Friday, October 16, 2015

#CMJ2015 DAY THREE: Kaya Stewart, DNCE & Joe Jonas, Phoebe Ryan, & Machineheart at Webster Hall

CMJ Day 3 delivered in a big way, but I expected nothing less tbqh since I chose to attend the reliably epic Neon Gold Records/New Shapes showcase soiree (also co-signed by Nylon Magazine) last night at Webster Hall.

WH and I have a longstanding relationship dating back to when I saw Robyn and Kelis rock the joint five years ago (five, can you believe?).The venue has three separate performance spaces -- the Grand Ballroom (largest), the Marlin Room (quite small), and the Studio (the smallest). All three rooms had a full-set list of up and comers last night but I spent the majority of my time at the Grand Ballroom, beginning with power pop/rock band Partybaby (complete with rainbow guitars).

Before things really got started at the Grand Ballroom, I dashed downstairs to the Marlin Room to catch Kaya Stewart's set. Kaya's signed to Warner Bros. Records and released her debut EP, In Love With A Boy, on my birthday (June 17th) this past year. It's for this reason and a multitude of others that I've been invested in Kaya's career -- she's got a great set of vocal chords, artfully soulful and suggests she's much older than her mere 15 years. (It's also worth noting she's the daughter of David A. Stewart, the male half of the Eurythmics.)

Kaya's showcase was exactly my favorite kind of live performance -- seeing impactful pop music in a small, intimate live setting. The atmosphere even allowed for Kaya to interact with the crowd, myself included, while she belted out her material. My favorite of the EP, "Jonah", was an highlight for me, as was upcoming single "Let's Split", which Kaya described as one of her most favorite records she's ever done. The lyric video for the song dropped this past week.

Following Kaya's set, I ran back upstairs to catch Machineheart, a female-fronted, ethereal pop band. The group were featured on MTV's Scream and released their debut EP, In Your Dreams, this past July. They've been traveling on the road opening for Smallpools and Phoebe Ryan (both of which performed later that night) and it's clear they've gained a serious footing for their strong performance aesthetics. Their single "Circles", which closed their set, was an obvious standout.

Moving right along, after Machineheart came DNCE (literally pronounced D-N-C-E, not 'Dance' as I originally thought) fronted by none other than Joe Jonas. DNCE was a late addition to more than a handful of CMJ lineups, this one included. I walked into their showcase with no real expectations -- I enjoy their single "Cake By the Ocean", sure -- but I walked away a total convert and unabashedly so.

Joe was, of course, in his element back in center position for a band. It's interesting in hindsight to see how his solo attempt, clearly and admittedly patterned after Justin Timberlake, just didn't congeal while baby brother Nick Jonas' attempt did (and Nick's attempt at a band concept also didn't congeal -- I guess the bros just decided to swap concepts?). 

DNCE plays to Joe's strengths as a left-of-center, magnetic front-man but his bandmates are more than just props for this new Joe Jonas solo project reboot. Drummer Jack Lawless has been playing alongside Joe long before the Jonas Brothers broke in the US mainstream (and also played on Demi Lovato's debut album). Fierce and fab guitarist JinJoo Lee was born to be a rockstar -- playing in white cat eye sunglasses that I totally and utterly covet. Outrageous bass guitarist Cole Whittle also plays in a little band called Semi Precious Weapons (best known in the mainstream for opening for Gaga's Monster Ball tour) and it was hard to keep your eyes off of him as he constantly was jumping around, a bundle of maniacal energy in the best way.

Their upcoming EP, Swaay, is out next week and based on their set, it's gonna have some bangers on it -- in particular a "song about Doctors" (maybe it'll be called just "Doctor") that was especially catchy.

During DNCE's set, I spied Phoebe Ryan -- who was next on the bill -- rocking out upstairs in the balcony VIP section. I've already seen the warmly adorable Phoebe perform once before, when she opened up for Tove Lo earlier this year at the Highline Ballroom. Perhaps it was the energy in the room, perhaps it was the mounting hype and excitement surrounding her Mine EP (released in June, a few months after I saw her). Whatever it was, it's clear Phoebe is certainly strengthening in to her element on stage and the crowd was loving her, singing along to much of her set.

I like her sound and adore her overall potential alt-pop star brigade (Melanie Martinez, Halsey, etc.) appeal but my main deal-breaker is the thematic interpolation of drug references that permeates much of her material. Live your truth, to each his/her own, but the pot culture has never been me so it was a bit hard for me to relate. One new song (read: non-Mine EP track), simply titled "Chronic", has a hook that includes "kisses taste like Chronic". Hmm.

In addition to all of the good music I saw on Day 3, many of the bands offered up inventive covers as well! Kaya Stewart slammed her way through Blondie's "Call Me". Machineheart did a bit of Britney Spears' "...Baby, One More Time" before launching into their single "Circles". And DNCE grooved their way through Drake's "Hotline Bling (Cha Cha Remix)" -- after a bluff by Joe asking the crowd "Do you guys like Kanye West?" (screams) "Cool, this song's by Drake". I love a good live cover, especially when its' unexpected.

We've reached and surpassed the CMJ halfway point -- two more days to go!

 As always, all photos and gifs can be used with credit to:

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