Friendly Fires | Pianos | 10.23.2008

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Of all the bands I saw at CMJ, Friendly Fires were the only ones to play thier guitar with a Dustbuster. As I've said before, these guys know how to make studio-created dance music interesting live, with loads of live percussion, unusual instrumentation and singer Ed Macfarlane's appealingly new romantic vocal style and spastic dance moves. The songs are pretty good too: the super-funky "On Board"; "Paris," with it's Us-against-the-World romanticism; and the dreamy "Strobe." They continue to refuse to play "Photobooth," maybe their best song, the hope of which will probably have me seeing them again.

MP3Friendly Fires – Photobooth (buy it)

And here's the Aeroplane remix of "Paris" featuring vocals by Au Revoir Simone…

MP3Friendly Fires – Paris (Aeroplane Remix) fdd

And visit Gorilla Vs. Bear for Friendly Fires' cover of Lykke Li's "I'm Good I'm Gone"

Crystal Stilts + Los Fancy Free | The Fader Fort | 10.22.2008

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The Crystal Stilts were scheduled to play but it was clear to me that they weren't going on next. I said as much to the girl and she said, "I think that person is in the band," pointing to a girl on stage wearing what looked like a paint-splattered chef's jacket. "No," I said. "This is definitely not the Crystal Stilts."

Two people took the stage and looked around nervously, and conferred with one of the stage managers at the Fader Fort, who took to the mike and announced for the drummer to please come to the stage. After a couple minutes, one of the two grabbed the mike and said, "We are Los Fancy Free from Mexico City. Our bassist is stuck at the airport and our drummer is here but missing so we are going to just go ahead and play."

What they lacked in members they made up for in enthusiasm. Singer Martin Thulin ran around the stage throwing flamboyant rock poses, climbing on the drums, the speakers, and jumping into the audience. The crowd was baffled but immediately won over, and when the drummer bounded onto stage midway through the second song it errupted in whooping and hollering. And Los Fancy Free reciprocated with hooping and hollering (and banging) of their own — not unlike the weird, sneery L.A. new wave of 1980. The crowd errupted again when the bassist made it from the airport to the stage for the last song. Thulin was beaming. From a technical standpoint the show was a disaster. From a rock n' roll one, it was a rousing sucess. 

MP3Los Fancy Free – Beatles Suit 

No idea what happened with the schedule but the Crystal Stilts did show up to play after Los Fancy Free. Maybe they were getting in an extra hour of sleep after playing till around 5AM the night before at Stereogum's party at Studio @ Webster Hall. Singer Brad Hargett seemed like it was the last place they wanted to be, but it was a pretty good short set nonetheless. In particular, they've got this new songs that I've heard four or five times now but have no idea the name of that is like goth Bo Didley, a 2/4 time bone-rattler that I don't seem to get tired of. Definitely the highlight. Anybody know the name of this one? Stereogum actually caught it on tape at their event:

Crystal Stilts are taking a break from allowing me to stalk them here in NYC to head out on tour with their Slumberland label-mates caUSE co-MOTION for a tour of the West Coast. Go see them if you can. Their debut album, Alight of Night, came out yesterday and is one of my favorites of 2008. 

MP3: Crystal Stilts – The Dazzled

Oct 31 Kenji Shack  Oxnard, California

Nov 1 Che Cafe  San Diego, California

Nov 2 The Echo  Los Angeles, California

Nov 3 House of Nostromo  Oakland, California

Nov 4 Bottom of the Hill  San Francisco, California

Nov 5 Luigi Fun Garden  sacremento, California

Nov 6 Samurai Duck  Eugene, Oregon

Nov 7 Holocene  Portland, Oregon

Nov 8 The Big Room  Olympia, Washington

Nov 9 Chop Suey  Seattle, Washington

Fanfarlo + Real Ones | Fat Baby | 10.25.2008

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Fanfarlo were one of my most-anticipated shows of CMJ 2008 and they did not disappoint. I've been a champion of the band for some time, saw them at SXSW and basically planned the last day of the festival around seeing them. The band — mostly Brits though singer/songwriter Simon Aurell is Swedish — took a day our of recording thier debut album in Connecticut with producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Mates of State) to play their first NYC show at the teeny tiny club Fat Baby.

There were technical issues — they played without an actual bass amp — but I don't think anyone noticed.Fanfarlo's songs are lovely in a Belle & Sebastian sort of way but less Velvet Underground and more sweeping drama (which is probably where the constant Arcade Fire comparisons come in). And Aurell is a unassuming but charismatic frontman. We got about seven songs, including previous releases "Fire Escape," and "You Are One of the Few Outsiders Who Really Understands Us" plus a few new songs I didn't know, including this one…

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I was actually concerned that Fat Baby, which holds about 75 people at max, would sell out and showed up way early. It was fortuitous as I got to see Norwegian group the Real Ones who turned out to be one of my favorite surprises of the week. (Norway did very well at CMJ if you ask me.) Real Ones, who hail from Bergen, are kind of Jens Lekman-y, but in a David Byrne-meets-CSNY sort of way. Just lovely stuff and I had a giant smile on my face the whole time and bought two CDs. Also, they had a sitar player. So do you cart your own sitar from Norway or just rent it here?

MP3Real Ones – Lonesome Town

MP3Real Ones – Ballad of an Old Man

CMJ 2008: Brooklyn Vegan Showcase | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.21.2008

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This was a great way to kick-off CMJ with a solid line-up of up-and-comers, older favorites (relatively speaking) and a few curveballs. I'm a bit biased as a Brooklyn Vegan contributor but this really was the place to be the first night, especially for me as I live mere blocks from the venue.

I've written about Emmy already, so straight to the North Carolina's The Sammies who were odd men out on the bill. They reminded me a lot of stuff I used to play when I was a college radio DJ, the many bands who formed in R.E.M.'s wake. (In fact, their new album was recorded at Mitch Easter's studio, he the man who produced Murmer and Reckoning.) The Sammies don't aspire to be anything more than fun, riff-heavy rock n' roll and in that they succeed. An image makeover could help their rep a bit but it might also make them seem like phonies. I say stay just the way you are.

Speaking of late-'80s college radio, Shearwater are just a smoke machine and some eyeliner away from being a goth band. As a closet goth, I appreciated thier grandiose sound and the melodramatic, operatic vocal stylings of Jonathan Meiburg. They're better live than on record, partly because of drummer Thor, who looks like a Thor and is a multi-instrumentalist who seemed to be a crowd favorite. Not something I'd sit around listening to but they are very good live.

Next up Ponytail. I've seen them a few times and I know some people love them. People who's opinions I respect. But they are not for me. I've actually grown to not hate them since the first time I saw them. But they are not for me.

Passion Pit have gotten pretty popular in the last six months and have a feeling a bulk of the crowd were there to see them — which makes me feel slightly vindicated about my review of their Pianos show where I said "These Bostonians are going to be big." (I got lambasted in the Brooklyn Vegan comments section for that.) Catchy dance music with a strong '70s soft rock undercurrent (Jeff claims they're are basically Chicago; the bassist kind of looks like Rupert Holmes) and a charismatic frontman who should really take singing lessons. He's going to blow out his vocal chords if he keeps up his now-signature shout-yelp-falsetto. But the crowd loves them.

"Singing DJ Jens Lekman" followed — emphasis on "DJing" and not so much on "singing." Once people got their heads around that, they let their hips take over and the dancing commenced in full. When he dropped Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" the whole crowd went nuts and, actually, it was one of the most genuine moments of the night.

The show, like all of them at CMJ this year, was running an hour late and I was intent on hitting too more shows (yes it was after Midnight) so I left after two Phenomenal Handclap Band songs. They were good, what I saw, and look forward to catching a full set soon.

Tons of pictures at Brooklyn Vegan (here and here and here) and reports from all over.

Sky Larkin | Public Assembly | 10.25.2008

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This was the best show I've seen Sky Larkin do yet. The Leeds, UK trio were back in the NY area to film another video from thier anticipated debut album, The Golden Spike. (That is what the internet tells me it's called at least. Certainly no one in the band revealed this.) It was the opening slot on Crashin' In's 12-hour unnofficial CMJ party that boasted perhaps the single best line-up of the whole week. It would've been nice to have them play later in front of more people, but they just sounded great, confident and ready to finally show the world what they've got when the record comes out.

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Speaking of things being out, you can now get the first fruits of The Golden Spike, their new single, "Fossil, I." The 7" is absolutely gorgeous, on white vinyl with an inner sleeve! The arwork is a bit New Ordery if you ask me, which is a good thing. As for the song and recording…what can I say? I rocks. Here's the video which they shot here in NYC this summer:



CMJ 2008: Emmy the Great | Pianos + Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.21.2008

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"Whoa, she's got a keyboard player," I remarked as Emmy the Great was setting up for her first of many CMJ shows at Pianos Tuesday afternoon. I'd seen Emmy play four times previous and at none of them did she have more than a second guitarist and a violin player. But here she had three people backing her. No, four. Wait…five. Oh my god, Emmy the Great are a six piece?

My first thought was "Isn't this overkill?" I always compared her to Billy Bragg or Mary Lou Lord. One of those "less is more" types who just need their well-written songs, a guitar and a voice to win over audiences. Won't drums and a bassist and a keyboard player just make it more difficult to focus on what makes her special? 

Well, yes and no. While there was all that instrumentation, it's not like Emmy became Joan Jett or anything. Drumming was gentle, embellishments tastefull, favoring the song. At Pianos, during the Music Slut party, where the mix was a bit in flux, the vocals got lost a bit in the mix but having heard most of her songs before I didn't mind so much; he set sounded much better at Music Hall of Williamsburg, though her's is really more of a sit-down kind of show.

The band sounded great and it was nice to hear the songs I knew so well in bare-bones form fleshed out a little more, but I don't think I'd have wanted it to be my first impression. She is capable of such turns of phrases, clever but often sad and hit straight to the heart of it, that's what you should hear above all else. But as Heart on a Stick said, any day you get to see Emmy twice is a good one.

Emmy's new single, "We Almost Had a Baby," is out on November 10 and her debut album, First Love, will drop in January. Here's video of Emmy doing "Easter Parade" at Pianos:

CMJ 2008: The Dears | Hiro Ballroom | 10.23.2008

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It may be an almost entirely new line-up but The Dears still got it. Murray Lightburn still gives it his all, and if the new band doesn't quite have the swagger of the line-up I loved of the last four years, they are getting there. It helps that this Dears is touring behind the just-released MISSILES which is light years better than 2006's rushed and murky-sounding (yet still good despite) Gang of Losers, the making and touring of which caused its meltdown. Only Lightburn and keyboardist (and Lightburn's wife) Natalia Yanchak remain, though some of the band played on the new album. 

So here were are at one of NYC's cooler-looking clubs with pro lighting, sound and smoke machines — all of which aid in the Dears' air of epic grandeur. The new band is tight, especially on the MISSILES tracks which make up the bulk of the set. "Dream Job" and the Lightburn-Yanchak duet "Crisis." It was when they dipped into material from the last two records that the difference was apparent. While "Lost in the Plot" and "The Death of All the Romance" sounded right, but without George Donoso going Animal-style on his kit and Patrick Krief's emotive guitar-playing style (again, swagger) you realize what you're missing.

The difference was underlined by Patrick Krief standing at the side of the stage the whole time, singing along to all the new material. He was loving it. I kept wanting him to jump up on stage and grab a guitar. Glad to know there are a few unburnt bridges in the Dears camp. Now I don't want to dis the new lineup — they're very good, especially guitarist Jason Kent who brings the visual panache needed to be in The Dears — it's just when you've seen one band blow you away time and time again for three years, a rebuilt engine takes some getting used to. But when epic MISSILES track "Lights Off" hit the midway point where it takes off into the stratosphere of solos that The Dears are still capable of making the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Like I said, they've still got it.

SETLIST: Disclaimer / Money Babies / Berlin Heart / Crisis I & II / Lost in the Plot / Bandwagoneers / Lights Off / Demons / Whites-Only Party / 22: The Death Of All The Romance / Meltdown in A Major

MP3The Dears – Crisis I & II (Buy MISSILES)

I would also like to say Hiro Ballroom is a great place to see a show — it's a beautiful room, with awesome sound and even better lighting. (Why do most clubs have such crappy lighting?) But with $7 beer and the dreaded Bathroom Attendents, it's not a place I want to hang out. More reviews: Brooklyn Vegan | NY Mag

I shot video of "Dreams" too… take a gander:

CMJ 2008: Casiokids | Cake Shop | 10.25.2008

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I do understand when people say Cake Shop is the best venue in the city. If you are at the very front of the stage and the band you're watching is is bringing it, it can be an amazing show. I experienced a little Cake Shop Joy on Saturday night watching Norway's Casiokids which was maybe the single funnest show I attended the whole week of CMJ.

In Norway, Casiokids' shows involve props, shadow puppets, papier mache heads, streamers and balloons, but judging by this show they don't need all that to make a great party. Armed with a bunch of bargain basement keyboards (most of which were, yes, Casios), homemade shakers (that I thought were bottles of some weird creamy drink till they started shaking them), and a whole lot of enthusiasm, Casiokids barreled through a 25-minute set — once they finally got all their equipment to work. While I'm not so crazy about their 2007 debut, Fuck Midi!, they did mostly new material at Cake Shop and all of it was great. Poppier, funkier, better. 

We got both sides of their new Moshi Moshi double A side, "Gront Lys I Alle Ledd" and "Togens Hule," which is apparently the first Norwegian language single ever released in the UK. Um, hooray? Don't understand a word, but you can dance to it.  My favorite, though, is what will be Casiokids' next single, the name of which I don't know and probably couldn't pronounce if I did. It was at this point that Ketil squeezed through their wall of keyboards, past the monitors and got face-to-face with the crowd, basically standing directly in front of me the whole time. My friend Erin said it looked like I was being serenaded. I don't know about that but this video is pretty up-close and personal. And far too short — my memory card was nearly full:

Here's a MySpace rip of another of the show's highlights, an instrumental called "Fot I Hose":

MP3Casiokids – Fot I Hose

You can download Fuck Midi! from Emusic. I've searched for download stores that have the Moshi Moshi single but nothing's turned up yet but you can stream it on their MySpace, and there's a live version on The Ivy League Sessions. Casiokids, please come back soon!

CMJ 2008: The Muslims | Fader Fort, Pianos, Union Pool | 10.2008

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Was talking to a fellow blogger after seeing The Muslims at the Fader Fort and asked him what he thought. “Unoriginal,” he replied. That’s kind of beside the point, I think. Originality can only get you so far, and it’s OK if you’re playing garage rock if you’ve got songs as good as The Muslims’. Plus, they’ve got the one thing you absolutely cannot fake — attitude. They’ve got bucketfuls of it.

The Muslims played an astounding 10 shows during CMJ and I ended up catching three of them, the best being the technically post-CMJ show at Union Pool on Sunday where the relaxed crowd (which seemed to include every band that hadn’t gone home already) had nowhere else to go and were there just to rock out. It was also a longer show and we got a couple more than the six song set they’d honed for CMJ, including both sides of their new single — “Parsites” and the blazing cover of Spacemen 3’s “Walking With Jesus.” Despite being obviously tired and guitarist Matty McLoughlin having his fingers wrapped in black electrical tape because he’d busted them open repeatedly over the week, with blood spattered all over his guitar, they played like it was their first show of the week.

MP3Muslims – Bright Side 

MP3Muslims – Parasites 

Buy some Muslims, won’t you?

And here’s video I shot of them performing “Beside Myself” at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at Knitting Factory:

CMJ 2008: Róisín Murphy | Mansion | 10.24.2008

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I think my favorite of Roisin Murphy's many costume changes was a plaid jacked that had a life-size deer built into it, which she accessorized with a plaid antler hat. Ms. Murphy had a different outfit for just about every song for her American solo debut at West Side mega-club Mansion. There was also a black feather cape that kind of made her look like a turkey, and a fur coat that resembled angel wings.

I knew that this show had been upgraded from Hiro Ballroom to Mansion but I didn't know how big Mansion was going to be (very big) and how many people were going to be crammed in there (probably 700?). You could not move it was so packed. There were people on the balconies, the stairs, most of them way more dressed up than I was. And most of them were super-fans. Who knew?

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The last time I saw her she was playing Knitting Factory on Moloko's first tour. This was much more of a production. Back-up singers, full band, projections, and those insane outfits. But Murphy has enough personality  – not to mention those pipes — that she could have wowed us wearing a potato sack. She seemed to be loving every minute of it and the crowd recipricated. We got almost a two-hour show, mostly from Murphy's 2007 album, Overpowered (one of my Best of the Year picks), including "You Know Me Better," "Let Me Know" and "Dear Miami." My favorite moment was "Primitive," which got a hard rock ending that really worked, and Roisin can bang her head with the best of them.

I wish we'd gotten some different songs off her first solo album that "Ramalama" and "Ruby Blue" but the album's herky-jerky rhythms might have made a difficult translation to her current dance workout asthetic. (Still, it would've been nice to hear "Sow Into You" and "If We're In Love") And the crowd woulda went bonkers for "Sing it Back" but I don't think anyone left thinking she didn't give it her all.

SETLIST: Cry Baby / You Know Me Better / Checking up / Dear Miami / Primitive / Ruby Blue / Movie Star / Forever More / Let Me Know / Overpowered / ENCORE: Tell Everybody / Ramalama

MP3Roisin Murphy – Overpowered 

MP3Roisin Murphy – So Into You

There are more, out-of-focus pictures (damn smoke machines baffle my Powershot's autofocus) on my Flickr. Buy some of Roisin's music won't you? Overpowered is finally going to get a U.S. release in January and word is she'll be back for an actual American tour in March.