It was 5:30 in the afternoon and nobody was drunk yet, but everyone was dancing. In the basement of Bowery Electric, North London’s Man Like Me were treating a modest audience to an unpredictable mix of ska, hip-hop, grime, techno and pop; if you’re confused, think the Specials, if the Specials had grown up in the era of raves and mashups. Frontman Johnny Langer rapped in Cockney dialect atop a metal ladder with his microphone swung over a ceiling beam. Backed by a modest but effective two-man brass section, the quartet frequently broke into choreographed, 1998-style boy-band dance routines.
Brooklyn’s Boy Crisis took over where Man Like Me left off. Lead vocalist and lackadaisical showman Victor Vazquez summoned the crowd closer with a deadpan promise of “about 25 minutes of pretty decent music” before breaking into the group’s signature synthy, R&B-inspired electro-pop. Watching Boy Crisis felt like a subtle lesson in band dynamics. Vazquez oscillated frenetically between keyboard, cowbell, and the drum kit behind him, where drummer Owen Roberts calmly tried to avoid getting hit in the face with a cymbal. Guitarist Lee Pender knelt on the floor, hand-manipulating a set of pedals and occasionally harmonizing with keyboardist Tal Rozen, who sang the group’s hit, “Dressed to Digress,” from atop Vazquez’s shoulders, dropping down midway to let Vazquez loose into the audience, where he attempted a wiggly break dance.
Boy Crisis are good at what they do, which is pulling off an energetic, danceable set without looking like they’re making too much of an effort. Following were London’s Golden Silvers, who played a gentle acoustic set rich with harmonies, demonstrating the members’ talent and versatility — as well as a proclivity toward the precious and romantic.
Back in Brooklyn, soul-meets-R&B-meets-punk outfit Joan As Police Woman provided the highlight of the night: an intimate cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” Frontwoman Joan Wasser, wearing a thin silver dress and red bouffant, looked a bit bashful at song’s end, commenting, “We just played that all over Europe…. They were confused as fuck.” The quiet and engaged crowd seemed thoroughly sated by Joan As Police Woman, but nobody looked quite as sated as guitarist and vocalist Timo Ellis, who seemed utterly engrossed and smiled warmly throughout the set.
Over at Root Studios, Cale Parks — who moonlights as the drummer for White Williams — introduced his new lineup, which now includes a bassist and a guitarist. Parks is an unbelievable performer; at a solo show at Cake Shop earlier this year, I was completely blown away by his focus, intensity, and inability to stand still. Last night, some of this did shine through. Parks was still manning a drum machine, cymbals, and a synthesizer, and couldn’t help but beat at the air with his drumsticks while singing. But I found myself missing the unique force of Parks’s solo set. Nonetheless, it’s always exciting to see an artist who considers even his recorded tracks works in progress, so it was refreshing to see Parks playing around with his material.
Ultimately, the final night of CMJ provided everything I had hoped it would: energetic, original performances from a variety of talented musicians, all of whom are working hard to integrate disparate genres and contribute something a little different and a little more eclectic to the current music scene.