CMJ 2009: Day 4 - The Foreign Exchange

The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival invades New York City this week. Here's the latest from PopMatters' writers on the beat. Words by Andrew Martin, Pictures by David Reyneke

As long as The Foreign Exchange is performing, no one can ever even think about showmanship being dead. The eight-piece band that took the stage of B.B. King's Blues Club & Grille on Friday night moved the crowd in a way that few acts are capable. And it all started at 1 a.m. As such, you would think a show starting that late would lend itself to a somewhat less-than-energetic audience. But that was simply not the case--this is New York City we're talking about.

The quartet started up that distinct musical intro that kicks off both Foreign Exchange albums, Connected and Leave It All Behind. But the track they would begin playing was actually off producer-mastermind Nicolay's latest, City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya. And, on cue, out came songstress Carlitta Durand to sing the album's gorgeous opener, "Lose Your Way."

The packed venue erupted when front man Phonte walked onstage with fellow crooners Yahzarah and Darien Brockington to fill out the vocals for "Lose Your Way." Once the track ended, the group launched into an immense performance of LIAB's "House of Cards," one of the album's best cuts. Phonte followed the song up with some of his trademark humor mixed with a bit of preacher-man quotables. "This is not just music, this is revival," he said, then added words like "rejuvenation" and "renewal" while asking us for an "amen." Naturally the crowd hit him with a hearty "amen" along with plenty of laughter before the group played a jazzy, finger-snapping version of "Sweeter Than You."

It was followed by a slick cover of Curtis Mayfield's funky "Gimme Your Love," which Phonte handled with a perfect falsetto. In between verses, the energetic front man introduced each member of the group. And he almost forgot infinitely talented keyboard player Zo!, which brought even more laughs. Phonte then asked the audience to try a radical concept known as "dancin' and singin'" instead of taking photos, texting, or tweeting before a fantastic version of "All or Nothing/Coming Home to You." Tay couldn't help acknowledging that the Foreign Exchange was performing after Bobby Brown, who presumably rocked the house earlier in the night. Thus, fittingly, Phonte plowed through a hilarious mini-cover of "My Prerogative." He and the band then played the first Connected track of the night, "Nic's Groove." The already stellar cut was further propelled by the guest appearance of Tay's Little Brother cohort, Rapper Big Pooh, who killed his verse. And, to make the track even more special, they added in the hook from J Dilla's "Won't Do" as a mini-tribute to the late hip hop luminary.

Unfortunately, this review ends here as we had to duck out early just as "Sincere" was starting up. It wasn't easy leaving such a lively and hands-down fantastic show, but, as commuters, we had a train to catch. I do hope I get the chance to see the Foreign Exchange perform again because the 30 minutes I did catch were absolutely amazing.


Lose Your Way

House of Cards

Sweeter Than You

All Or Nothing/Coming Home to You

Nic’s Groove


I Wanna Know

If She Breaks Your Heart

Take Off the Blues

Come Around



Something to Behold


Raw Life

Life of the Party

Purple Flip

Something About You

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