Small Beast Showcase at The Delancey During CMJ: Theremin, David J, and David Lynch Covers
David J at The Delancey in NYC
My all-time favorite show during the CMJ Music Marathon this year was a showcase at The Delancey on Thursday, October 22, 2009. As part of the "Small Beast" series, this collection of acts played in the small bar area on the ground floor of the club. Downstairs one of the most happening shows of CMJ was taking place and a line of people stretched out the door. But I was happy to be inside at a less populated, more experimental, and (can you believe?) free show. Nestled in a velvety booth, I felt like I was transported to a crazy cabaret inhabited by characters from a Wim Wenders film, with Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen orchestrating the soundtrack.
This particular event was the 40th show in the "Small Beast" series, curated by Paul Wallfisch. He was the MC of the evening as well as a performer and even passed a tip jar to collect donations for the musicians between sets.
I was lured to the show by the promise of not only David J, but also musicians incorporating theremin and David Lynch covers into their sets. It seemed like the perfect confluence of performers and sounds for me.
Unfortunately things got going a little bit late (a pain at CMJ when every act is scheduled at precisely timed intervals so that attendees can pop from show to show), owing to a missing musician. As soon as the show began, though, I was entranced.
Pamelia Kurstin at The Delancey
First on the bill was Pete Drungle, featuring Pamelia Kurstin with some loungy, jazzy sounds on theremin. Pete played Wurlitzer piano and another fellow handled percussion using some intriguing box-like contraption that he was sitting on. Overall, it was magical, shimmery instrumental music.
Call me Kat at The Delancey
After that, Call me Kat from Denmark provided some lovely vocalizations over vintage synth. She tantalized with a sophisticated cover of the Britney Spears tune "Toxic."
Spottiswoode was a passionate, singer-songwriter guy with a guitar. His text-focused song about all the ladies he liked included phrases like "girls with glasses and ten dollar asses, that's what I like." I was instantly reminded of the retro Nails classic "88 Lines about 44 Women," although his take on things was way less saucy. Later he moved to piano and I became a lot more interested in the dirgier style that he transitioned into. I bantered a bit with the guy next to me (who turned out to be David J!) and he mentioned that parts of the set reminded him of Randy Newman. I could see that too, with a bit of Billy Bragg thrown in for good measure. For sure he was a storyteller and that was the commonality between all of the influences that I heard in his music.
Thomas Truax at The Delancey (Spinster Sister to his left)
One of the most intriguing musicians of the night was Thomas Truax. Like a mad professor he came on stage with a collection of fascinating, Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that he used to make music. Crafted with bits and pieces of vintage materials, the Hornicator featured part of an old phonograph horn. The automatic drum kit dubbed Sister Spinster sat perched on a table in front, churning out demonic, heartbeat sounds as well.
Thomas looked a bit like a cross between David Byrne and Harry Dean Stanton and was just plain creepy cool. At one point he jumped up on the bar and crouched down playing his guitar while singing to each and every member of the crowd, weaving in and out of booths while he sang. He's done an album of songs from the films of David Lynch and included a few in the set at Delancey as well.
Paul Wallfisch and Little Annie
Our host for the evening, Botanica's Paul Wallfisch then hit the stage. I was fascinated by him in part because he bears an uncanny resemblance to a DJ at my station (appropriately named Mitch LeMay). Perhaps he's his doppelganger. Paul played piano and was quite the lounge lizard, making the old time, variety show vibe of the evening even more apparent.
I kept wondering what the 20-year-old CMJ hipsters must be thinking as they crossed through the room to get to the Antlers show downstairs. Did they run screaming thinking "oh my god, this is cheesy old people music" (like I used to think about Barry Manilow), or did they recognize the camp aspect of it all? Special guest Little Annie joined in and she was definitely the glamorous diva of the night. Dressed to the nines in head-to-toe black, she looked classic and classy, but her lyrics were biting and sassy.
David J with members of Botanica at The Delancey
Then, the star attraction for the night was Bauhaus and Love and Rockets luminary David J. Halloween songs were promised and he definitely delivered with some creepy-themed songs about murder and death. He performed a lot of covers, including songs by LCD Soundsystem and Tom Waits and premiered a new song of his called "Blood Sucker Blues" about a strung-out vampire.
I was a bit star-struck as it took me awhile to realize that I'd been sitting next to David J. for much of the evening. It was pretty cool to just chat about the music with a fellow music-lover who turned out to be one of the main reasons I was at the show in the first place.
I'm also 90% sure that I spotted another celebrity that evening. If you look closely at the pictures I took during the David J. set you might just spot a shadowy figure who I think is the hilarious actor/comedian Clark Duke (he plays the geeky cool Dale on the TV show Greek). If it wasn't him it was just some CMJ hipster who could have been his twin.
David J was spinning a DJ set at Small Beast later, but as it was nearing 2am, I had to split to get some sustenance (late night S'mores crepe, anyone?!) after a very long day of CMJing it.
If I'm back in New York, though, I'll definitely be checking out Small Beast again because if this show's lineup was any indication, the booking philosophy is simply inspired.