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Shortlist showcase stumbles

October 31, 2002|Marc Weingarten | Special to The Times

The Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music is out to rectify years of Grammy frustration, and as it attempts to become an American analogue to the British Mercury Music Prize, the Shortlist might one day actually boost the fortunes of critically acclaimed releases that struggle to sell.

But its live showcase needs to be shored up a bit. Despite some inspiring performances, Tuesday's second annual awards presentation at the Henry Fonda Theatre had the deadly pace of an industry rubber-chicken banquet.

The show, which began nearly an hour late, opened with singer-songwriter Cody Chesnutt, whose soulful, raggedly eccentric folk echoed Gil Scott-Heron and Ted Hawkins. Chesnutt was amusing and intermittently beguiling, but he seemed an odd choice for an opener -- an experimental short before an Adam Sandler movie.

Cee-Lo, the dissident from the Atlanta hip-hop act Goodie Mob who went solo this year with his own album, turned in an invigoratingly ambitious set. Backed by a live band (hip-hop's most encouraging new trend), Cee-Lo was both vaudevillian and lover man, using his impressive tools as a rapper and singer to range freely across styles.

The evening ground to a halt when writer Toure read from his book of short stories while rapper Mos Def provided musical accompaniment. DJ Shadow rectified things with his set, an abbreviated version of the show he brought to the Mayan Theatre earlier this year.

N.E.R.D., the hip-hop band that won the Shortlist for its terrific album "No One Ever Really Dies," didn't make a strong claim for the award. The band's co-leader, Pharell Williams, was annoyingly long-winded, cutting off promising songs to disingenuously fulminate against the music business. (Can an artist who remixes Britney Spears really rail against the industry?)

It took an elder to show the kids in N.E.R.D. how to really move a crowd. Backed by two members of Swedish band the Hives, Pete Yorn on drums and Mike Watt on bass, Iggy Pop belted out three Stooges classics with dispatch and showed up the other acts in no time flat.

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