Lawrence, Kansas noise-rockers, Boo and Boo Too were a bit overambitious to kick off CMJ musically for me. Trying a bit too hard to sound like the band whose venue they were playing (A Place to Bury Strangers), their songs came off as a watered down wall of noise. As the set went on the music gained more composure, and the rhythm section held it down while the guitars and vocals relied on the high end for an unpleasing static freak-out. Don’t get me wrong—that sound is right up my alley (I plan on attempting to withstand the brutal assault of Psychic Paramount later this week), but this music had no life to it.
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Hip-Hop Renaissance: A Cultural Rebirth @ NYU Kimmel Center (Ft. Q- Tip, Jon Carmanica, Amanda Diva, Chuck Inglish, Nekessa Moody, Mikey Rocks, & Asher Roth
Although the panels weren’t at the top of my priority list this week, a chance to see Q-Tip and the Cool Kids speak together about the cultural rebirth of hip-hop is a no-brainer. The most interesting aspect they tackled was the impact of the internet within hip-hop, and how it can create illusions of grandeur—i.e. with the Cool Kids. They spoke about how, despite all their MySpace hits and the hyped reviews of their record, going out into the real world and playing was the actual test for them. Q-Tip spoke a lot about wishing hip-hop would get back to the music and stop being so much about the big business and the empire it has created. All in all, a worthy first stop in the CMJ Marathon.
The Swedish siren Lykke Li arrived at CMJ on a wave of anticipation and praise. Her debut album, Youth Novels, was produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, warranting some attention. So her headlining showcase—emphasis on headlining—was greeted by throngs of teenage girls eager to sing along with their musical muse. (Fittingly she dedicated her last song “Breaking It Up” to all the girls, and gay men, who had dumped bad boyfriends.)
Though Li’s album—aside from her voice—is full of wistful but stripped-down melodies and rhythms, live she was as rhythmic as a Stomp understudy, marching around the stage in ankle boots and trashing an adjacent cymbal during “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Let it Fall”. (She had a drum stick in her hand for the first half of the set.) The music was also noticeably rhythm oriented, with a resounding live drummer. Still, her three band members propped up Li’s innocuous vocals so that they could shine in their doll-like idiosyncrasies. Onstage, however, Li is dominating, showing sass and control, even whipping out a bullhorn at one point into which she sweetly sung for a rotary-speaker type effect.
If anyone questioned whether her album had enough depth or not, this live performance quickly silenced them by showing off her fragility, playfulness, and might all at once. Moreover she ended the night with “Can I Kick It?”, a surprising cover for a Swedish pop starlet, winning over the home crowd.
What can I say, except that Friendly Fires took the Bowery Ballroom by complete surprise and ran away with the show. Completely maximizing their allotted time, the group was in it to win it from the downbeat of “Photobooth” to the last echo of their dust-buster-fueled feedback (you can’t make this stuff up!). And the crowd was both awed and thrilled to see such maniacal dancing by lead singer Ed Macfarlane after a comparatively listless performance by Miles Benjamin. Relentless in their energy and hip shaking, they charged through catchy tune after catchy tune from their eponymous debut album.
Most electrifying was “On Board”, which seemed to charge the lead singer both sexually and emotionally, leading him to jump and thrust uncontrollably yet perfectly in time with his drummer—not to mention the percussionist with whom he always made time for a cowbell breakdown. Macfarlane was also intent on getting the audience on board with Friendly Fires and their infectiously concocted sound that mixed Prince, LCD Soundsystem, and Beck’s Midnite Vultures aesthetic and tropical beats, airdropped onto the dance floor and was readily devoured.
It’s the “sound that you hear in the moment…” sang Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson on the opening number of his seemingly impromptu set. But it wasn’t improvised, just hastily thrown together amid spilled beers and cocktails. Announcing that he and his band, the Family Robinson, were going to play “some stuff you’ve probably never heard before,” there was an air of uncertainty throughout their brief set. One could feel the audience grimace as Robinson treated the performance as a time slot, as opposed to opening band, and they didn’t necessarily warm up to his jester-like stage presence.
Overall Robinson abandoned the grizzled folk sound of his eponymous debut, opting for grunge, guitars, and feedback to accompany his aged vocals. Despite some shoddy sound mixing, his earnest, weathered, jaded vocal style alleviated any angst in his grungy new tone. Mostly a pounding bass drum persisted in each of his songs, suggesting more new wave than folk. But Robinson and his band did sound good when everything chilled out and he could play around with inebriated or just phantom guitar lines, where only his left hand made shadows of actual plucked notes. That, and also when he sang rusty vocals with a damning conviction over a simple chord.