NEW YORK — We made it! Blast closed out the 2010 CMJ Music Marathon with a full day and night of music in Brooklyn and Manhattan on Saturday, and emerged scarred for life in the best way possible.
Brooklyn Vegan showcase: We started the afternoon at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, where a number of acts, including Ted Leo, Wild Nothing, Titus Andronicus and Marnie Stern, graced two stages. But the real story of the day was a jaw-dropping performance by Big Freedia.
Big Freedia, for the uninformed, is a transgendered rapper who is part of the New Orleans queer rap movement known as “Sissy Bounce.” Her songs (including the aptly-named “Azz Everywhere,” which feature chant-y call-and-response flows), are perfectly catchy on their own, but it’s the dancing that really puts the “bounce” into this genre. There’s no two ways about it — Big Freedia’s rump-shaking defies all knowledge of physics, gravity and, frankly, reality. Do NOT try this at home.
As the audience (who had been plied with free vodka, bourbon and Magic Hat all afternoon) looked on, entranced, horrified or something in between, Freedia and a small entourage of dancers booty-popped around the stage, at one point breaking into a version of “Empire State of Mind.” As she bent over and gyrated in between verses, Big Freedia’s metal studded belt caught the stage lighting and pulsed as quickly as a strobe light — and I wouldn’t be surprised if it caused some seizures, too. Clad in a plaid shirt, grey jeans and sporting a fabulously side-swiped hairstyle with a single blond streak, this “Queen Diva” provided the perfect entertainment to round out the week (pun intended). If sissy bounce is wrong, we don’t want to be right.
Thieving Irons: Later in the evening, while killing time between performances, Blast stumbled upon the pleasant surprise of Thieving Irons (the solo project of former Pela guitarist Nate Martinez) at Rockwood Music Hall. Although the crowd unfortunately neglected to appreciate the subtleties of a venue like Rockwood Music Hall, Martinez and his Thieving Irons bandmates pushed through their set with grace and a great deal of visual interest. Martinez’ voice, reminiscent of Neil Young but with the raspy vocal turns of Bruce Springsteen, leads a collection of songs evocative of a mellower, trippier Band of Horses. Slide and electric guitars, a dulcimer, a trumpet and an EVI (electric valve instrument) all made for an aesthetically pleasing experience. The music stands out, but the vocal harmonies can be somewhat lacking — not of skill or technique, but rather of imagination and experimentation. While the EVI did an excellent job of compensating for this void, Martinez might better serve his unique vision by pushing the parameters of harmony and bringing the vocal component up to par with the rest of the band.
Alcoholic Faith Mission: Bringing CMJ 2010 to a close was Alcoholic Faith Mission at Fat Baby. On Blast’s list of must-sees, this six-piece band from Denmark did not disappoint the crowded club on Saturday night. From peaceful to raucous to explosive and back again, AFM employs a random collection of instruments – glockenspiel, trombone, and accordion – that help to create the undulation that is the band’s sound. Dark, melancholic and sometimes sarcastic lyrics cut through the ups and downs of the music with precise juxtaposition. “Nut in Your Eye,” for example, begins in a surprisingly mellow, melodious manner. Ultimately, though, what takes Alcoholic Faith Mission from a good band to a great band is the obvious camaraderie among its members – a noticeable reverence each player seems to have for the next, still apparent through the thick guise of sex, booze and (indie) rock ‘n’ roll.
Blast photographer Sarah Berman contributed to this article.