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CMJ 2006 Artist Showcases: Day 1, 31 October 2006

Jennifer Kelly, Megan Milks, Dan Nishimoto, Andrew Phillips, and Steve Stirling

Under the blood-red moon of All Hallows Eve, thousands of musicians, industry vets, and frantic fans wandered the New York City streets like zombies, bound by an insatiable lust for the sweet manna of music. We too were on a search for blood, dipping in and out of the shadows to chronicle the meanderings of the night’s most dynamic and criminally despicable creatures. Some slayed; some fell prey to the demons of mediocrity. Others proved that a good trick can be a hell of a treat.


Amiina, Metalchicks


The Bird and the Bee, C.L. Smooth & J. Period, Dres, The Eames Era, Jason Forrest Band, Freddie Foxxx, The Glaciers, Gutbucket, Killa Kela, Stephanie McKay, The Presets, IV Thieves


A.G. and DJ Design, The Cardigans, Death Ships, Ima Robot, Juggaknots, Peter & the Wolf, The Rapture, The Rosewood Thieves, Stetsasonic, Stimulus, Voyager One


The Format, Ill Out Crew, One Man Machine, The Rejectionist Front

Belles of the Ball

AMIINA @ Joe's Pub

A four-woman, string-based multi-instrumental group from Iceland, Amiina is a favorite of Sigur Ros -- the quartet played strings for ( ) -- and that in itself says a lot. Similar to Jaga Jazzist in style and My Invisible in instrumentation, their compositions take time to bloom, but, when they invariably do, the result is breathtaking. As a listener, you know the theme is heading somewhere but are taken deliciously aback when it gets where it’s going. Songs start with a few violin chords or a laptop drone, building seamlessly into a full orchestral snowstorm, with each musician playing at least four instruments per composition. Electric violin, viola, and cello typically form the base, and other instruments include harmonium, bells, marima, xylophone, voice, and (the best) wine glasses and a toothless saw (not together). Speaking to the sheer magnitude of pedals, wires, amps, and instruments on stage, the cellist's confession that she had forgotten her mandolin in the dressing room drew a laugh from the audience. It was hardly missed.

Multiple songs [MySpace]

METALCHICKS @ Knitting Factory Main Stage

They look harmless enough, Buffalo Daughter's Sugar Yoshinaga slinging her guitar over one slender shoulder, Yuka Yoshimura (ex DMBQ and OOIOO) in pigtails trying out a few preliminary drum fills. But don't let it fool you: Metalchicks came to destroy. From the first fracturing, buzzsaw onslaught of guitar and clattering, cacophonous all-over-the-kit drum beat, their transcendent bouts of noise and rhythm rock to the core. Sugar maxes out the distortion, high fractured notes glinting like mica in the her solid rock drone, but she also takes steps back to let Yuka play, grooving on the rhythm as her partner locks hi-hat with tom-tom barrages. Mostly non-verbal, Sugar lets the metal do the talking, except for one jungle-y, savage interlude which she punctuates with chants of "We are the warriors." Warriors, indeed. (JK)

Multiple songs [MySpace]

Honorable Mention

THE BIRD AND THE BEE @ Hiro Ballroom

"We are undead this evening," chirps lead singer Inara George as she calls attention to the painful bruises and deep gashes lacerating the four statuesque ladies and two lanky gentlemen of the Bird and the Bee. Instead of summoning organ elegies or funereal marches, though, the band drifts in on an organ riff and a California Dream. Drawing on the sharp tone of Carole King, the rhythmic shudder of Sheila Jordan, and the pomo wit of a foul-mouthed rocker, the group is an indie-boy wet dream -- right down to the Olive Oyl figures and its obsessive web of influences. (DN)

Multiple songs [MySpace]

C.L. SMOOTH & J. PERIOD @ B.B. King's

Keeping step with Dres (see below), C.L. Smooth, the velvet-voiced inheritor of Pete Rock's legacy, strolls out to the high-life sunshine of Roy Ayers. Like others in this showcase, the crowd slows C.L.'s roll, and he has to implore them several times to match his energy as he races through a varied set of Return of the Mecca classics, new solo joints (American Me), and "covers" (notably "King of Rock)." Interesting note: C.L. keeps the references to Pete Rock in the Mecca material. Sounds like Corey still got love for the Chocolate Boy Wonder. (DN)

Multiple songs [streaming]

DRES @ B.B. King's

Despite sensing the disappointment at other lackluster performers and erratic energy levels, Dres strolls onstage with a welcome cool. The lead emcee of Black Sheep and Native Tongue's sixth man, he quells the agitated crowd with a confidence (and a Mr. Rogers-like cardigan) heretofore unseen this evening. He runs through his share of new material (yes, he, has a new album out today; it's called 8WM/Novocaine), but sans the hyperactivity of his peers. By the time he closes with, what else, "Choice is Yours" he has the crowd eating out of his hand instead of wondering, "Where's Mr. Lawnge?" (DN)

THE EAMES ERA @ Knitting Factory Tap Room

Frontwoman Ashlin Phillips -- a red-headed Betty Boop in a micromini -- cavorted and shimmied through their set of soda-pop fizzy songs, evoking ‘80s girl-fronted outfits like Katrina and the Waves and Martha and the Muffins. Thundering dance beats, exuberant "ba-ba-bas" and handclaps kept spirits high -- and, we assume in honor of Halloween -- one guitarist strode the stage in a giant chicken suit. Fowl? Hardly. (JK)

Multiple songs [MySpace]

JASON FORREST BAND @ Knitting Factory Main Stage

Cut-and-click master Jason Forrest has taken a hard shift towards the rock, linking beats, hip-hop metal, prog and comedy. His new band comes out in costume, wicked-cute keytarist Elizabeth sporting a giant cardboard sun mask, guitarist Ethan in a priest's collar, and Forrest himself wrapped in a big white sheet. "We're the father, the sun, and the holy ghost," Forrest explains finally, but not before ripping through a couple of beat-driven rampages, embellished by raps and punctuated by metallic frenzies. You have never seen a "metal face" until you've seen it on a pretty woman in a giant sun hat. (JK)

Multiple songs [MySpace]


Commenting on a minor scuffle that breaks out mere seconds before his set, Freddie Foxxx laughs, "You know I'm a bad motherfucker when the white girls are fighting!" Oh, Bumpy. That said, Foxxx is paradoxically the most disciplined and easy-going of the night's performers. He opens with a thorough statement of intent, mapping out exactly what he’s going to do. He then proceeds to wander in and out of songs, joking with the crowd ("Don't go on MySpace tomorrow, writing about how Freddie Foxxx threatened the crowd"). Foxxx wins the prize for most memorable set closer: a rendition of "R.N.S. (Real Nigga Shit)" which includes a pass for white people to sing along "for the next four minutes." Oh, Bumpy, indeed. (DN)

Multiple songs [MySpace]

THE GLACIERS @ Knitting Factory Old Office

Fronted by husband-and-wife duo Jackie Linge and Ian Stynes, this folk-rock outfit ushered in November appropriately. Cool, soft, and simple melodies complemented by an atmospheric steel guitar and cello accompaniment gave the Knitting Factory’s typically claustrophobic Old Office a warm, welcoming ambience. While not groundbreaking, the Glaciers provided a pleasantly soft pillow to lie on as Linge’s neatly toned vocals sang the Marathon’s inaugural night to sleep. (SS)

Multiple songs [MySpace]


Who knew Gutbucket was the antidote to the awful hardcore bullyfest the band's name seems to imply? An avant-garde instrumental quartet fronted by an alto sax player, Gutbucket brought so much energy to the stage that their musical virtuosity almost came off as extra. But such musicianship must be noted: the sax player completely ripped his solos, the bass guitarist proved beyond finger-nimble, and the drummer understood that snare/hi-hat minimalism is the best foundation for the wizardry. (MM)

Multiple songs [MySpace]

KILLA KELA @ B.B. King's

Appearing in a cameo role during one of many unfortunately long set breaks, British beatboxer Killa Kela bounds onstage in an attempt to prove that Rahzel is not the end-all of hip-hop "vocalists." Juggling beats, scratching lines, and fading tracks in and out are just a part of his normal repertoire, but he moves through it quickly and professionally, building momentum for the next performer... which is promptly lost when another delay occurs. (DN)

Multiple songs [MySpace]


Now, here's a proper way to start off the festivities. Stephanie McKay saunters onto the cozy Hiro Ballroom stage backed by a young'n four-piece group and eases into a brief set of nickelbag funk and soul. Admittedly, such a cramped space and quiet slot seems unworthy of a veteran Bronx-born singer who has collaborated with New York luminaries like Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Carl Hancock Rux, and recorded her first album McKay under the guidance of Portishead's Geoff Barrow. Regardless, she transforms the liquid funk from her upcoming album into earthy Bill Withers comfort food and Gil Scott-Heron-style observational brew. Nothing mind-blowing, but it’s familiar in all the right ways. (DN)

Tell It Like It Is [Real | Windows]

THE PRESETS @ Bowery Ballroom

The Presets are trying to bring electro back, with an Australian accent to boot. The duo owned the Bowery with a set better than the ideal Fischerspooner album (excise the moody tone pieces and build everything up to the intensity of "Emerge"). What makes the Presets more than just another DJ set is really the live drumming, with Kim Moyes bringing a heavy, hip-swerving swagger to every beat. On the other side of the stage, paying homage to the Crocodile Hunter with khakis and mullet wig, keyboardist and vocalist Julian Hamilton did toneless vocals as well as Paul Banks, ripping into every word and building intensity as he went. So yeah, okay, the lyrics are forgettable, as most dance tracks go, but the beats are the best kind of dark and bombastic. (MM)

Multiple songs [Streaming]

IV THIEVES @ Knitting Factory Main Stage

Nic Armstrong's Nottingham-by-way-of-Austin four-piece cranks out large-scale rock ‘n' roll a la Oasis and Supergrass, the sort of sound meant for triumphant arenas -- even if it is somehow shoe-horned onto the Knitting Factory's small-ish stage. Armstrong struts and prances, flanked by red-haired and impassive Glynn Wedgewood (he's taken some cues from Andy Gill) and raffish Shane Lawlor on bass. If rock ‘n' roll needs saving any time soon, songs like "You Don't Love What You Can't Understand" and "Catastrophe" may do the trick. When the last cut is announced as a Nic Armstrong & the Thieves cover, the joke's on you. It's the same band. (JK)

Multiple songs [MySpace]

Nice Try, Guy

A.G. AND DJ DESIGN @ B.B. King's

Bounding on stage without a sound check and insisting that the sound engineer "turn the mic up" when the overall sound is screaming bloody red are hardly hallmarks of professional decorum. However, such unbridled energy is precisely why New York never lost "it." The real problem is this show’s disorganization. Artists either get cut off or do not know how to pace their set. Long breaks between sets are filled with meandering commentary. And the next artist just... appears. So, when famed D.I.T.C. Napoleon-like capo A.G. bum rushes the stage to the tune of his new album Get Dirty Radio (which, coincidentally, also dropped today), who really feels inspired to "cop that shit?" (DN)

THE CARDIGANS @ Knitting Factory Main Stage

The fetching Nina Persson clambered on stage after a long break -- how long does it take to sound check one acoustic guitar? -- looking and sounding fabulous in this acoustic set, which was drawn solely from the band's last two albums. Intimate arrangements put the focus on her survivor-strong and blues-y voice, which skewed to mainstream-country styling in tunes like "Live and Learn", "Feathers and Down", and "Don't Blame Your Daughter." Persson's charming Swedish-accented patter broke up long tuning intervals, but her set felt more slick than intimate. (JK)


After an afternoon of panels that frequently referred to "image," Death Ships appeared refreshingly imageless -- just some regular-looking dudes from Iowa City. The band seems to be working the Heartland angle pretty strong, with decent results. The first few tunes were out of tune -- couldn't tell if it was the lead singer's guitar, his voice or both, but something in there needed radical adjustment. Fortunately, when the lead guitarist broke out a lapsteel and started in with the twanging, the mix settled in, and we were treated to some uplifting melodic roots-rock. The vocalist, alternately channeling Bruce Springsteen and Todd Park Mohr, is the weakest link here: he needs to develop a more consistent and compelling vocal style if he wants to get anywhere. (MM)

IMA ROBOT @ Sin- é

Over at the showcase was Ima Robot, a band I flirted with four years ago. I ended up buying their first album in one of my only record-buying purchases that year, and then, disappointed with the empty flashiness, determined never to buy another untested album again, ever. Checking up on them after they've won some modicum of success, it's clear they’re still riddled with the same problems -- great beats, catchy choruses, a lot of flash, a lot of energy, but absolutely nothing to say. Vocalist Alex Ebert wore what amounted to Tarzan underwear and glitter as he jitter-jumped around the stage with charisma that needed a bigger audience to absorb it. As it was, the performance was (literally) more glitter than substance: another band with huge style and little to back it up. (MM)


On one hand, here's a group that actually paid attention to the 'theme' of the eve by paying its respects to Prince Paul, the man of the hour. On the other, only one member, Breezily Brewin, of the Bronx-based family/group has an explicit connection with Paul, so the set becomes a solo excursion. Which is hardly a bad thing: Brewin runs through highlights from Prince Paul's hip-hop "musical" Prince Among Thieves, demonstrating the emcee chokehold that initially earned him the Prince's respect. However, the segment of the crowd familiar with the 'knots clearly came expecting the whole group. In other words, "Clear Blue Skies" and an abbreviated set of new material are not ways to win over a crowd. (DN)

PETER & THE WOLF @ Knitting Factory Tap Room

Red Hunter takes the floor -- not the stage -- in an elaborate feathered hat, clutching a single-stringed, bowed instrument called and eiko and surrounded by an entourage. As he scrapes out the dissonances of a three-part song cycle, his merry band (three players, zero traditional instruments) bang the floor, tap plastic beer cups, and scratch instrument cases with keys. One female, masked to the neck, writhes catlike at Hunter's feet. Despite occasional bursts of flamenco-style guitar, the whole performance feels ungrounded, unearthly, inexplicable, but, at the same time, strangely irresistible. (JK)

THE RAPTURE @ The Bowery Ballroom

Give them bonus points for appearing in skeleton costumes and opening their set with a choreographed dance to “Monster Mash,” but The Rapture just aren’t cutting it with their new material. While the energetic four-piece were brilliant while performing tracks from the still stellar Echoes, several showings from their latest LP, Pieces of the People We Love felt flat and awkward. Check back with these guys after six months of touring and maybe it’ll be a different story. (SS)

THE RAPTURE @ The Bowery Ballroom

During the front half of the Rapture's set, Luke Jenner's (too-high, nasal) pitch came off as overly grating and seemed nothing more than a call for bassist Matt Safer -- by far the best thing the band has to offer -- to get more vocal opportunities. Case in point: the Safer-fronted "Sister Savior" hit so beautifully it was like the storm had passed. The storm of histrionics, that is, and I don't know what that alto sax was doing in there for the first few tracks, but it was overkill. Too much upper-end stuff in the mix; the melody desperately needed to get pulled out from under. (MM)


NYC country rockers and Vetiver pals, the Rosewood Thieves brought double Gibson guitars, an array of soft-spoken keyboards, pickless bass and malleted drums to convey their understated roots-rock message. Midset, lead singer Erick Jordan said the set was like a dream he had where the band was playing at a mall, people shuffling by not giving a shit. Rosewood Thieves' solid songs drew a middling crowd though…you want to see apathy, wait until Saturday. (JK)


An appropriate coda to what was supposed to be Prince Paul's night, the original hip-hop band takes the stage for an impromptu set. With the passing of former member Fruitkwan (whom Paul recognized throughout the evening by wearing an old Gravediggaz jacket) and the general inactivity of most of the group's members, this 'reunion' of five (Daddy-O, Wise, Bobby Simmons, MC Delite, and Paul) of the original seven bears traces of rust and wear. But, the group has enough enthusiasm to power well through hits ("Talkin' All That Jazz", "Sally") and some dance routines. Hardly the reunion to write home about, but good enough for the first day of a marathon. (DN)

STIMULUS @ B.B. King's

Stimulus can do his thing -- rhyming to us a "King's County Tale" while cutting his own records in true J-Live-style multitasking form -- but his writing is reminiscent of the Last Emperor's "Secret Wars," all name checking with little of GZA's jacking-for-references panache ("Labels," anyone?). His flow is fine and his presence at times warm, but as a performer he’s largely disengaging. The talk of the evening was "lackoffunditis." Hardly. My diagnosis: a classic case of Igotsomuchonmymindbutcan'teditmyselfitis. (DN)

VOYAGER ONE @ Knitting Factory Tap Room

If the name didn't clue you in, the epic washes of guitar and synth based sounds will: Voyager One is space rock with a capital S. Wearing muted shades of grey, these Seattle psyche-gazer vets churned a roiling, darkwave drone out of pedal-altered guitars, pounding basslines, and spooky synthesizer drones. Singer Jeremy Koepping dedicated "The People's Candidate" to drinkers in the audience, his cool and echoey voice intoning "Alcohol... in your blood" while guitarist Peter Marchese coaxed luminous textures out of guitar echo and feedback. Time for another drink. (JK)

Bathroom Breaks

THE FORMAT @ Knitting Factory Main Stage

Arizona's the Format have toured with big-name emo acts like Jimmy Eat World and Yellowcard, ping-ponged between major and indie labels, and flirted in every other possible way with mainstream success. Why? The tail end of their likeable-enough set featured a gentle bit of acoustic picking, then nose-dived into a note-for-note cover of the Kinks' whimsical "Ape Man". Note to middling bands: don't set yourself up for Kinks comparisons. It’ll only end in a bathroom break. (JK)

ILL OUT CREW @ B.B. King's

Want to know why "hip-hop is dead?" Because sorely under-recognized producer Prince Paul is stuck doing an unpaid satellite radio gig. Sure, the Ill Out Crew -- a group of old chums (e.g., Don Newkirk) and new-school faces (e.g., Mr. Dead) that share the producer's irreverent personality and taste in music -- make Paul's show on XM a rare wonder. But, for all the producer's humility and good spirit (the show was about giving his friends time to shine... perhaps too much), for all his creativity and vision, and for all the dope fucking records he has made, his genius is quickly forgotten when his posse checks in at the party lit up like New Year's Eve and actin' like fools. Dante, where the fuck were you at? (DN)

ONE MAN MACHINE @ The Delancey

I don’t want to completely trash these guys, but... I do. Billed as Afro-punk, One Man Machine is actually a four-man machine, though the frontman's narcissism clearly controls the show. Backed by lugubrious bass riffs and two drummers, Bernard Pearce spent the set shitting growls, yowls, and mumbles into the mic when he wasn't emitting extraneous flourishes on a muted trumpet. If this sounds interesting to you, well, put it this way: It's like the worst of the Mars Volta (who, within their excess, rawk) without any hooks or payoffs. Come on, guys; show some restraint.


Maybe there was a joke here I didn't get. The Rejectionist Front exhibited so much wrongness that the absurdity kept me there irresponsibly long. First off was the weird disconnect between the "Rock to Save Darfur" premise and the maniac rock being played. The vocalist, whose speaking voice featured a pronounced Brooklyn hip-hop accent, took on a just-as-pronounced southern sound a la Lynyrd Skynyrd, along with sneer and maniacal gleam. Pair that with an Arabian sultan Halloween costume, a slideshow of photographs from Darfur, and stage banter like, "Look inside for a 9/11 parable... if you dare," and you get one painfully confused tone. Are we making fun of the crisis in Darfur? Are we parodying benefit shows? Are we totally fucking clueless as to the history of music since 1975? No idea. I think I'll go use the toilet. (MM)

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