Thursday, October 28, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 19, 2010)

  Surfer Blood @ The Studio at Webster Hall, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

I didn't realize that my trip to New York City and CMJ last week would have taken such a toll on me this week because outside of work I've been downright pooped so apologies for the delayed NYC / CMJ content. New York City has been on my travel destination list for the last decade but somehow I didn't pull it together until now. It's a spectacular city, full of diversity, culture and history and for the five day and nights that I was there I was intent on absorbing as much as I could, not that it was ever possible to take in everything. But I tried. Day One, NYC started out relatively easy, navigating the transit system (both bus and subway), checking into my hotel, wandering around the West Village, going to pick up my press badge, and strolling through the Washington Square / NYU area of the city. My first CMJ stop wasn't even one that required the press badge or a ticket as it was a FREE CMJ party hosted by MTV and MTVU featuring a four-artist bill down at The Studio @ Webster Hall, an intimate, underground venue.

Opening the night was young Floridian outfit Fake Problems with their spunky brand of power pop. The intimate-sized venue had yet to fill up by then but the band energetically performed nonetheless and the small crowd on hand were appreciative. They sounded like a band that's still in the process of working out their songwriting chops; yes there were melodies, but nothing that ever really stood out as exceptional. And their sonic influences sometimes veered a little too close to punk-pop for my tastes. Not my cup of tea, but with the crowd leaning more towards the young 'uns at least they were liking it.

Up next was the genre-hopping, electro-hip hop diva Dominique Young Unique from Tampa, Florida. With a duo of gents manning keyboard and programming duties, Dominique traversed the small stage from side to side, displaying some decent rapping technique over the disco-y, electro beats that propelled the songs. To Torontonians the best comparison I could make would be to Toronto's Thunderheist. It was a fun set although not entirely unfamiliar given my past concert experiences with Thunderheist (who in my opinion are better, and not because they're the hometown team.) In any case, Dominque and her keyboard / programming pals did work up up sweat onstage and wonders will never cease how more people weren't dancing [at the very least I had the head-bobbing, leg-shaking thing going on). It's not just Torontonians after all.

At this point, it was an interesting trio, local act Francis and The Lights that were up next. With lead vocalist Francis Farewell Starlite looking a little like Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli and acting every bit as soulful and suave onstage, the band have an interesting minimalist approach to funk and soul. There was a restraint on the instrumental side with the approach of the guitarist and a keyboardist who also handled the programmed beats. Beats were simple but effective and even though the guitarist did display some decent guitar work he did it with a Kraftwerk-ian stage presence that left the spotlight firmly on vocalist Starlite who sung and danced and worked up the crowd. Starlite came off vocally sounding like he was trying to emulate Prince and to my surprise rather than sounding awkward or like a joke it sounded good. A very nice surprise.

Rounding out my first evening of CMJ was West Palm Beach buzz band Surfer Blood. Having not played NYC in a long time [I believe they said the last time was at last year's CMJ), the capacity crowd was fully pumped, and the band delivered. I'd been quite taken with their debut single "Swim" a reverb-filled, exhilirating surf-pop tune and their set just confirmed that they do definitely have more than just that first single. To my ear, they're of the alt-pop school, but most definitely sounding like a reverbed-drenched Weezer, influenced by the Beach Boys. I'd read reviews of their past shows being a little lacklustre and I don't totally disagree that this show wasn't exactly visually spectacular but there was something about lead vocalist John Paul Pitts' whole preppy, somewhat geeky garb and his slightly fey stage presence(especially when he was guitarless) that drew out a bit of his personality. "Swim" didn't make an appearance until after the band concluded their set then came back and apologized to the crowd that they forgot to play one more song, the aforementioned one of course. For my first night in NYC, let's say it was just a bit magical, and even moreso when the bubble machine was started up during "Swim".

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 19, 2010)
MySpace: Fake Problems
MySpace: Dominique Young Unique
MySpace: Francis and The Lights
MySpace: Surfer Blood

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