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Massive Music Showcase

Posted by Smiles Davis, October 26, 2009 12:38am | Post a Comment

Greetings from New York, New York! CMJ kicked off at the beginning of this week and NY became a mammoth showcase for new music. I love autumn in New York -- it's ridiculously beautiful. Walking is of course the greatest pastime while in the city. The weather was nice, so nice, for the first couple nights, which made it easy to get around and still look half way put together by the time you got to your final destination.

Unfortunately, by Friday night, it was cloudy with a chance of matzo balls, which meant an extra change of clothes was imperative. Luckily, it was short lived. OMG, there was so much going on. I was overwhelmed with work, with a lot on my plate, and didn’t get to see nearly as many acts as I would have liked to, but I made notes of the little I was able to soak in.

Green Label Sound hosted a party sponsored by Cornerstone at The Brooklyn Bowl with Chromeo, Thelophilus London, Amazing Baby and Solid Gold that was off the chain. DFA's Holy Ghost provided a dj set. This new bowling/concert venue is ginormous, 1,000 capacity at least, and it was packed wall to wall. An eclectic mix of industry folk, unbigoted music-minded individuals, people dressed like hipsters, aspiring and established artists roamed the joint. The night's festivities lasted well into the night, but time just seemed to fly by. I enjoyed great food, had a couple rounds on the lanes with friends, enjoyed the live acts in a concert setting, and danced till I broke a sweat all under one roof. If you get the chance to go check out this spot, do, and order the cajun catfish, it's scrumptious!

Gaming guru Activision hired mixtape and remix extraordinaire J.Period along with myself to open up for America’s #1 dj, Z-Trip, for the NY launch party of DJ Hero. The event took place in Soho outside on the corner of Spring and Wooster. There were several kiosks set up for patrons to come down and sample the game. Gamers were more interested in standing in line to play then they were in hearing the music. When Z-Trip got on the decks the focus shifted to him. I’ve never witnessed a dj garner undivided attention like that before. It was almost instantaneous, like someone had just flipped on a light switch. Loners, senior citizens, children, lovers, and almost every other passer-by-err ended up in that tent. I think I saw some females stop shopping and come out of the Chanel store across the street just to see what the ruckus was about. His set was exasperatingly entertaining and wickedly eclectic; he played everything from Led Zeppelin to the Camp Lo, from Outkast to the Janis Joplin. Legendary Fab 5 Freddy, the host of the event, was mesmerized. Between the oohs and ahhhs he just kept saying “Oh my God!” Guess that’s why Z is the #1 dj in America. What a treat. It was sincerely and utterly pleasure!

Shortly after the DJ Hero event wrapped my roadie and I made our way to The Ace Hotel a couple blocks from Korea Town. A friend was kind enough to inform us about a group called Chauffeur. I wasn't familiar with them but was told "They're good!" They were performing as the headliner at a showcase sponsored by Fader, Levi’s and Converse. We showed up to the posh spot promptly at 5pm. After a short elevator ride and a brisk walk up a narrow corridor we reached the main suite, appropriately entitled “Levi's Fader Fort,” where the event was taking place. We were slapped in the face by a heat wave almost instantaneously. It was a sweatbox down there. The ceiling was low and the stage took up about a fourth of the space. The rest of the space was left for a satellite bar and about 150 sweaty tweens just as eager as the next to get as close to the stage as humanly possible. According to my watch the main attraction should have taken stage 20 minutes earlier. After asking around a little I learned things were running behind schedule and that the Swedish bohemian chick rockin' out on stage was multi instrumentalist Jenny Wilson. What a riot! She was beating a tambourine one minute then strumming a guitar the next. Her sophisticated yelping reminded me at times of Fiest, and often the accented vocals called to mind Yael Naim. I was having trouble hearing her speak in between jams but overheard her say something to the extent that she and her band had the misfortune of losing some luggage that contained some of their prized instruments, so they’d be improvising a bit. Impromptu or not, her upbeat modern folk talk, with its idiosyncratic lyrics and foot stomping beats was impressive to say the least. She made an instant fan out of me. She left the stage after a few more delightful songs and the stage crew immediately took over to begin setting up for the final act.

The crowd scattered for restroom breaks and bar runs. We used this time to creep a little closer to the stage, where the temperature was about 10 degrees warmer. The accumulated sweat from the busy stage crew made it feel warmer—I’m sorry, the stage lights made it unbearably hotter. Ages passed, my feet began to swell, my back began to ache, my throat began to dry and all of a sudden I felt like a 90 year old pregnant woman. Cheering erupted as four dapper gentlemen took the stage. The guy in a tight v-neck 80s print sweater looked a whole lot like Mark Ronson. Then I thought, wait, that IS Mark Ronson. I searched the stage for more familiar faces to find Thelophilus London and "Black & Gold" hit maker Sam Sparro approaching the mic. Forget the heat, things just got interesting. The fourth gentleman, the keyboardist, was unbeknownst to me. Thelopious introduced everyone and informed the crowd they’d just started the group two weeks ago and would only be performing two songs. Fine by me. The show started and my jaw dropped and remained in that position for who knows how long. The trio is 80's revamped, new wave hip-hop, everything from Ronson’s sweater to Sparro's mic handle, Thelopious’ dance moves, the  synthesizers, and the catchy lyrics, to the epoch vocoder. This was the real deal; the sound and image these guys created had the stamp of authenticity. This was one well oiled machine for a new act. I couldn't expect less from three already established artists. It's kind of like when Skittles reinvented themselves and came out with Tropical flavors. Genius!! The second song was a cover of Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life,” which always puts the crowd in a good mood. Chauffeur’s rendition of the song super exceeded my expectations. Sam Sparro’s charming vocals blew a spark plug in the joint. Everyone was hyped, super hyped. I thought the girl up front stage right was going to give herself a heart attack she was gyrating so hard. The feeling was mutual all over the joint; girls, especially, were going nuts. They finished quicker than the time it took them to get started, but the high lasted the rest of the evening. Bravo Chauffeur, Bravo!

Next was the Puma presents The Elitaste + Nue Agency showcase at the famous SOB's where headliner Mike Posner, singer / songwriter / producer, played to a packed house. He's heavy on the college circuit. Ever heard of rapper Big Sean? He's Kanye's newest signing. Well, Posner produced a few tracks and was heavily featured on his first mixtape Finally Famous. Even more astonishing, he sat up in his dorm room and wrote, produced and recorded every track on his very own debut mixtape, A Matter of Time and recently signed to J Records and nabbed a big publishig deal with EMI. He's about to graduate from Duke University and he's only 21. His show was highly energetic; he's got mad flow on the mic, charisma with the crowd and he had everyone—male and female—enthusiastically singing along and he doesn’t even have an album out yet. Impressive!

The following evening I had to make a radio appearance in Brooklyn and decided since I was out there to stop by the newly located Knitting Factory for the Daptones Revue. The Budos Band, in Halloween costumes, was just wrapping up a set. I think I saw Neal Sugarman in a hooded cape and mask on stage with the funk band playing the flute. Neal Sugarman is the man running things over at Daptone Records. He's also one of the founder members of The Dap-Kings and the band leader for Sugarman 3. He also plays like every instrument... well, he's a master saxophonist & flautist and I wouldn't doubt pianist. Neal Sugarman, you're my idol. Up next Soul singer Lee Fields, who I’d only read about in Wax Poetics, performed with the Menahan Street Band. Speaking of Wax Poetics, I stopped by an event at Spur on the Lower East Side they were co-hosting with VP Records. There were no performances, but the rotating dj’s were spinning only the best reggae. I actually stayed until the lights came on; my incentive was good music and a red, boy-cut Jamaica t-shirt I’ve since refused to part with. Just thought I’d share. Now back to Lee Fields at the Daptones Revue. That perpetual feeling that I’d been born in the wrong era for music instantly subsided when he took the stage as his vintage voice deeply penetrated my veins, enhancing my senses, generating goose bumps. It was bittersweet when the brief moment ended. But, time quickly passed and before we knew it Sharon Jones had made her way to the stage with the Dap-Kings and reminded everyone just whose house it was. As if it were possible, their show continually gets better. What a phenomenal concert!


Earlier on this week, before the rain drenched the streets, I went to a spot called 92 Y Tribeca to see Noisemakers with Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg host a night of music and conversation with legendary rap artist Talib Kweli. Once again J.Period was on the wheels serving up some golden era hip-hop, the dopest house band ever soon followed, and then came the host of the evening. Rosenberg did a phenomenal job at getting Talib to really open up and talk history behind his work. Every pivotal moment in his career was discussed in great detail from his inception into the hip-hop game to his upcoming Reflection Eternal II release. Over the course of about an hour and forty-five minutes the two spoke on Kweli's prolific catalog, Kanye, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, family, and collaborations with some of the most recognizable producers in the game.

Talib and Mos Def are like brothers, their mothers hang out, like fam. The “Ms. Fat Booty” hit maker—who was said to have been often late or a no show—was the reason Kanye West and Talib met. Talib was in the studio waiting on Mos Def to arrive, like usual, to finish a track. Kanye showed and said he was there looking for Mos. The two chopped it up for a while and somewhere into the night Kanye played Kweli the beat that would later be used for “Get By.” Now this may have been hype on Kanye's part, but get this: the track was originally meant for Mariah Carey. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: there is a God! After talking her and apparently Pharaoh Monch out of it, Talib finally got his way. Mos Def never showed up that night. It was something Talib said he learned to get used to. Talented people are not always easily understood, but you appreciate them for what they do. When asked about the MTV Awards and the Taylor Swift incident, Talib contested, “Kanye used to interrupt my show.” Back before Kanye was a million dollar hit maker he toured as the opening act for Talib. His narcissistic antics were occasionally too theatrical, forcing Kweli, on one occasion or another involving the use of a wheel chair and a neck brace, to pull the plug mid song or before he even got the chance to get started. “This is my show… you can do what you want to do on the ‘Kanye Show,’” Kweli protested. In light of it all, Kweli holds much respect for Kanye and his immaculate talent despite his frequent ruthless, squandering behavior and wishes we all did the same. Jay-Z got mad props for his rare combination of great talent and business acumen and Lauryn Hill remains enigmatic. J Dilla was as passionate about making beats as we are addicted to listing to them. He was unimpressed by accolades and once declined an invitation to attend or watch the Grammy’s when three of his tracks were up for awards to keep to his studio and put in work.

Sometime mid week—everything's one big blur—The XX performed at 30 Rockefeller Center. With time to spare I decided to roll through. It was a live taping upstairs above the NBC paraphernalia shop on the mezzanine. To be honest, I was slightly out of breath by the time I reached the top of the stairs and was majorly bummed to find no empty seats. Time is of the essence over at 30 Rock; XX went on when they were supposed to, thank goodness. I don’t know all their songs but unquestionably know the sound: sweet, seductive electro/rock. The group was comprised of three guitarists, two of whom were lead vocalists and one guy on keyboards, a drummer, minus the drum set, operating a drum kit like a true pro. The relegated instrument could have easily been set in place because of limited space, don’t know for sure. He played that drum kit like it was the real thing incorporating all the elements: snare, kick, hi-hat, and bass. His hands were moving at full speed. “Basic Space” is my jam, and I happily sang along. Hunger eventually set in and my tightly cramped space almost became too much for me to bear, but through all my discomfort the show made for some great entertainment. It's been fun but can't wait to get back to LA. Till next time...chew the corners off!

Relevant Tags

The Xx (8), Mark Ronson (4), Thelopious London (1), Cmj (5), Ztrip (2), Jenny Wilson (1), Cmj 2009 (2), Mike Posner (1), Talib Kweli (19), Sam Sparro (1), Lee Fields (1)