SunFest Day 2
Cee Lo Green and Jason Mraz
West Palm Beach Waterfront
Thursday, April 28, 2011
View a slideshow from SunFest Day 2 here.
Better than: A grueling hourlong drive from Miami.
I popped my
SunFest cherry with a power duo of headliners I've loved for a long time but never seen live. I'm an avid appreciator of Virginia crooner Jason Mraz's
"older" material, and Cee Lo Green, is a voice that's been
perking my ears since the good 'ol Goodie Mob days.
To no one's surprise, Cee Lo Green arrived "on time" to the stage almost 20 minutes after his scheduled start. At the Tire Kingdom Stage, a human fortress was shielding the amphitheater, which did not make it easy for a five-footer like me to cope. When the Atlanta vet finally hit the stage, it was initially a letdown. The sound was marred with muffled bass, and the first three songs sounded horrible behind a wall of stubborn West Palm stiffies.
Bits and pieces of "Brighter Lights Bigger City" from last year's The Ladykiller trickled through, followed by guest rap vocalists whom I couldn't quite place. It sounded like Ludacris, but that couldn't be. I wondered what Cee Lo was wearing. Could it be another fresh disco peacock costume? Finally, after suffering through what sounded like an amazing throwback rendition of Trick Daddy's "'Dro in the Wind," I kicked into high gear festie mode, grabbed my gal pal, and trucked it down the hill, suddenly embracing an entire spherical field with tons of dancing room. Thanks to the squares who gave up on the show early, the front-middle was wide open.
And there he was. In plain sight, the main man himself stood -- clad in a plain white T-shirt and shades, no gimmick necessary in the thick of it. Behind the sizable Cee Lo was an entirely female ensemble, which added so much respect to the overall vibe. From afar, I wondered who exactly was killing it on the drums and who was responsible for chopping up those melodies on the keys. Then, the show got so much better.
"I'm gonna take y'all back a bit -- I'm feelin' kind of nostalgic," he confessed. The band dropped into Gnarls Barkley 2006 chart-topper "Crazy" as the fans swayed and the chorus convened, Cee Lo outstretching his microphone stand to the masses. As the hard-core chick boomed on the drums, Cee Lo's slurring croon was somehow soothing. The air was sticky, and my beer was getting warm, but there was something about that specific moment that stood out. It was a "thank you" -- not to be confused with a "Fuck You" -- moment. He followed up with some solo Motown-esque tracks.
Green praised the fans for their positive energy and enthusiasm before dropping into a teaser of "Stairway to Heaven," a shortened tribute to homies lost. It was then my earlier suspicions were confirmed. Although Luda was an audio mirage and wishful thinking on my part, I was elated to see three other ATL homeboys enter stage right. Could it be? No way... But, it was. Alas, childhood hip-hop dreams came true as the Goodie Mob spit the lyrics to their first single, "Cell Therapy," segueing into "Soul Food." The old-school jams were an overdue feeding indeed. I left the set feeling supersatisfied, knowing full well he would end his run with his famous uppity F-bomb anthem. And (I heard) he did.
Cee Lo's fashionably late entry forced an early departure over to the Bank of America Stage, where Jason Mraz was already making love to a sea of thousands with a mood-lifting "A Way to Remember Me." With a fresh beer, I pushed to the front, posting stage left by the barricades, trying to get a head-on glimpse of Mraz and his support.
The view from there was the onstage brass brigade that teased throughout the set, heightening hopes of a funk-infused segment. On my way front and center, I was sneered at by a protective gang of tweens. I felt the hot hate coloring their cheeks for the unwelcomed disruption during "A Beautiful Mess," which was one of the more active jams, congos echoing along with deep bass plucks, as Mraz summoned a call-and-response chorus from the hypnotized ocean. I love Mraz; I just was not feeling this midtempo purgatory, an unwelcomed balance between lullaby acoustic and full-band delivery.
Instead, the set dragged on. I found my way back to my hippie-hooping crew who sat less stoned than Mraz's humdrum. Where was the fire? Where was the wordplay? Eyes and ears all stacked on the stage, Mraz spoke of the weather, sticky like sea lice, or rather "sea nice," as he called it, his raunchy attempt at entertaining banter. Expectant, Mraz and company stuck with the laid-back vibe, performing 2008 hit singles "Lucky" and "I'm Yours." I attempted a few verses of sing-along before giving up out of sheer lameness.
Finally, Mraz floated into "The Remedy," but not even an entire tub of his grandpa's Virginia moonshine could save his career-launching hit. It was slow, dragged-out, and lifeless. Mraz finally revived himself and his set with a waterside nod to Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," which was the easy highlight of his act. As I left with bitterness, Mraz and his brass outfit took things to a Big Easy kind of level. A tiny taste of Jazz Fest was enough for me to stroll out on a high note, but I wondered where the spark in this former firecracker had fizzled off to.
Personal bias: In the end, Mraz was just one more act to (gladly) cross off my life's musical to-do list.
The crowd: Zombified teens and their moms gazing at Mraz as if he were Taylor Fucking Hanson circa 1998.
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Overheard: "Who's smoking that great fuckin' weed? I just wanna experience that shit; it smells like an
adventure!" -- Cee Lo to the crowd.