If you or anyone you know has spent more than five minutes in my presence, you may have already heard a little too much about the indie pop powerhouse that is Neon Gold Records. If you have not had such pleasure, Neon Gold–the brainchild of Lizzy Plapinger and Derek Davies—is best known for launching the careers of pop royalty Ellie Goulding, Tove Lo, Marina & The Diamonds, and for supporting the growth of other quintessential acts. Lizzy just so happens to front MS MR, the most flawless duo in all of music history, but that is not the only thing that qualifies them as boutique label elite. They have an unmatchable knack for discovering raw talent, and everything they touch seems to turn to gold—Neon Gold to be exact. So why was I not prepared with tickets when I scrolled through my Twitter feed to catch Queen Lizzy tweeting about their CMJ showcase on Thursday night? I have no answer. All I know is that I left a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos behind to get there as soon as I could, which is not something I do often. Needless to say, it was a pretty good decision. Here’s a little recap of my night that was nothing short of perfect:
LEWIS DEL MAR
Heaven is a place on earth, and it lies just between the unrelenting bass and sweet melodic vocal lines of Lewis Del Mar’s “Loud(y).” The elusive duo from Rockaway Beach (the only decently verifiable information available on the pair) was the first act I stumbled into upon arriving at Webster Hall on October 15th. They were playing to a full crowd in the venue’s Studio, and I was forced to settle for a spot in the hallway outside. But it didn’t take long before the mesmeric elixir of sound that was brewing inside beckoned my hopeless soul until I couldn’t resist getting closer to the source. I made my way through the unforgiving crowd, dodging relatively intoxicated concertgoers, to catch a quick glimpse of the beautiful boy responsible for the voice that was then painting a picture of paradise in my ears. The vocal melted seamlessly into the chatter of guitar strings without losing any of its smoky timbre and the world was perfect for a moment. I couldn’t make out much lyrically, but it didn’t matter. When the chorus brought on a repetition of upper register soul-evincing: “and you’re so loud,” hitting in all the right places, everything made sense. And then it was over.
The same boy who was just beginning to alter my shallow universe announced it would be their last song. What?! I clung on desperately for a name, not knowing who they were at the time, but couldn’t seem to hear. I searched frantically for the first person who looked like they wouldn’t label me uncultured swine if I asked for a name and settled for the reticent Asian girl sitting in the corner who had to repeat herself four times before I properly comprehended: Lewis Del Mar. Too excited that this would be the way the show continued throughout the night, I ran upstairs to make sure I didn’t miss out on any other magic.
Joe Jonas and his band (I’m sure they’re tired of being referred to like this, but I just can’t help myself) took the stage in the Grand Ballroom later in the night and I was immediately filled with regret for all my teen years of hostility towards the Jo Bros. I was wrong. So wrong. Joe Jonas is a work of art in every sense of the term. His new group was a visually colorful mix of characters, but it worked. With a cute little lady in cat-eye sunglasses and a crazy guitar man who looked like a trendy arson victim with a lone patch of hair in the center of his head, Joe’s pretty boy persona balanced the group out perfectly. DNCE went on to perform an upbeat, engaging set accompanied by some unexpected antics from crazy guitar dude that had me questioning both his sanity and my life at some moments. My mind wanted to yell “Someone get this dude a straight jacket!” but my heart screamed “Yassss!”
Everything was solid and cohesive–just a genuinely tight performance. I wasn’t completely crazy about any songs in particular, but it was clear that these guys were seasoned professionals. And despite their undeniable level of skill, there wasn’t an ounce of pretentiousness exuding from any corner of their stage, as I had admittedly been expecting. Joe and crew gave their all with a sincere and humble spirit. Little Joe even risked his fragile life for a quick dip in the crowd, somehow returning unscathed. And big ups for the Hotline Bling cover and mediocre but wholehearted joke that prefaced it: “Do you guys like Kanye? Good, this is a Drake song.” Just when I thought the fun was over, Joe graced the room with a forceful hip thrust while performing his new single “Cake By The Ocean,” as if to answer the night’s most pressing question: “Yes, the purity ring is gone.”
Seen from the balcony blowing kisses to a mostly unaware crowd during DNCE’s performance, Phoebe Ryan maintained her charm throughout her set, repeatedly stating her thankfulness, and swearing under her breath during a mild microphone stand malfunction. Her music oozed the same sweet and slightly salty appeal with songs “about making out” proclaiming “I just wanna be your homie.” Each song meshed perfectly with Ryan’s voice and character–cheeky and adorable, with a healthy spoonful of edge. After performing a solid string of originals, Phoebe transitioned into one of the more highly anticipated tracks of the night–a mash up of an R&B classic and more recent Miguel tune “Ignition/Do You.” The familiar song brought a noticeable wave of engagement to the crowd and a buzz of excitement arose as she began. However, after two acts of fuller, more complex sound, her more minimal arrangements had me drifting a bit. But that didn’t seem to be the case for the rest of the audience, and my goldfish-like attention span can be a real bitch to please sometimes.
Both the band and Phoebe performed to the fullest, but there was still a part of me left longing for the lush vocal harmonies of her studio-recorded work. Phoebe was one of the only acts I had listened to before coming to the show, so perhaps it was an unfair assessment. But what I felt may have been lacking in arrangement, certainly did not get in the way of properly showcasing her abilities as a vocalist in the live setting. What I realized during her live performance that I sometimes questioned in studio versions is that she really does have a spectacular voice. Revealing moments of delicate power that are often lost in recording, Ryan proved to be more than just a pleasant voice. And I was glad to see she maintained her signature charm even in an inebriated state long after her performance. I caught her hobbling outside of the venue later in the night with the help of a male friend and congratulated her on a great performance. I could tell it took her a decent amount of effort to turn around and reply with her goofy smile and an elongated “thannnk youuu” so I appreciated it.
OSCAR AND THE WOLF
I was on my way up to the Grand Ballroom to check out Smallpools, when I was completely taken aback by the sonic wonderland that had become of the venue’s Marlin Room, courtesy of Oscar and The Wolf. Could this be another Lewis Del Mar-level heavenly experience? It sure sounded like it. The electropop group’s lead Max Colombie singlehandedly swept me off my feet within minutes, serving up languid ferocity on stage and taking his listeners on a thrilling melodic roller coaster—swinging us through unexpected peaks and valleys and continually bringing us back to the satisfaction of safety. Supporting Max was a solid backing band that could have easily been hiding a few undiscovered Armani models, which definitely did not hurt. Max gave a brilliant performance with easy flowing but far from lazy vocals that lay just behind the beat for an effect that was truly enchanting over the steady pulse of sound beneath him.
Nothing was forced. The music simply poured out of him until there was nothing left but the deceptively vacant stare in his eyes that whispered “I know something you don’t know” and reduced me to a subordinate peasant. He was otherworldly. He was hypnotic and captivating and I was just a meager human. He could have actually asked me to “kill the unborn” as vocalized in “Killer You” and I just may have in that moment. It was mystery, beauty, darkness, and passion served in one too perfect to be true half hour set that still hasn’t ended in my dreams.
Guided by Max’s inhibition-free movement, the loosely filled room became a boundless dance floor that had a Shia LaBeouf look-a-like in a tribal poncho engaging in an impromptu interpretive dance session with a young Liza Minnelli doppelganger. The band had shared a few endearing smiles with one another throughout their performance, but Max was more conservative with his display of emotion. It wasn’t until he had watched the two dancers for long enough that he cracked a quick grin before joining the eccentric pair for an innocent, candid moment of communion on the floor. I wondered how on earth I had ever gotten by without knowing of these unearthly beings and speculated that they were likely foreign, like every other great band I discover later than I should. After a sweet little accent came out of hiding during one of the group’s songs, Max confirmed my suspicions, announcing they were from Belgium. I knew then that they were just another unfortunate case of brilliant music making its way over to America just a little too slowly for my liking. But I suspect it won’t be long before the rest of the US falls under Oscar’s spell.
The night was drawing near and my six hours of lamentable dancing were starting to take their toll on my feet. There was only one act left of the showcase, and I decided to head home. I was in the Studio preparing to walk out, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a boy with the most luscious head of hair. It was the most amazing late 80s trailer park Jerry curl mullet I had ever seen, and it was just plain beautiful. He made his way on stage to help set up some equipment and I soon realized he was going to be the next performer. I had to stay. And thank God I did because it was life changing.
Hair boy was joined on stage by his partner in pop, Harvey, and the two proceeded to grant their eager audience with a performance that was unlike no other. Joe Jonas’s pelvic thrusting had nothing on Client Liaison– a duo that can only be described as sex on a stage. Monte, the group’s Australian front man worked the intimate studio harder than a Richard Simmons cassette tape, with impressive and sometimes dangerous dance moves. It took me a while to get past the initial astonishment of Monte’s dancing, but I soon realized that beneath the couple’s energy and showmanship, was a collection of seriously high quality pop music. These guys had mastered the power of performance and it showed, but they didn’t do it to make up for lack of talent elsewhere. They knew what they were doing musically.
Monte’s voice remained steady and sure throughout wardrobe changes and countless exotic dance moves—all part of a brilliant musical mating call that had everyone in the room swooning. Every song was fantastic and Monte served each one with the conviction it so deserved. When the greatness commenced and I was forced to leave, no longer concerned with any of the pain I felt previously, Client Liaison left me gleaming with a cheek-to-cheek smile that revisits me every time I look back on that fateful night.
*I caught a few more awesome acts briefly throughout the night: Powers, Elohim, Smallpools, Beach Babies, and Machineheart, but didn’t have time to hear as much as I would have liked to. They all sounded great from what I heard, though! Definitely check ’em out.
I still haven’t stopped thinking about all the talent—particularly Lewis Del Mar, Oscar and The Wolf, and Client Liaison.
Lewis Del Mar’s Soundcloud is saved on my computer at work, and I’m not even remotely sick of the three songs I’ve had on repeat since the show, and probably won’t ever be. Still, I can’t help but long for more music. Please give me more!!!
Listen to: absolutely anything and everything you can find.
I have delved way too deeply into the world of Oscar and The Wolf, listening to every song they’ve ever released, all available live performances, and even creeping hard on their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. I still haven’t figured Max out, but I think I like it that way.
Listen to: some lesser-known favorites “Joaquim,” “Killer You,” and “Undress.”
Watch: videos for “Princes” and “Strange Entity,” as well as any and all live performances (I prefer a lot of their songs in a live setting).
Client Liaison has been there for me consistently when I need a little afternoon pick-me-up in the office, and I still occasionally let out some laughter thinking about Monte’s moves. Every day I am realizing more and more how talented these guys actually are. They are pop perfection!
Listen to: some personal favs “That’s Desire,” “Pretty Lovers,” and “Feed The Rhythm.”
Watch: any video they’ve ever put out (you won’t regret it).