stuck with me long after they’d left the stage and the line, “I’ve got to break what I’m making and turn it into nothing for you.”
Completely switching tracks, the day ended with Julia Fordham and Paul Reiser (yes, that “Mad About You” Paul Reiser). As it turns out, he’s a classically-trained pianist and a damn fine one. He and Fordham co-wrote an album of tunes, “Unusual Suspects,” and they performed a number of tunes. Fordham is a lost gem, probably best known for her 1989 album, “Porcelain.” Redolent of Joni Mitchell, the British Fordham has a dusky, rangy voice that wraps itself around you. Her tunes with Reiser are lush and emotional and written for adults. For their final two songs, they played to tracks from the album in order to give the audience a better sense of what the record feels like with an entire band behind them. The sound was more robust, but lacked the simple elegance and allure of just the two of them. As is appropriate in a setting such as Sundance, a number of the songs, especially “Trusted,” would fit in beautifully in a movie.