Le Grand Magistry Showcase
featuring Toog, Baxendale, Stars, My Life Story, and Momus
Fez, New York City, NY • October 21, 2000
The Le Grand Magistry showcase highlighted a few of the more talented and interesting acts at CMJ, but it shook with a whimpering depression thanks to Matt, the head of the record label. In between each act, he made a drunken appearance on stage and would ramble a bit, inform everyone of his level of intoxication, and then toss out free gifts to the small crowd. Eventually, though, he got to the point: Due to a number of lawsuits, Le Grand Magistry is shutting its doors. He still plans on releasing a few more records, but all the intriguing bands he’s collected will soon be out on their own. Matt was drunk and mixing his woes with his beers, and while he promised he wouldn’t cry, he came real close.
Seeing Le Grand Magistry close shop is a loss to the musical world, since the bands Matt has to offer are so quirky and enjoyable that they deserve far more attention than they do trouble. For starters, none of the bands on the bill use a drumset, but instead rely on varying degrees of pre-recorded computer-based musical creations. The first act I managed to catch was Toog, a one-man eye-raiser who stood on stage cradling the microphone and moaning what sounded like pick-up lines in French. He was dressed in a leather bondage outfit that looked more like someone took a long belt and haphazardly wrapped it around his torso, and the only time he moved was to flick back his hair or press play on a machine for his next slow-funk escapade. Toog is quite an experience even if he isn’t the epitome of high energy, but he was nothing compared to the next act.
Baxendale are three Brits who were playing second-ever show in the States, and they were bloody brilliant. The trio — one girl so thin that her spine looked like it was going to pop out, one guy who loaded songs on a machine and added live guitar and keyboard as needed, and a tall guy in the middle who jumped and kicked every word he sang to life — sang, harmonized and bounced around the stage to every one of their feel-good, synthesized, slightly cheesy Brit-pop-on-a-keyboard numbers. The guy in the middle was like the Karate Kid on speed, often jumping into the crowd, flailing his limbs around in gleeful passion and singing lines to random girls. To top off their second introduction to America, the trio belted out a rendition of the Destiny’s Child hit, “Say My Name,” that sounded far better than the original. For their second show, they made an amazing impression and put on by far the most entertaining performance of the evening.
Next was Stars, who were slightly mediocre and became almost irritating after their lead singer was heavily making out with his girlfriend at the merchandise table. Still, they were catchy, but overshadowed by the expectation of the follow-up act, My Life Story. Another act from England, My Life Story is a bit like Divine Comedy — pop with an orchestra. Unfortunately, only two members of the massive entourage made the trip to New York, and so all songs were done with an acoustic guitar and either a baby grand piano or a keyboard. The act was enjoyable, but not nearly a representation of justice for their incredibly intriguing and bizarre albums, since every song sounded perfectly normal and somewhat empty on guitar.
Momus headlined the evening with a show that truly defined the saying, “Too much of a good thing is no good at all.” With his eyepatch on and orange Macintosh laptop in hand, Momus took to the stage and vocally accompanied songs that sounded like a less scatter-brained version of Atom & His Package. The songs he performed were so new that he needed to hold onto a book of scribbled lyrics (which some freakshow in a white wedding dress snatched and fled the club after his last song), and ranged from historical commentary to “Everything you didn’t want to know about my penis.” Momus was certainly funny and clever, but he was like an over-charged Energizer Bunny and just kept going until he tired the crowd out. At 2:30 AM, he finally pressed play on his computer for the last time and wrapped up what Matt said was the second-to-last Le Grand Magistry showcase ever.
This label is an unearthed gem, and its bands deserve the best support they can find. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ll see of any of these acts, be it in England or America.