CMJ is over and I’m exhausted, both physically and mentally. What a whirlwind last week was! Throughout the course of 4 days I saw live shows from nearly 20 artists, with dozens more that I desperately wanted to see but couldn’t because I am but one man with one body! Still, though- 20!? INSANITY! The diversity of the acts I saw was impressive, especially considering my feet were firmly planted at the same venue all 4 days—Webster Hall, located in Manhattan’s East Village. Throughout the week, I played witness to a myriad of different musical styles and genres from an array of artists; some on indie labels, some on majors, some unsigned. There were some artists that I knew—in fact some that I sought out specifically but there were also some I did not know. Often times, it was these artists that impressed me the most.
For me, last week was one of musical discovery and awakening but it also set into motion something else. CMJ 2015 brought me some clarity. I want—no I NEED to jump into the music world full time and immerse myself in every facet of its complicate, stressful yet exhilarating existence. #life goals
Before I launch into a recap of some of my favorite acts from CMJ, I’d like to first acknowledge the professional staff and servers at Webster Hall. My last CMJ experience at Santos Party House, while enjoyable, was marred by a massive delay which set off a chain reaction of massive delays throughout the night. I was fully expecting that to happen again this year, and while there were a number of small delays, nearly every showcase I attended went off without a hitch. Webster Hall has three stages and is run by Bowery Presents, a concert promotion/venue management organization so you gotta think they know what they’re doing. Security was prompt and efficient (from what I noticed/experienced), servers were courteous and friendly (again–personal experience), lighting and sound (for the most part) were on point, stage lighting looked phenomenal and there were minimal technical difficulties. When I first moved to New York City, Webster Hall was an early favorite of mine for live music. After this CMJ showcase I have to say it’s creeping it’s way back up to the top.
Now for the musical highlights—My first showcase of the week was hosted by Balcony TV in the Marlin Room—Webster Hall‘s 600 capacity space. I admittedly purchased tickets solely to see Alex Winston but upon reviewing the entire bill, decided to come early and stay late(ish). I strolled in just in time to hear Brooklyn-based indie-pop singer/songwriter Ryan Egan singing “Between The Pages” off his debut EP, Postures (iTunes). While the crowd was a little thin this early in the evening, Egan didn’t hold back vocally–giving his first live show to date his absolute all, backed by a full 4-piece band and some support in the front row. Next up was EVVY, an artist I’d only heard of but never actually listened to. EVVY delivered an energetic performance, her style a mix of ethereal electronic and indie pop music. What impressed me most about EVVY was her vocals, especially now listening back to her recorded music for the first time. Girl can really SING. While the studio recordings of her songs are catchy and certainly showcase her talent, you don’t really get a sense of how well she can sing until you see her live. Check out her latest single, “Tidal Wave” which is out now.
Other highlights of the evening include Alex Winston, who, backed by 1/3 of her band (no drummer) sang through the entirety of her brilliant new 3-song EP, The Day I Died drenched in shimmery-80s vibes. While I was hoping to hear “Careless,” CMJ sets are often times too short to hear everything you want to hear and I get that. I had the pleasure of meeting Alex after the show and she was an absolute joy and so sweet. Check out “Dead End,” one of the songs from her EP (out on iTunes) and a live highlight for me. FEMME was another standout of the night for me, bringing along her trademark style and spunk all the way from the UK. While I am unfamiliar with her back catalog, I was surprised to hear so much Motown-influence in her sound—which culminated in a lovely live rendition of Aretha Franklin‘s “Respect” FEMME‘s more recent releases come off as a bit more edgy electronic pop than throwback soul pop but a good portion of her live show was filled with the latter—definitely not complaining! From the sound of it, her forthcoming debut album is going to be a mix of vibes. When all was said and done, FEMME left me completely smitten and a new fanboy. Live, she was emanating pure electricity on that stage.
For Day 2 of CMJ, I was invited to attend Black Panda PRs official showcase (also at the Marlin Room) and my GOD, what a night that was. First things first, credit to Amanda Charney—CEO of Black Panda for putting on a spectacular showcase. Not only did she have her own artists to worry about, but she was also giving face time to ALL of the journalists in attendance, not to mention friends and family PLUS she found time to play emcee. Impressive to say the least. Going into this showcase, I didn’t know what to expect. While I was looking forward to seeing Secret Weapons, and Olivver The Kid—I didn’t really know any of the others. But hey, this is what CMJ is all about, right? It’s a live music discovery tool, so I went looking to discover some new music…and boy did I ever.
By the time I arrived, first act of the night, NY-based alt-indie-pop quintet herMajesty was just finishing up their set. While I only managed to catch the tail-end of their LAST song, it sounds like they put on a dazzling display, as evidenced by the review over on Pancakes & Whiskey. Next time guys! One easy highlight for me was Tribe Society. Going into CMJ, I really only knew about the this band’s collaboration with Kiesza—EASILY one of my favorite new acts to come out of the woodwork these past few years. While the flame-haired 90s-loving songstress wasn’t present for the show, lead singer Gavin McDevitt more than made up for it with his passionate, powerful live vocals and spirited stage presence. Secret Weapons hit the stage next after a bit of a delay, but the way they were welcomed to the stage, you never would have guessed they came on late. The band played a few songs, closing of course with their debut single, “Something New” (out now via iTunes) which premiered at the end of last month over at Neon Gold. The Brooklyn-based duo brought an abundance of passion and soul onto the stage, as well as a lot of gratitude. The boys—Gerry and Dan, grateful for their fans, but they also had nice things to say about Amanda and the Black Panda PR team. Humility is something I like to see in a fast-rising new act and these guys have humility to spare. Catch these guys opening for Nate Ruess next month in Portland ME (11/15), Montreal (11/17) and South Burlington VT (11/19) and with A Great Big World in New York City on November 18th. Visit their website for details.
Other impressive acts that night—New York-based Alt-rocker Atarah Valentine, who to me, looked very much like a Calvin Klein model with his long brown hair, boyishly handsome face and slim yet toned, tatted body. When this guy opens his mouth however, all of that boyishness vanishes, replaced with grit, grime and manic energy you’d expect to see in a rock star. Rock music was heavily represented at this showcase, and while I’m definitely more of a electronic pop boy I’m always down for a little guitar, maybe some drums and of course that trademark rock and roll snarl-growl-roar, let out by a handsome bearded lead singer. Asbury Park, NJ based rockers The Mosers delivered on all fronts here, with lead singer Mike Pellegrino delivering an electrically charged vocal performance. Catch these guys on tour with Young Rising Sons later this month through the end of November.
Hands down, one of my most anticipated performances that night was that of Olivver The Kid (AKA Bryan Sammis) and boy did he deliver. He was there to promote his forthcoming EP, The Boy Who Cried Wolf (out on iTunes); a beautiful 5-track collection that blends traditional pop-rock with sparkling electronic production, all complemented by Bryan’s hard-around-the-edges / soft-in-the-middle vocal style. Highlight of my evening with Olivver The Kid was a live mashup of new song “BBBlue” (one of my FAVs on the EP) with Drake and Majid Jordan‘s 2013 hit, “Hold On We’re Going Home” (STILL one of my favorite songs). With his pink hair, black leather jacket and jeans this guy was the epitome of a rock star. I’m ready for a full-length album right now please. Listen to “BBBlue” below.
The last two performances of the evening came courtesy of two New York-based acts; pop-rock outfit, East Love and singer/songwriter Anna Rose. After a raucous evening of rock music, it was nice to hear something a little lighter and the vocal harmonies the boys of East Love were serving up certainly set the mood. While their set was sprinkled with their own original material, highlights for me included 2 covers—including their own soulful rendition of “No Diggity,” with lead singer Lukas Effman taking on Teddy Riley‘s vocals and doing them justice. The band also performed an impressive mashup of Ed Sheeran‘s “Thinking Out Loud” with Marvin Gaye‘s “Let’s Get It On“—definitely a crowd favorite. Last of the night was the beautiful and captivating Anna Rose, who’s bluesy vocals recall some of the very rock and roll icons she idolizes—legends like Janis Joplin, Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett and even a little bit of contemporary powerhouse Elle King. Check out her latest release, “My Body Is A Cage” and listen to that range. CHILLS.
Only two days in and a pretty successful CMJ, I’d say. Stay tuned for my recap of Thursday and Friday evening’s shenanigans, where I got familiar with DNCE (oh, hi Joe Jonas), Machineheart, Johanan and Oscar & The Wolf, got re-aquainted with the fabulous Phoebe Ryan, got hot and sweaty with POWERS and took a selfie with ELOHIM, Gavin Turek and Frankmusik. WHOOP!