NEW YORK — Your intrepid team of Blast reporters took to the streets of Manhattan with enthusiasm last night, ready to kick off what’s sure to be a fast-paced week of consuming music. Predictably, venues seemed to be working out first night kinks; nearly everything we saw was running about an hour behind, which resulted in some happy accidents and new discoveries. After all, that’s what CMJ’s all about, right? What follows is a recap of some of our faves.
Francis and the Lights: Our first stop was the MTV party at the Studio at Webster Hall, where buzz band Francis and the Lights entertained a packed crowd. The group’s stage lineup rotates, but last night singer Francis Starlite was supported by two backing musicians, who were cast into anonymity not just by their Ray Bans, but also by Starlite’s showmanship. Clad in a black Snuggie/cape-like clothing item for the first part of the set, he occasionally broke into spastic dancing and had brief, intense staring contests with members of the audience. The band’s recipe of subdued synthesizers blended with a dash of funk, soul and reggae is not entire dissimilar from fellow Wesleyan alums (and touring mates) MGMT. How long before Wesleyan-gaze becomes a genre?
A Million Years: A Million Years commanded the stage at Arlene’s Grocery with that typical Brooklyn guitar-driven, melodic indie rock we love so much. Singer Keith Madden’s voice is wide-ranging and whispers of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, while Nick Werber is extraordinary on lead guitar. Last night’s show featured a heavier, more rock version of Phoenix (with whom A Million Years has shared a stage in the past). Drum machines, synthesizers and electronic foot pedals add depth and interest to the band’s sound. A Million Years’ album “Mischievous Maker” was released in June and was produced by Shannon Ferguson of Longwave.
Freedom or Death: We ended the night at Fontana’s, which was playing host to an all-Canadian showcase. In their New York debut, Toronto’s Freedom or Death — which the Wall Street Journal named as a “must-see” act at the festival — played moody, melodic pop that was alternately reminiscent of Rusted Root and The Postal Service (seriously). Officially a duo, they performed as a quartet last night, and extra points for singer Sway’s passionate beating of a cowbell (!) during one song as he strutted across the tiny stage. Unfortunately, technical difficulties caused Freedom or Death’s brief-to-begin-with set to descend into awkwardness, culminating in a recruitment of audience members to come on stage and tell jokes to kill time. But songs like set-closer “This Crowded Room” clearly show that the act has promise.
Gobble Gobble: In terms of a weirdness factor, it’ll be hard to top Gobble Gobble, from Edmonton, Alberta, whose set bordered on performance art. A mix of house music, a psychedelic version of Stomp, and what can only be described as a demented children’s show, the group turned Fontana’s into a mini-rave for 30 minutes. The elaborate stage setup — which actually extended out from the stage into the crowd — featured a rotation of noisemakers, shovels, strings of lights and other props. It was like a musical acid trip, or Passion Pit on crack. It’s clear the band members, who bounded around the club with the sweaty exuberance (and masks) of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, are having fun with what they’re doing. The audience appeared to share in their joy, although I’m sure everyone left wondering what exactly it was they just witnessed.
Photos by Sarah Be for Blast Magazine