On Friday, I was thrilled to finally be able to go see my pal Simon Curtis perform live in his first-ever NYC gig. Curtis was just profiled by Billboard, which estimates his debut album 8Bit Heart's been downloaded 150,000 times and which previews four of his new tracks, yet he was setting foot in Manhattan for only the second time in his life as part of the supercool, superyoung SUPERFRAICHE concert put on by Arjan Writes and GUMBO.
I've been to Brooklyn's DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) fewer times than I've been to L.A. since moving to New York 18.5 years ago, but it was worth the trip; it's a beautiful area and despite being pitch-black as I made my way to the Galapagos Art Space, no one seemed too concerned about the deserted quality of the streets. Everyone was more interested in gazing at the majestic cityscape. I, however, was sprinting along since I had a pocket full of cash in advance of my Burbank trip the following day. Still, I slowed down and was able to scoop up some chocolate at a cute shop that was closing—I even got some free bark, which was no match for my bite.
Speaking of candy, I was then promptly carded at the Galapagos Art Space (always delicious when you're 42), which I would say is a sweet spot for this kind of showcase. Considering the youngsters (and a few oldsters) who gathered for a bill headlined by Sky Ferreira and featuring Curtis and newcomers Databoy and She's The Queen are probably more than used to standing around for G.A. shows, it was a treat to be able to sit down. The stage faces a lower level made up mostly of comfy circular booths with narrow runways between them, everything punctuated by mini-moats. Yes, there are metal railings everywhere, but after a few drinks, it's conceivable more than one party person might wind up not only soused but doused.
I had an excellent seat with a perfect view that was only occasionally marred when just one of the many photographers, who were not reined in at all, kept waltzing up the central runway to the stage and pausing to reflect on which angles she liked before taking countless shots without bothering to stoop or move along quickly. It's important to record events for posterity, but not important enough to wreck the view for a chunk of the audience.
Host with the most Arjan emerged in a natty red jacket to announce She's The Queen, a boy-girl duo with an authentically '80s sound but not as much stage presence as one would expect considering that fierth band name. I think they will improve over time, though, because the songs were tight and while the lead singer is a bit awkward when it comes to moving and presenting herself, she has a strong voice I'd like to hear again. Their EP hits iTunes April 12, 2011.
Next up was Databoy, a cute, quirky electro-duo who won me over with their loosely choreographed, in-sync pelvic thrusts, not to mention a sturdy performance that had the challenge of having to rebound after a sound issue thwarted their initial try. I don't know if heads rolled after that, but they did bob rhythmically to choice cuts like "Stupid." Plus, if you pronounce the word as "day-ta," then their group name is queerily appealing.
I was sitting next to a cute college student, Eric, who has a radio show on campus down in DC, so I asked him who he'd come to see. "Simon and Sky," he replied. This put me in prime proudness position, allowing me to brag that Curtis is a friend. Eric proceeded to school me on other acts I should brush up on, and in return I made sure he got a pic with my wunderkind buddy.
Curtis followed soon after, easily living up to my high expectations. He's been at this doggedly since I first encountered him when he was 17, and his devotion to it shows—he's a singer who owns the stage and knows it. He takes care to ensure that his act is more than just an excuse to win potential fans or reward devoted fans with readings of his songs.
He opened with new song "Don't Dance," a pained, line-in-the-sand expression of his determination as an artist:
Next up was one of his best new ones, "Pit of Vipers." Whereas 8Bit Heart was vulnerable and romantic, his new album RΔ (sounds a lot like "raw") is more reflective of what happens to boys who are vulnerable and romantic—they get stepped on and abused, and, in Curtis's case, they strike back:
I'm sure the crowd was jonesing for some familiar stuff, and Curtis served up one of my personal favorites, "Don't Wanna Be Alone," a stark contrast to what had come before:
I'm not as big a fan of "Chip in Your Head," a new track that seems to continue with 8Bit Heart's "robot boy" theme but that comes off as more of a B-side from that era. I did like that it segued into an exciting 8Bit Heart medley of "Beat Drop" and "Diablo":
Probably the least aggressive of his new songs, "Enemy" was up next—"Please hold me like you did before/We don't know what we're fighting for/I need you, won't you get with me/'Cause I don't wanna be your enemy":
My least favorite performance was his cover of "...Baby, One More Time." Granted, he was doing it for a crowd that grew up believing in the awesomeness of Britney Spears (and judging by the shrieks and by how many young "ladies" hustled to the front to video this one, they...still buh-lieeeve) and not for grouches like me who grew up believing in the awesomeness of awesomeness. But even so, the deceptively simple tune kinda got away from him after a bit:
Curtis closed strong, with his infectious new party anthem "Laser Guns Up." It makes no sense, nor does it need to. You simply find yourself wanting to put your imaginary laser guns up. Bee-ooh! Bee-ooh! Bee-ooh! (Or rather, "eh-eh-eh-eh."):
When Sky Ferreira took the stage, quite a few people crowded around her, putting their laser guns—I mean, their video-enabled PDAs—up, so we had to move in on her as well. I was very impressed with her music, which—like most of what I heard all night—had an '80s reverence that seems to make people my age and hers (she's all of 18, too young to get into the club except as a performer) go all gooey inside.
I loved her minimalist stage mannerisms—for emphasis, she merely rubbed her gorgeous hair all over her face, Cousin It-style. Somehow, it was packed with allure:
After, it took me a bit to hook up with Curtis, who was posing for pictures and meeting new and old admirers, but it was gratifying to be able to tell him in person how much I'd enjoyed him live—finally!
Be sure to check out any other events from Arjan or GUMBO; this one had four relatively new artists for $25 and yet had the good taste not to foist any bad ones on an unsuspecting public.