NZ in NYC: NZ Showcase report

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Lawrence Arabia (James Milne) at the NZ@CMJ New Zealand music showcase night in New York. Photo / Sean O'Brien
Lawrence Arabia (James Milne) at the NZ@CMJ New Zealand music showcase night in New York. Photo / Sean O'Brien

As Electric Wire Hustle took the stage for the last slot at the New Zealand CMJ party, the room had warmed up to a pleasantly sweaty level, bringing respite from the chilly autumn air outside.

The show finished at 9.30pm on this Tuesday night in New York City, but it felt much later. Though the room had finally started to thin out, there were still about 400 people at Le Poisson Rouge for the final band, and most of them were not New Zealanders.

That's important; previous Kiwi showcases in this town have been a magnet for homesick expats in search of downunder beats and free drinks. But the point of a CMJ showcase is to make new fans, and most of tonight's bands have done that.

The general verdict is that it's been a bigger night than past New Zealand showcases, and the crowd has stayed for longer. With a capacity of 700, the RSVPs numbered more than a thousand and people were turned away.

Inside, Lawrence Arabia opened with an easy confidence, nurtured by months on the road supporting Crowded House, despite not having played together for a couple of months. Apple Pie Bed was a hit.

Street Chant followed, and it's fair to say they were the darlings of the night. Scowling college radio DJs emerged with smiles after the fierce and flirty set by the trio, who entertained with between-song banter like "We're Street Chant from New Zealand and we're ready to get sexy", "This song's New Zealandish" and "We're the biggest rock band in New Zealand!"

Fresh from her first offshore gig at LA's Viper Lounge, Ruby Frost performed competently and though she was tagged as "a baby Florence and the Machine" the crowd rewarded her with polite applause.

Kids of 88 got the hard-to-impress CMJ crowd moving. And flirting. "Come back to my apartment!" someone in the crowd yelled. "That's a very good segue into the next song," said singer Sam McCarthy, as they launch into My House. Zowie impressed, and Electric Wire Hustle brought the bass.

The New Zealand party was the first big engagement of CMJ's week of shows. Each of tonight's bands also has an official music showcase, along with the four other Kiwi bands at CMJ - Family Cactus, 1995, Cairo Knife Fight, and Battle Circus - none of whom were picked to play the official party.

"It's not an easy thing to have to make that call," said Gary Fortune of the NZ Music Commission. "We kinda have it made for us. We've got two and a half hours to roll through six bands, with 10 minutes' changeover. It's hard but that's what we can fit."

There are four days still to go. Tomorrow, Street Chant play a WNYU session, with several more shows lined up after that. Between gigs, they're off on a 'Real Kramer Tour' of hot spots from the Seinfeld TV series.

Asked for a special message for the Herald Online about their CMJ experience so far, Street Chant's Billie said "We're lovin' it."

Full gallery here.

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