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.


Paul Weller @ Highline Ballroom, New York, 09/11/08

the Modfather

the Modfather

Shown this photograph, 80-year-old Mrs. Lola C. of Queens remarked, “Bring him home and I don’t need to turn on the oven.”

Lola’s daughter Flora was informing Mrs. C of last night’s destination, the Paul Weller show at the Highline Ballroom. O yes, Weller is hot.

Last night he played a smokin’ 2-hour set, with a youthful Seth Rogen lookalike on drums; a tiny, manaically talented control freak on guitar; and a giant nicotine monkey on his back.  (Mr. Weller stopped several times to feverishly light a fag and inhale like his lungs were gonna fall out if he didn’t.) Ah, the Brits. . . .

the Wellerfellas

the Wellerfellas

He’s apparently been thru the Reanimator, as he barely resembles the self that formed the Jam, then Style Council. The reinvented Modfather now owns a rabid fan base and a successful solo career, as well as one of the Worst. Haircuts. Ever.

bad hair forever

[pics courtesy Brooklyn Vegan, Kyle Dean Reiford]

Paul went on about 9:35pm, after a delightful set by the Rifles – a peppy, indie-rock Brit band well worth checking out at the Mercury on Friday in NYC – and played til 11:30, w/two encores, the first of which included his massive hit, “That’s Entertainment,” but no “Town Called Malice,” alas. The cozy Highline which holds a few hundred, was packed, with a mainly 40-something crowd.

Most recognized the material from Weller’s post-1995 solo career, which started off, pretty much with Stanley Road, followed by, among others, As Is Now, Illuminations, and the current album, 22 Dreams.

I LOVED it. Flora C. and I were’t prepared for how heavy the guitars were – there were some searing long solos in there, really hardcore stuff. He hit the title track from the brand-new 22 Dreams, early on, sat down at the keyboards finally for bit from Stanley Road, but it was the jaw-dropping guitar rock on “All I Want to Do,” “Sea Spray,” and “Come on Let’s Go,” in particular that stood out.

Yes, Liam and Noel Gallagher, and Gem were there. Liam jumped on stage, mutter-shouted something somewhat unintelligable, Noel looked cool and furtive in the audience, and Gem deigned to join on one song for guitar. Minor diversions. Oasis are such professional a-holes, tho’ they boosted Weller’s career immeasurably in the late 90s.

Weller’s always interspersed his solo albums with live ones, and I own no live ones. The studio albums are so much more introspective –opposite energy to the live show, for which I was totally unprepared. He really rocked out on a lot of stuff – almost ’70s style hardrock solos and jams.

And oh, jeez, despite his sculpted cheekbones and still fine physique, his hair is SO bad. Still he’s so much fun to watch. (I kept mentally giving him new, better hairstyles in my mind as the night progressed – lol) Weller got ever more intense and twitchy as the night went on, lighting cig after cig, angrily gesturing to roadies constantly re: bringing his mic up, etc. doing funny little rocker head moves and dance flails– he’s a little kooky and cranky, I’d say, but brilliant.

And damn does he smoke! There was an odd “space”-like drum solo at one point, when Weller stepped to the side, lit and inhaled a HUGE nicotine drag, and nodded and bopped a bit as the drummer whaled about on the set. About three chain-smoked fags later, a roadie removed the fourth burning cigarette from a corner of the piano, and Weller turned around, looked for it, and then mock/seriously/angrily arced a cup of coke or beer across the stage into the audience. There’s some major scary energy there, but damn, did it work in concert.

And that incredible voice. Nope, don’t need to turn on the oven for the heat, Mrs. C. I’m with ya on that one.

All Points West Pt 2 – K’naan, Roots, Radiohead – Liberty State Park, 08/09/08

The good stuff! (remember, all photos are selects from the huge, crazy-great This Week in New York full photo sets on flickr)
5pm: Somali hiphop artist and about-to-be world music star K’naan took the smallest of the three stages, with probably the biggest backstory of the festival.
Ck out his Wikipedia entry, his myspace page, and his own website ( cause his journey from Mogadishu, Somalia, to the UN, to Harlem, to Ontario is worth it.

After “the African Way,” K’naan admitted that his recent Lollapalooza appearance, he entirely forgot the whole second verse of a song, only to see the front row of dedicated young fans mouthing the correct words in disdain, as he “made some stuff up. . . hey, I recorded that album, like four years ago”

His stage presence is remarkably relaxed, direct, and intimate; his lyrics are fierce, poetic, and intricate. The small but dedicated crowd was treated to several tunes from his upcoming album, Troubaour, and his neat explanation of the original 11c. French troubadours, with whom he feels a bond.

He admitted that the album is supposed to come out in September. “but it won’t,” he said with a smile. “because I haven’t finished it.” The album was recorded at Bob Marley’s old house in Jamaica, where K’naan talked about feeling the amazing spiritual vibe, and features contributions by Ziggy Marley and Junior Gong–probably along with other Marley offspring, with whom K’naan is close, sharing not only Marley style but also dedication to the ideals of Bob.

Tunes from Troubaour included the upfront “I Come Prepared,” the plea to “Take a Minute,” and “abcs”–available now, free somewhere via some kind of special telephone download. Many were punctuated w/some crazy street sounds and whooping sirens, courtesy of dj One Tyme, who used to spin behind reggae/dancehall fave Elephant Man.

Exhorting the crowd to sing along “ha hey” to some Somali prompts, K’naan kind of gave up in despair at the enthusiastic but rhthym-challenged response. He finished up with the beautiful “Waving Flag” [“they call me freedom . . . just like a waving flag”] and returned for an encore of his worldwide hit “Soobax.”

7:30 The Roots on the second largest stage. Un-f*cking believable. The Roots play with all live orchestration, and Black Thought rips it up onstage with breathtakingly deft raps over insanely great work by the band. Here he is with ?uestlove on drums

Guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas played with the tunes, the beats, and the kind of cocky self-assured mastery that you get only . . . when you’re actually a master. From jazzy bits of “Favorite Things” to the opening to Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” it seemed like Douglas channeled every African American guitar hero from Jimi Hendrix to Robert Johnson from his giant cranium into his taut, live-wire body.

On the sousaphone, “Tuba Gooding, Jr.” postured like he was vying for Class Clown in the yearbook but played like a man who knows the power of the large horn like a bass, adding some serious weight on the beat to the very body-cavity thumping lines coming out of the speakers. Heavy, man. and funny as hell at the same time.

The Roots ended with a brilliant frenzy of jazz, rock, R’n’B, TSOP, synths and more in perfect synch with the crowd. Without a doubt, they were the best live performance of the show, melding moment-by-moment improv brilliance with the mounting crowd excitement, feeding one off the other to show how live music should be done.

8:30 Radiohead This is how live music IS done, when you are one of the most popular, cerebral, and venerated bands of the decade playing to about 50,000+ people in an outdoor field with no raked seating, no natural amphitheater, and no room. I always feel like Radiohead’s stuff is kinda chamber music for rock fans, capable of being both intellectually and emotionally huge yet incredibly personal and searingly intimate at once. They seem an odd match for an outdoor megafestival, yet Thom Yorke’s quirky posturings and spamodic, nerdly dance moves manage to translate strangely well via multiscreen monitors and their justly celebrated and very sophisticated light show.

Opening with Reckoner, they played (this is not a set list) Kid A, You’re All I Need, Nude (no remixes!) We are fishes, Wakey Wakey, No Surprises, Bangers and Mash, among much else. Occasionally calling to mind the chill of Pink Floyd, they nonetheless managed to communicate with the crowd despite practically no banter, except when Yorke screwed up Videotape. They ended with two encores, including Pyramid Song and Fake Plastic Trees.

then, once again meek and bleating, we sheep, denuded, shorn of our cash, tired and used . . . we humbly lined up for an almost two-hour wait to get on the ferries. for a 15-minute ride.

but for nine hours of music, a sunny day, and the Roots and Radiohead, it was worth it.
And re; Pt. 1: well, nyah, nyah, border guard — despite your best efforts, I didn’t give the corporate masters any cash, for I didn’t buy ANY food – i had managed to sneak some granola bars and a Milky Way in, after all ; )

All Points West Pt. 1 – Nicole Atkins, Chromeo, Metric – Liberty State Park 08/09/08

All Points West – a 3-day extravaganza of 3 stages filled with the top indy/alternative (well, sort of) music the current scene has to offer.

A more corporate, managed, ultra-controlled and manufactured experience it would be hard to imagine, esp compared the previous evening’s arty collectivist goodness of 88Boadrum (see previous blog).

apw was on an “island” off Jersey City that required a ferry ride to reach. A $20 per person (purchased in advance on Ticketb@ast@ard, or $30 at the landing) ferry ride. The expensive, highly limited parking passes were were sold out far in advance.

The trip from Wall St via NY Water Taxi took 15 mins., tops. it took longer to walk the causeway from the ferry to the showgrounds than to ferry from Manhattan to “liberty” island.

the only thing liberated on “liberty” isle was our cash. Already bleating like sheep, we were herded toward gates where Draconian gatekeepers went thru everyone’s bags, ruthlessly collecting contraband – not cannabis, but even MORE evil — i.e., food.

No food allowed. I had brought a single whole wheat pita with a little peanut butter spread. GONE. Because white bread and much festival food just screws w/my stomach, and I was gonna be in the sun for 9 hours, w/only my pal PortaJohn nearby, it seemed like a good idea. NOT. I was advised I could bring in food only with a doctor’s letter. As I hollered, “Better give that to the homeless!” the pita was carried away.

here’s the border guard, holding the offending flatbread:

The place was hilariously fake and corporate, but the music was fine. Saw Your Vegas, Nicole Atkins, The Virgins, Chromeo, the Black Angels, Metric, a bit of Animal Collective, K’naan, the Roots, and, of course, Radiohead. Missed Kings of Leon and a few others.

here are the photos, all courtesy mr. twi-ny of This Week in New York. (for MANY MORE that will blow you away with their excellence and general coolness, you must go here: This Week in New York’s FLICKR. Seriously!)

Nicole Atkins was charming, quirky, and a pretty funny songwriter. “Pork, Grilled Egg, and Cheese”was a highlight.

Chomeo was their usual silly Francophile disco dancebeat self. I didn’t stay for much of their set, since it seemed exactly the same as the one they used when they opened for Justice.

Next on the main stage was Metric. Emily Haines is to Metric as Debbie Harry was to Blondie. They are not the band, but they are.

Next, the good parts:K’naan, the Roots, and Radiohead. yee=hah these bands were hot!

Siren Festival, Coney Island, July 19, 2008

Siren Music Fest Coney Island, NYC, 7/19/08
Current mood: content
Category: Music

Where to begin? first, the Village Voice’s Siren fest at Coney Island has been around for 8 years, but I have never been there. It gets a bad rap for being stupid crowded, super hot, managed like Bush running a laundromat, and generally a bad time is had by all.

but . . .NOT – I went on Saturday, and from 2pm to 9pm, saw 7 great bands, many new, in a well-run showcase that went off like clockwork. Yes, it helped that I had a VIP press badge that got me in and out of the narrow crowd pens onto the boardwark quickly. Yes, it helped that my water and those damn energy drinks were free.

But LOTs of peeps had a good time,

mainly cuz the Voicers in charge made the shows run super-tight.

first up, we saw Brooklyn’s own Parts and Labor w/pal Kerry, who’s hubby’s currently playing w/the Mendoza Line. Very fine. Many pix are up on This Week in New York’s photostream on Flickr – but not here.

then Film School, Times New Viking (fave band name of 08), and the Annuals.

both Times New Viking (a rather TV on the Radio-like sound)

and the Annuals (from Raleigh, NC, sporting a somewhat generic indy south pop tone)

featured a hot chick keyboardist and sweet guitars.

But the “new” (at least to me) band standouts were Ra Ra Riot and Islands.

Ra Ra Riot of Syracuse, had a gorgeous blond singer, who looked like he should have been homecoming king but decided to be really cool instead,

and two female strings virtuosos, on electronic violin and cello,

plus bass, lead guitar, and drums. Their anthemic, strings-laced sounds were drenched in swooping pure rock joy, and roused the crowd from its late afternoon torpor to Cyclone-style heights.

The quirky Islands, from Montreal, Canada, had some serious star power, from the weirdass fascination of the lead singer, whose entrance was canned

to the hotties on violins, who looked suspiciously like brothers — one of whom sported an ultracool look worthy of a Johnny To movie villian-hero

to the surprise appearance of Despot, a rather small but fast rapper from Queens, who upheld the american way and seemed to be doing some sort of July 4 celebration about two weeks too late.

Riot and Islands built the momentum just right for the featured artist Mr. Twi-ny and I chose to see, having the choice between the excellent Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and Broken Social Scene.

I urged Mr. Twi-ny to check out BSS, whom I love; he responded “Are they one of those dancey things. . .they aren’t too techno, are they?”

of course they are NOT. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, BSS is in the vein of Arcade Fire — a collective of musicians who are a band as much as a bunch of loosely associated people who play together a lot. Feist was one of them. Brendan Canning is one of their guitarists. They have horns, about 4 or 5 more guitarists, and a rotating band of female singers and one main male one.

They are SO MUCH FUN. They did a fantastic version of Ibi Dreams of Pavement, and Fucked up Kid, and Fire Eyed Boy. And their sound swoops like the Cyclone, too, and they stump for Obama, and they bring ecstasy and joy and lots of rhythm and GUITARS, horns, percussionists, random female singers in cool dresses . . .they are known for playing with the musicians who show up. And they do it right.

it was night, it was done, we went home happy. check out ra ra, islands, and bss.

See Coney Island before its gone.

I’m glad I saw it one more time,like this.

Dizzee Rascal, Highline Ballroom, New York, July 18, 2008

British hiphop, rap, grime — The future of Hip Hop — genrefy him anyway you want, but 21-y.o Dizzee Racal is something else, esp live.

Friday night in Manhattan at the small Highline Ballroom, with its impressive soundsystem and functional, comfy vibe, Dizzee arrived about 10 mins before showtime — my concertgoing companion, the lovely Leyla, spotted him entering, with a posse of two and trademark Cap Back.

Bouncing on stage, with DJ Aaron LaCrate and his backup singer, Dizzee gave props to the proper authorities in an RUN DMC black t-shirt and smoking red-and-black hightop Nikes.

He tore into the trademark high-energy highspeed lyrics of Where’s Da G’s, and the show was heavy on more material from his third album, Math + English, including Bubbles, Wanna Be, GHETTO, and a joyous Flex, which got a number of the ladies doing exactly that.

Dizz’s relation to the crowd was a lot more relaxed and playful than that at his May 08 show, just two months ago at Webster Hall.

Probably cuz the crowd at Highline was
1) a lot more knowledgeable bout his music
2) a lot more British (he shouted out to ‘the Brits’ on several occasions, to massive response from at least 1/2 the crowd)
3) a lot more mixed, in age, race, and style
4) a lot better dancers.

Dizz’s formidable intelligence (c’mon, those lyrics are INSANELY smart) is balanced by is impressive confidence and knowledge of and true respect for his forebears. Midway thru the show, a blistering rendition of his first US hit, Fix Up Look Sharp, got good response, but it was his show closer, Dance with Me, that brought down the house. (He was accompanied on stage for the last two songs by three mysterious eminence grise of rap — old guys, one with massive flash and a fine, fine, silver skull-headed cane. Wish I knew more! any IDs from the more knowledgeable are welcome.)

Was a privilege to hear what has topped the British charts for the last 5 weeks, cuz Dance with Me is Dizzee’s mega hit — it got the girls flexing, the bodies bumping, and the Brits cheering.

The crowds don’t show up in NYC for Dizzee like they should – but we’re lucky to get him in small venues. We’d never get near him in Britain!

Wire you still here?



Wire was more referenced than listened to–typical of bands modified by adjectives such as “seminal” “cerebral” “hugely influential” (i.e. weird brainiac art punk)

Pink Flag

Chairs Missing


Not only due to their most excellent post-punk album covers, I love this band. So did the Minutemen, Minor Threat, R.E.M., the guy from Guided by Voices, Robt E. Smith of the Cure, Elastica, Blur, My Bloody Valentine, and Fischerspooner, amongst others.

anyway they are playing for free in nyc @ South Street Seaport on Friday, but no one apparently remembers them but me.

I’m gonna go, but I freely admit I haven’t actually listened to a Wire song for at least 5 years. til now!

anyone out there also recall these guys? south st seaport, here we come!