NEW YORK Guitars and turntables filled Manhattan as the
CMJ Music Marathon got under way Wednesday night, but it took a
saxophone-playing bandleader from Nigeria to really get the four-day
At the festival's official kickoff party at the Roxy, club-goers stood
around and swayed to the electronic creations of Aphrodite, the
Wiseguys and Cut Chemist and to the old-school hip-hop of the Jungle
Brothers and Jurassic 5. It took 70 minutes of frenetic African rhythms
to crack the room's relative reserve.
Femi Kuti, the energetic, muscular sax-playing son of the late
Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti, stole the show with his 12-piece band,
winning a two-minute-long ovation after he was done. The set was
filled with choreographed dance moves and music that seemed to trace
an evolution of American funk and jazz from James Brown to Kool and
the Gang and even to Kenny G. Kuti played light, breezy saxophone
solos over tight, relentless funk beats.
"Femi Kuti's bringing a new beat, and that beat is one of the best
there is out there," CMJ attendee Benjamin Kelly, from Brooklyn, N.Y.,
said. Kelly, 28, produces an Internet world-music radio show called
"Reaction Sound System."
At the Wetlands Preserve in Tribeca, the night was more about flash
than skill. There, Prince Paul and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura,
creators of the trip-hoppy Handsome Boy Modeling School album
So ... How's Your Girl? (1999), tested the audience for what
Prince Paul called its "inner handsomeness."
Wearing suits, the two DJs, who took the roles of their album alter
egos Chest Rockwell (Prince Paul) and Nathaniel Merriweather
(Nakamura), led audience members through interactive skits designed to
show them how to have sex without actually asking for it. Example:
Compliment your target on how her pink bandana matches her bag.
While it was much more of a listening party than a show, the Handsome
Boy Modeling School did feature live moments. Singer Roison Murphy of
the group Moloko and rapper J-Live shared the microphone for
"The Truth," a spooky lounge number in the tradition of Portishead.
Later, J-Live, El-P of the rap group Company Flow and San Francisco
rapper Big Merc took the stage for 10 minutes of freestyling about
their abilities, how the others weren't so hot, about the audience
and anything else that came to mind. All from folks that Prince Paul
and Nakamura both introduced as "Handsome Boy graduates."
"I call it true school," J-Live (born Justice Law), 23, said of the
performance and of his album The Best Part, due in January.
"I came here for the fun and the business."
Nearby at the Knitting Factory, the only electronic beat in evidence
was from a lazy-sounding drum machine that gothic pop band
Sparklehorse used. The Virginia band topped a bill at the avant-garde
jazz/rock club that also included a DJ set from Belle and Sebastian
member Richard Colburn and horn-accented, Beatles-esque guitar rock
from San Francisco's Beulah.
Boston band Wheat took the stage before Sparklehorse's night-closing
set with nearly an hour of swirling, guitar-driven songs that featured
intricate interplay between singer/guitarists Steve Levesque and Ricky
Brennan. They previewed their second album, Hope and Adams
(Oct. 12), with a number of songs that stretched out into fluid,
chiming guitar jams accented by Levesque's high, fragile vocals.
Sparklehorse's hour-long set of dark, distorted rock matched the
humid, drizzly sound of the streets outside the club. Leader Mark
Linkous conjured a bleak mood to match that of a city under a
hurricane watch as Floyd churned its way north.
Linkous and his four-piece band used everything from staticky
short-wave radio sounds to violins, upright bass, drum machine,
xylophones and fuzzed-out guitars to drive home the creeping ballads
"Waiting for Nothing," "All Night Home" and the Pixies-like
distorto-punk of "Tears on Fresh Fruit" and the cathartic set-ender
"Pig" (RealAudio excerpt).
At Roseland, a cavernous midtown club, pop-rockers old and new
Cheap Trick and Guided by Voices played a double bill of
guitar-fueled hookery. GBV have made a bid for commercial success
with the Ric Ocasekproduced Do the Collapse, but they
filled their set with a host of unfamiliar tunes and left out the
album's single, "Teenage FBI," according to David Cavalier, a
guitarist for the New York band Moneyshot, who was in the audience.
Still, they sounded "like the best club band in the world," Cavalier
GBV frontman Robert Pollard then joined Cheap Trick, whose biggest
hits came in the '70s and '80s, to sing "Surrender"
At Acme Underground in Greenwich Village, Bikeride, from California,
and Poole, a Maryland quartet led by ex-Lilys drummer Harry Evans,
bashed out buzzy, harmony-laden guitar pop along the same lines to an
audience of no more than 40 people.
With Moog synthesizer lines, falsetto choruses, twin rhythm guitars
and the occasional trumpet blast, Bikeride songs such as "Erik & Angie"
and "Blue Jeans" were nearly bubblegum. Poole were literally fronted by
their drummer: Evans set up his drum kit at the edge of the stage, in
the spotlight, and sang infectious pop-rock buttressed by raggedy
guitars and clean harmonies.
(Associate Editor Matty Karas contributed to this report.)