CMJ 2009

Day 2 - Javelin + The xx + Saul Williams/Afro-Punk Tour

by Stephen Stirling

22 October 2009

The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival invades New York City this week. Here's the latest from PopMatters' writers on the beat. Words and Pictures by Stephen Stirling

Mercury Lounge, New York City
It’s tough to perform electronic music live.  The availability of reliable, touch-sensitive MIDI interfaces has made this somewhat easier, but still, if you don’t have a Daft Punk LED pyramid or a primo sound system it’s difficult to keep people interested if they’re not moving their feet.  But when Javelin began setting up their day-glo boom box collection—which they use to amplify their music using an old FM radio transmitter—I thought for sure they’d have a shot a bucking this trend.  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  Javelin’s 45-minute set was plagued with sound problems that muddied their infectious brand of dance pop from the start.  Couple that with a dead audience and Tom Van Buskirk feeling the need to rap-sing over several songs that had no lyrics to begin with and I had had enough.  Javelin has a few more CMJ shows this year, but I think they need to take a mulligan on this one.

The xx
Mercury Lounge, New York City
I’ll admit it: before I saw the The xx on Wednesday I was already writing the review in my head.  With months of ridiculous hype under their belts, I was sure these guys were going to fall well-short of expectations—a little schadenfreude if you will.  When instead of helping set up its key members—Oliver and Romy—sulked on separate corners of the stage dressed like Robert Smith got into a car accident with Kraftwerk, I was salivating.  But on stage the bass rippled across the floor, the lyrics penetrated under an earnest delivery, and the sparse guitar was elevated by a powerful synth and drum combo.  The xx’s minimalistic brand of R&B was delivered about as well as it could be, leaving me to hastily rewrite the masterpiece slam-session that had unfolded in my head.  Cheers to them.

Saul Williams
Blender Theater at Gramercy, New York City
“The newborn Cyclops has my eye,” Saul Williams uttered straight-faced before bursting into laughter. “See, when you’re a poet you can say shit like that and someone will say ‘yeah, that’s deep.’”  This brief anecdotal interlude—spawned by technical difficulties with Williams’ Dracula meets Star Wars sand person keyboard player—was all the audience had to catch their breath before strapping themselves in.  Headlining the Afro-Punk tour, a traveling freak-circus, Williams is its unabashed ring leader.  Stepping onto the stage he led the crowd in a bedazzled two-hour rocket train ride of chaos.  At a Williams show, clanging guitars, spazzed out drums and helter-skelter synths are all somehow adhere through scattershot vocals.  It’s frenetic to be sure, but Williams drips with passion and sincerity.  The entire scene at the Blender–-supplemented by artists painting a massive mural and a BMX biker pulling off tricks on the dance floor—coalesced perfectly into something not always found at a CMJ show: an experience.


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