CMJ 08 – Gringo Star, the Ruby Suns, the Ettes

From the weirdly spacious, supercool white asymmetrical box of the Red Bull Space to the sweaty firetrap of the Delancey – here’s my first night of CMJ.

btw: music PR apparently floats on an ocean of Red Bull. Who ever needs purchase the stuff? It floweth like a mighty stream. The slender, shapely iced coolers full of the tingly, energizing Eurobeverage are discreetly available everywhere from the press area of McCarren Pool to the (okay, unsurprisingly) Red Bull lounge.

The crowd is sparse, perhaps reserving judgment lest they appear even faintly uncool for a second. But Gringo Star, an immensely likable quartet from ATL, thaws a few hipsters at the show, which essentially is the start of the whole five-day CMJ shebang. Gringo Star’s exuberant indie rock moves along at a great pace, subsuming Beatlesque refs and riffs, Southern pop, and Leone/Morricone references at high energy as three of the musicians circ among drums, guitars, and keyboards. They are surprisingly tight – no sloppiness despite the personnel rotation.

”]Gringo Star on stage at Red Bull Space
Gringo Star on stage at Red Bull Space [photo courtesy]

Next up, cross and downtown: the New Zealand showcase in the basement of the Delancey. Say what I will about the low-temp, low-white-couch, high-ceiling, and low-energy Red Bull space (which isn’t even a public concert space) at least it allows attendees to see and hear the musicians. Many blocks east and south, the long, narrow, basement Delancey is about 80 feet long and 12 feet wide, ensuring that only the first, say, 20 fans in front can actually see the band. The ceiling, featuring a welter of jury-rigged wiring, hanging pipes, junk chandeliers, and dripping condensation, features a couple square yards of egg-crate foam over the stage in some kind of confused acknowledgment that there might actually be such a thing as acoustics. (Can you say “Great White” btw?)

No matter, the Ruby Suns, a guy (Ryan McPhun, Californian) and girl (a Kiwi, Amee Robinson) from Auckland, NZ, are whipping up the crowd with a drum pad, drum kit, guitar, and samples. Their indie pop swirls wistful arpeggios, snatches of melodies, layered vocals, etc. over every rhythm in the drum kit from calypso to steel drum to electronica – but it all goes by so quick and changes up so rapidly, the overall effect is pretty and charming. Music to play at work – wait. . . their song “Oh Movaje” is the theme in the WINDOWS VISTA commercial! Okay. check.

”]Ryan McPhun and a female Ruby Sun at the Delancey. Please note the ceiling (shudder).Ryan McPhun and a female Ruby Sun at the Delancey. Please note the ceiling (shudder) [photo courtesy]

Rhys Darby (the actor who plays the band manager on Flight of the Conchords) emcees the end, then the stage clears (cumbersomely, since there is no side or backstage, and the musicians have to lug each instrument up and back thru the crowd). Next up: the Ettes, (replacing the originally announced Fresh Kills), whose lead singer Coco channels the Yeah Yeah Yeahs pretty exclusively while Poni, the incredibly hot female drummer, channels every male in the place to their knees, mesmerized by her 1) hot drumming 2) hot-ness 3) hot, mobile, supple, and extremely large lips.

”]OMG that drummer is so hot!
OMG that drummer is so hot! [photo courtesy]

Say no more. Well, they were quite good, but every song sounds the same, and tho’ there were a few Ramones riffs in there, they could do with a variation in pace every once in a while.