Irish Singer Damien Rice Wins Shortlist Music Prize

Interpol, Bright Eyes, the Streets perform at awards ceremony.

LOS ANGELES — Damien Rice got Shorty.

The Irish singer/songwriter won the third annual Shortlist Music Prize on Sunday, stealing the award’s new gold statuette, the Shorty, from higher profile nominees like Floetry and Interpol.

Rice, whose passionate performance earlier in the night entranced the sold-out Wiltern Theatre (click for exclusive photos ), was so certain someone else would win that he was on his way out of the venue after the five-hour concert when an organizer suggested he stick around.

In his awkward acceptance speech, Rice set the Shorty on the ground and said the night was about celebrating people who are working really hard on music.

“I felt like the record we made was selfish and really just for us,” Rice explained, sitting with his band after the event. “It’s odd being selected or nominated, but very nice, I guess. The main thing for me that I want to continue is to forget about everybody else and make the next record that we’re making just for ourselves again, because there’s something about being in a space where you’re not thinking of other people. You’re just in a moment creating music and emotion and in a space with people you feel comfortable with. And that for me is the essence of what it is that we’ve done and what it is we do.”

The Shortlist Music Prize — which carries with it a $5,000 check and went to N.E.R.D. last year (see “N.E.R.D. Win Shortlist Prize” ) — is modeled after the U.K.’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize, except the judges are fellow musicians and artists rather than simply journalists.

This year’s panel included the Neptunes, Chris Martin, Flea, Erykah Badu, Perry Farrell, Dave Matthews, Josh Homme, Mos Def, the Chemical Brothers, Tori Amos, Tom Waits and directors Cameron Crowe and Spike Jonze, all of whom voted by absentee ballot at Sunday’s Listmaker dinner, where the winner was chosen. Past Shortlist supporters Beck, the Roots’ Ahmir
“?uestlove” Thompson, Macy Gray and Dan “the Automator” Nakamura, along with newcomer Musiq, attended the dinner.

Since the Shortlist Prize is designed for emerging artists, any album that has sold more than 500,000 copies is ineligible when the long list is compiled in the summer. The original list, which consists of about 100 albums, is narrowed down to 10, the coveted Shortlist. Before the award was presented, eight of the 10 acts on the Shortlist performed. Sigur Ros, who won the inaugural Shortlist Prize, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were nominated but could not perform because of other commitments.

In his five-song set, Rice played four songs from his winning O before closing with the B-side “Woman Like a Man.” The single “Volcano,” which showcased Vyvienne Long’s cello chops, was a standout, but the crowd favorite was certainly “Cold Water.” Before the song, Rice explained it was about breaking off an imaginary relationship, but the laughs ended as soon as Lisa Hannigan’s satin voice began. The mood changed again when Rice took over, exploding in a rage that was both frightening and inspiring.

The Streets opened the show with British rapper Mike Skinner rhyming over DJ tracks in between sipping on a bottle of champagne. The perpetual partier seemed a bit out of place in the early time slot, but the crowd danced along. Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, looked a little uncomfortable as well, her issue being the size of the theater. The club veteran made things more comfortable, however, when she meandered out into the crowd as she sang old soul standards.

Bright Eyes were the first full band to take the stage, destroying the barebones vibe with a loud, sometimes chaotic blend of 13 performers, including two drummers. Even with all that going on, singer Conor Oberst managed to keep all attention on his distinct croon. Before ending with a show-stealing “Let’s Not Sh– Ourselves,” Oberst went on a rant about playing in a Clear Channel-owned venue, something the band tries to avoid. “I’d like to draw a line in the sand and say you’re either with us or against us,” he said. His fans answered by screaming every word to the song. One even crashed the staged and bowed on his knees until security removed him.

The Black Keys’ show looked smaller, which just guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney onstage, but the sound was just as huge, blending elements of traditional blues with Jimi Hendrix-style guitar rock. Chestnutt followed with a spirited set of rock and soul, featuring “The Seed” and other tracks from his Headphone Masterpiece. Floetry’s show was equally soulful, but with a hip-hop flavor similar to the Fugees.

Interpol closed the show with six songs from the band’s acclaimed debut, including favorites “NYC,” “PDA” and “Obstacle 1.” The Joy Division-inspired tunes had fans dancing, but after nearly five hours of music, some showed a look that seemed to say, “Just announce the damn winner already.”

“I don’t think you can call it the Shortlist anymore, ’cause we’ve all been here for four f—ing hours now,” Macy Gray joked at one point.

A more condensed version of the evening, including interviews and a sneak peak into the Listmaker dinner, will air October 25 on MTV2.