Going into Sundance NEXT FEST, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The night’s showing was a triple feature of sorts, starting with the debut of Kendrick Lamar’s short film m.A.A.d, moving into the feature-length film Imperial Dreams, and finishing with a musical performance by Los Angeles-based up-and-comer Tinashe. In other words, it was going to be a night dedicated to LA.

next fest

I had never been to a movie premiere (they had a mini red carpet!), and I wondered how the Ace Hotel Theatre was going to accommodate the huge crowd. The answer, unsurprisingly, was that they were going to accommodate us by being a giant theatre. In addition to the floor seating, the venue included tiered balcony seats that rose to dizzying heights. Decorated by epic paintings and ornate embellishments, the theatre was a show itself.

Okay, on to the actual shows. m.A.A.d, directed by Joseph Khalil, is a short film inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. It featured shots of Lamar’s hometown, Compton, interspersed with home videos and video portraits of the people living in the city. Imperial Dreams, which is scored by another Angeleno, Flying Lotus, picked up on that theme. Set in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, the film details the story of an ex-convict trying to go straight in an environment that seems to determined to not let him.

Imperial Dreams

After about two hours of films and a brief intermission, Tinashe was set to play. Unfortunately for her, a pretty big portion of the crowd left, but those who stayed seemed excited, if a bit tired, to see her. Wearing an oversized t-shirt and what looked like baggy pajama shorts, she skipped onto the stage and went right into “Vulnerable,” her hit song from her Black Water mixtape.

The tiny performer had huge stage presence, and she danced her ass off throughout the set. Her hair was out of control awesome, and she was surprisingly sexy considering she was essentially wearing pajamas (more power to her for being comfortable on stage).

Tinashe went on to perform a few more songs from Black Water, mashing “Stunt” with Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” at one point. She also performed songs from older mixtapes (after reminding us that they’re all up for free on her website!), dancing and swaggering her way through the more upbeat songs and toning it down for the slow tracks.

At several points during her performance Tinashe stepped offstage to say “Hi!” to the audience and hype the crowd up. She jumped and danced to “California Love” with the audience, even stopping to take a selfie with someone. She ended strong, dancing to a medley of DJ Mustard-produced hits before going into “2 On,” which she, of course, killed.

Tinashe got a tired crowd sitting in theatre seats to throw their twos up, clap, and wave their hands in the air for her, and at the end of the half-hour set, I was left wanting more. It’s difficult to put on a fun and upbeat show following a movie about an ex-con’s struggle for redemption (even she admitted she cried while watching the film), but Tinashe managed to do it flawlessly. She was a natural on stage and seemed excited to be there. I only wish I wasn’t confined to my seat because when she hit the stage and started dancing, I wanted to dance, too.

If Tinashe’s performance at NEXT FEST was any indication, her full sets are probably amazing. A word of advice for those who are going to be at her next show, though: don’t expect to do much sitting. Tinashe goes hard and deserves an audience that’ll jump and dance and sing along with her.

For more information:

Imperial Dreams
Sundance NEXT FEST