The city seemed a bit cleared out with vacationing New Yorkers, but 30 clubs across town were booked with over 300 bands for the inaugural CBGB Festival. At the Canal Room in Tribeca, the quintet Printers Row opened the showcase with their casual approach to performance. This young band from Chicago played loud, layered pop rock that seemed well rehearsed but loose enough to look like fun. Most of the members met in high school and the band is named after a street in a familiar college town, as their collegiate clothing suggested was not too long ago. The set brought a playing in the basement vibe that would rattle the whole house.
Singer/songwriter Shayfer James took to the stage next, playing a plastic wrapped keyboard with a bass player to back up harmonies and an overly emphatic drummer. James’ voice is inflected with a soulful ache, though a melodramatic character obscures his musical presentation. Wearing a vest over a black t-shirt and a fedora, his stage persona borders on a cabaret style, with acappella introductions and story telling breaks between songs. He has released an EP and two full length albums; the most recent is Counterfeit Arcade (November 2011). Lyrics about nightmares and fairy tales just added to the musical theatre element, singing a repeated chorus how “I will never deserve peace” due to trouble in the bones. The trio moved through funky jams and ballads with a confident vendetta to bring things to a close.
Ben Taylor brought his genetically altered vocal pipes to the showcase with a strong backing band of bass, drums and guitar. Being the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon certainly brings blessings and curses (or naysayers), and Taylor stood center stage with a tentative manner suggesting he’s uneasy with mantle. Dressed in overly casual clothes under a knit cap and over-sized glasses, he still cradled a white sparkly guitar befitting a rock star. Taylor alluded to being “lucky and spoiled” in the same soft-spoken drawl of his father. And while the band members were tight and seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage, the group approached the gig like stellar studio musicians.
With three albums and two EPs over the course of his career, Taylor is getting ready to release another album, Listening, this August. He explained how you don’t really hear a song until you play it live, so new compositions were coming into being during the set. Taylor then introduced the reggae flavored funk of “Dirty,” with a cue to the lyrical content about going to New Orleans. A song about his eleven-year old twin brothers, “Oh Brother,” is a shimmering song of familial love over an easy groove. Repeating a chorus “You Got to Shine On, Shine On, Shine On,” it just made the audience wonder how he could reflect some of those feelings back to himself.