As the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon kicked off, I found myself at Le Poisson Rouge to check out the tail end of the New Zealand showcase. American pop culture has welcomed NZ folk-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords into its embrace, but there are numerous Kiwi bands that still have to make a splash, from Fat Freddy’s Drop to Anika Moa to Shapeshifter. However the NZ showcase itself has had some success introducing artists like Liam Finn (son of Neil Finn), the Ruby Suns and Lawrence Arabia to audiences in the states. This year’s bill included seven artists, Princess Chelsea, Andrew Keoghan, Pikachunes, the Golden Awesome, Popstrangers, Street Chant, and Cairo Knife Fight, none of which I was familiar with but I had hoped to see simply because of their roots.
An aggressive Auckland trio, Street Chant (formerly Mean Streets), is made up of Emily, Billie and Alex, and they are a band to watch out for. After a successful appearance at CMJ 2010, and picking up a Critic’s Choice Award at the NZ Music Awards, the band was quite welcome back to perform at this year’s CMJ. Their music brought back thoughts of the defunct group Sleater-Kinney (or perhaps the band was on my mind as I knew PopMatters’ writer Corey Beasley was at Wild Flag around the same time) though the drummer was male. Due to some inaudible vocals, I was not able to pick out the songs, but I could tell I wanted to hear more. Performing songs from their debut album Means, Street Chant’s tight performance left me thinking how would the next band fare alongside them?
Cairo Knife Fight closed out the showcase with an explosive performance that was all the more memorable because there were just two members of the band. As the guitar and drum combo built up a level of sound in the dark light and I noticed that drummer Nick Gaffaney was doing the singing — it dawned on me he was looping his sounds. Their three-song set was heavy on the guitar; the first track alone was an instrumental monster (unfortunately the vocals were hard to discern in the mix) that I was not expecting. Guitarist Aaron Tokona hammered away at his instrument. His chords in the third song had hints of classic Guns ‘n’ Roses, and then his headband and swagger made me think of Axl, but the song proved the rock chops of the band as Gaffaney’s rhythms had a few in the audience stomping along.