The festival lives on in the immortal words of a fellow college radio colleague “Nothing is really ever fun about any type of marathon.” Just kidding, it was a blast and you’re probably pretty jealous of us. We’ll check out the litany of concert reviews below to assuage your bruised ego.
8 PM – Marlin Room of Webster Hall – Bleeding Rainbow
The name “Bleeding Rainbow” was curious enough to make me check out this band (If Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark” had taught me anything). And I was right as the Philadelphia rockers delivered a set of lo-fi garage rock sweets. While the guitars blared uncontrollably, unleashing a mist of fuzzy distortion, and the drums reveled in each cymbal smash, the vocals charmed, a mix of female and male that really accentuated the melody in the otherwise rough mix of instrumentation. The two elements were foils of each other, demonstrating the careful song-writing and catchy melodies of the song whilst retaining the raw, emotional blend of any garage rockers. Intentional or not, the constant feedback was a reminder of the rough cacophony whilst the soothing female vocals did their best to give the crowd a reason to stay, up until the finale of a guitar and bass wrestling match in which the instruments were thrust up against each other (string to string) in one last hurrah.
8:45 PM- Marlin Room of Webster Hall- Dent May
I’m not sure I still totally understand Dent May’s appeal even after blogger thugs Pitchfork and company have bragged on the band. At any rate, Dent May’s set was a loose, fun venture into their summery, light, harmonized vocals demarcated by May’s distinct, nasally vocals. And Dent May is such a lovable character, the antithesis to the confident and suave lead singer, more likely to be cast as Scotty Smalls in the Sandlot. There were bubbles blown by two crowd members that floated above a small section of the crowd, that much was true, a perfect match with the jangly guitar melodies and light swaying of the crowd. The band seemed to be having a good time, despite their seemingly endless stream of upcoming CMJ performances, clocking in at 6 official performances and countless other unofficial shows. They closed out the set with crowd favorite “Best Friend” and reminded everyone of Dent May’s mix of pop friendliness with the indie sensibilities of a man who used to be called Dent My and the Amazing Ukulele.
9:30 PM- Marlin Room of Webster Hall- Heavenly Beat
“There’s a lot of feedback up here” were the words that launched Heavenly Beat’s set. And for the most part, this hissing feedback jumped out from around dark corners throughout the Brooklyn trio’s set, a clear consequence of the fifteen minute set-up times the venue imposed upon the artists. It was an issue but really wasn’t enough to effect the dream pop attack ala Wild Nothing. The band featured funky bass lines and chordal guitar accompaniment of a live band, coupled by the unseen presence of the laptop’s “heavenly” synths and constant drum machine “beats” that filled in for an absent drummer (see what I did there?). To say the band played it cool would be an understatement, as lead singer John Pena volunteered the minimal amount of information throughout the set whilst looking as bored as possible. “We have three songs left” and “yeah” were the words of wisdom that capped off each song. At the end I had mixed feelings about the set. It’s always disappointing to have robots filling in the place of two crucial band members (and dangerous too, you never want to give them too much power) and the feedback did the band no favors. But just as paternal band Beach Fossil, John Pena being the bassist of said band, Heavenly Beat delivered in the pleasant melodies and a swaying back-beat.
10:15 PM- Marlin Room of Webster Hall- Mac Demarco
I was pretty much asleep on my feet when Demarco and company took to the stage. But after a few songs they wiped my fatigue away. It’s tough to really pinpoint why Mac Demarco is worth listening to or even writing about. I was wondering this pretty much the entire set as my smile grew wider with every song. It was essentially the awkward vocals of Dent May paired with a slightly upbeat 90’s alternative garage sound. Nothing really extraordinary but the set translated perfectly. I am only to assume it was Demarco’s personality showing through in song form, personality that was clearly evident in his on-stage antics. Song names were announced with “WAZZ UP” in a Bill Hader-esque voice ala hs Italian character on SNL. The penultimate song in their set featured a wild bass solo that was capped off with Demarco lying flat on his back and a “Message In a Bottle” teaser. And finally, during the set’s slow, “sexy” closer “Together,” Demarco took the slowed tempo to launch a crowd surfing voyage upon the crowd as he somersaulted over the outstretched arms that were eager to carry him. His rough landing didn’t seem to bother him as he thanked the crowd before walking off stage. He was the first act at the Marlin Room to even recognize that there seemed to be a crowd gathered to see him perform and treated his performance as such by pandering to the crowd with what seemed to be a natural display of enthusiasm for his music. Plus he made out with someone. That doesn’t happen everyday.
11:00 PM – Marlin Room of Webster Hall- Teen Daze
“This guy turns knobs really dramatically,” a quip heard by a fairly annoying concertgoer that pretty much summed up the Teen Daze concert experience. I don’t think anyone would deny that Teen Daze is a talented DJ, composing some thumping, dance hall classics replete with electronic synth and nice drops every once and a while. But the live experience really doesn’t translate very well, or didn’t at Webster Hall at least. For starters, the music was relatively quiet, especially compared to the hellacious onslaught of decibels unleashed by the first few bands, more comparable to the venue music heard in-between sets (which was quite heavy on Grimes for the record). And yeah Teen Daze is just one guy up there, turning knobs to speed up, slow down or drop out the hi or low frequencies of the sample, doing very little to change the overall progression of the songs. It was fun, but not really enough to keep me on my feet or even in the venue for that matter. I left in a daze that felt nothing like being a teenager. Probably more like an old man daze (another name for Led Zeppelin cover band).
4:30 PM- CMJ Union @ Union Square- Paul Banks
Full disclosure here: I had no idea who Paul Banks and ended up at his show through word of mouth. First few songs my thoughts were “Man this band really sounds like Interpol.” The rest of set I pretty much had concluded that “yeah this has to be the guy from Interpol.” I could describe his sound to you but you pretty much know what it sounds like if you ever got caught up in “Turn On The Bright Lights.” Banks’ voice still is the deep calm that melts itself right onto the layered dual guitar riffs and the chaos of a cymbal heavy diet from the drums. I’ve never been the biggest Interpol fan in the world but I sure enjoyed the thirty minute set and the free Vitamin Water courtesy of KEXP’s somewhat swanky event. Banks definitely has potential outside of Interpol, his project not just a piggyback of his success elsewhere.
8:00 PM- Bowery Ballroom- Solid Gold
Before the set, I consulted the CMJ Info guide and could have sworn it said I was in for a set of “dynamic punk.” Instead, the Minnesota band treated the somewhat sparse Bowery crowd to an indie pop affair that ranged from up-tempo dancey synth beats to more keyboard driven, “Civil Twlight” bombastic ballads that kept the pop songwriter’s handbook on hand. They like to throw the term “glam” around a lot to describe their sound, something I didn’t necessarily pick up on during their set (they were dressed pretty normally too). Each song was a tribute to solid songwriting featuring some fairly original arrangements. The band finds themselves squarely amongst the mob that is the indie pop genre but it seems like the potential is there to fight for some market share if the crowd’s applause and constant banter with the lead singer is any indication. Tuesday brings the band’s Eat Your Young release, something I hopes end up in my iTunes.
9:00 PM- Bowery Ballroom- Pacific Air
Not too many bands have complimented this reviewer on the sexiness of his beard. In fact, I believe California’s Pacific Air was the first to bestow upon me such an honor. For context the quote was “It’s time to get sexy in here. Especially you man (points to me). I want your beard.” Does flattery buy you a great review? Most of the time, yes, maybe not if they really sucked but this was not the case. Walking on stage, the two twins who filled out the quintet were wearing all black with some funky “Cure” era haircuts. Instead “Pacific Air” delivered a set of upbeat pop gems, unabashedly getting there hands dirty in all the classic pop trademarks: verse chorus structures with wordless choruses of oohs and ahs. Holding all this together was a foundation of airy synths and powerful, upbeat dance beats, explaining the band’s dream pop labels. It came out sounding a lot like Young the Giant pop, ready-made anthems just one step away from the top 40. We are talking Neon Trees at their best pop here folks. But it was good; it was really good (I can’t stress that enough) despite those somewhat unfavorable comparisons. Beard comments aside, the pop was compelling, catchy and fun, a tribute to what Two Door Cinema Club does so well, bringing a steady stream of pop without all the guilt.
10:00 PM- Bowery Ballroom- San Cisco
Want to know what Australian San Cisco do in their free time? Apparently castrate cows (and subsequently become numb to the experience of castrating said cows which was scary to them), stalk people and write songs about all of it. I was given my first introduction to the band outside of the ballroom by touring agent/talent buyer at Amsterdam’s Paradiso (and yes we did manage to talk about weed in the conversation but I’ll be happy to report I didn’t bring it up) as she described them as “having a girl drummer, and she’s actually good.” And yeah she was good, she flitted around on the drums as she supplied cutesy vocals that fit right in with their twee-leaning indie pop. It didn’t hurt she was a smiley, cute teenage looking girl. Main vocalist Jordi Davieson seems to be a fan of Reptar, or at least Ulciny’s vocals, as his vocals came across as a more controlled version of the Jamaican baby flavor. The band definitely seemed to be at its strongest, at their “sillier” more twee influenced pop songs, which generally featured a more communal vocal contribution. Some of the set definitely felt like filler to me, what seemed to be a shot at appealing to a more mainstream sound when they really should stick to what seems to come natural to them. The crowd definitely ate up the set, even giving some woos of recognition at the band’s last two tracks.
11:00 PM- Bowery Ballroom- SKATERS
“Our merch is in a box over there, if anyone wants to steal it.” SKATERS, as their all-caps band name is an edgy, garage rock-infused band with their feet planted firmly between the racous, freewheeling guitar riffs of the Men and the carefully planned chaos of the Strokes (the vocals were also pretty much Is This It? Casablancas’ vocals) The band really wants to come off as an out of control, lo-fi house show rocking group and they definitely act the part (and that isn’t a bad thing, it’s fun). Trench coats and a stereotypically “tough guy” bassist generally give off that vibe and the mosh pit developing behind the front row agreed. But behind the mic stand breaking rebel personas are extremely well constructed, catchy pop melodies that were meticulously planned out in the studio and paid off on stage.
12:00 AM- Bowery Ballroom- Local Natives
Five and a half hours of waiting culminated in the hellacious climax of “Sun Hands,” that perfect lead up that builds up, is cut away, then introduced again with the single guitar that marks the time to lose your shit. Everyone was jumping around, it was Christmas and New Years Eve rolled into one, a disco ball filled spree that brought the end to their one hour plus set with flitting bits of fuzzy lights dancing about Bowery. It had been ten months since Local Natives had appeared live at Chicago’s Argon Ballroom and aside from a few missteps (“Did you guys notice that Kelcey forgot the lyrics to ‘Airplanes?’ Yeah, we’ve been working really hard on that new album.”), the band flawlessly tore through the highlights from Gorilla Manor and debuted eight new songs from their upcoming album Hummingbird. The new tracks featured heavily on brooding, emotional, slow burners that built and built, often without that satisfying release. The band placed a special importance (they literally said “this song is very important to us”) on the excellent ballad “Columbia” (a potential candidate for an album single) with its refrain “am I loving you enough,” a truly beautiful and sad gem. The band also debuted a song entitled, wait for it, “Bowery” with a tongue and cheek introduction. And while it was a treat to get a sneak preview of Hummingbird, everyone and there mom wanted to hear what put Local Natives on the map and the band was happy to oblige with several Gorilla Manor cuts. The massive crowd sing alongs to “World News” and “Sun Hands” were unreal and felt like something out of a clichéd movie with everyone not just singing but screaming out every lyric (don’t even get me started on the oh, oh, oh build up on “World News”). It was crazy, I loved every second of it, one of those shows you walk out of and feel sad because it’s over.
12:30 PM- CMJ Union at Union Square- DIIV
You wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a pair of drumsticks at CMJ but DIIV had their fair share of issues with locating some, delaying the start of their set by about 15 minutes (either that or our friends at KEXP are lying cheats). Either way, the band eventually “found” their way to the stage and started to “lose” themselves in their driving, melodic guitar overlays (get it?). DIIV is the kind of band you wouldn’t mind going on some crazy, 20-minute long jam tangential but with just 30 minutes to work with things were kept in check. “How Long Have You Known” made its appearance and the crowd faithfully bobbed their head along as the youngsters of Beach Fossil fame “dived” into their set (this is getting out of control).
4:30 PM- CMJ Union at Union Square – Poor Moon
Just two songs in, the decision was reached to vacate the premises for greener pastures of music. None of us were really prepared for the easy-listening bleh Poor Moon plopped upon the audience, with their kitschy, quirky instrumentation (washboards and xylophones for life) and the fairly flat vocals of leader Christian Wargo of Fleet Foxes fame. We were reminded later in the day of this mediocrity with a single text from a friend at the Sub Pop showcase in Brooklyn: “Poor Moon is still just as mediocre.”
8:00 PM- Terminal 5 – Daughter
“Wait this is The Donnas?” A set of “Take It Off” filled girl power wouldn’t have been the end of the world. A miscommunication stemming from the somewhat surprise appearance of a band that was missing on the lineup from the CMJ Festival guide (I’m sure at least someone in the crowd thought the Dum Dum Girls had really taken a different turn in their sound). Instead of MTV classics, the audience was treated to minimalist chamber pop with post rock influences that all centered around the Florence Welsh-esque vocals of Elen Tonra. The accent was there but instead of throwing her voice around like an American Idol contestant, the band carefully picked its spots and used what seemed like the entire set of calm to build up to a burst of emotion on the final song.
Dressed in black, with jewelry flowing and confidence abound the girl quartet addressed the crowd with their upbeat girl group jams. The set was a lovely collection of old and new with fan favorites “He Gets Me High” and “I Will Be” (where was Jail La La though?) and several cuts from their new “End Of Daze” EP. The set went pretty much as expected but did showcase the slightly different direction the new EP took the band in, a definite growth in their sound that provided a nice contrast between the frenetic tom-tom-snare drum diet of most songs that hints the band won’t just be a “Bhang Bhang Burnout.”
I was hoping this would be that concert experience where I finally “understood” The Walkmen. I’m not a fan and was unchanged, condemned to have a mild interest in a band I’ve actively tried to like. So just a run down of the show. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser looked more and more like James Murphy as the set ran on in his smart suit, while Paul Maroon looked like John Hamm with a mustache (at least he did that night). “The Rat” and “Angela Surf City” were as awesome as I thought they would be. The band suffers from “Romnesia” and labeled themselves as a New York band despite a recent interview in which they reconciled themselves more with D.C. And really the highlight of the night was at the end of “We’ve Been Had” when Leithauser disembarked from the stage, began awkwardly walking on top of fans and eventually made his way to the ground, then preceding to make his way through a sea of hugs and high-fives (I gave him a pat on the head, the high five probably wasn’t going to happen).
2:30 PM- CMJ Union at Union Square – Kishi Bashi
I felt like a superstar and wanted to tell everyone “Yeah, we had him at Live in the Lobby BEFORE he got big.” I held my tongue in check and even nodded politely when an onlooker explained his music to me (c’mon man, K. Ishibashi and I go way back). As always, his delightful melodies were interspersed with looping and layered violin lines as well as the occasional beat box exhibition. “Manchester” and “Bright Whites” made their mandatory appearances but a “Kissing The Lipless” cover from the Shins was a nice surprise, initially introduced as a Seattle-centeric cover of Pearl Jam, then Soundgarden (the crowd groaned when they learned both of them to be false). It lacked the nice, meaty crash of the original but was still a nice reinterpretation; a piece he worked up in junction with Seattle based KEXP performance earlier in the year.
4:30 PM- CMJ Union at Union Square – The Antlers
The Antlers are the bees knees. There are no two ways about it. That high falsetto, that melancholy and those ethereal guitar lines. And with just one CMJ appearance slated, the venue was at capacity. Not really sure who decided that a 30 minute set was appropriate for a band of their size at CMJ but hey, at least the crowd was treated to two soundchecks songs including “No Widows” that made its appearance in the main set comprised of Drift Dive, No Widows, Crest, Zelda and Hounds. It was short but so lovely and I can’t really complain that one of my all-time favorites, “Wake”, didn’t factor into the 30 minute set with its near 10 minute length. The set was a tease of hopefully concerts to come.
7:00 PM- Le Poisson Rouge – Hey Marseilles!
A quick look at the CMJ programming guide would inform that there are three Hey something bands but Marseilles has the distinction of being the only band with an exclamation point (Panic! At the Disco knows the secret). Yes, the band did sound like a lot of other bands and yes the lead singer’s vocals make him a leading candidate for Colin Meloy’s spot in The Winterists (a made-up Decemberists cover band) but it was just so charming. The traditional indie rock lineup was filled out by a dedicated cellist and violonist, as well as a utility man of sorts who tackled accordion, trumpet, clarinet and some percussive accompaniments. The crowd booed when the venue pulled the plug on the band, only to cheer a second later when they were granted time to play another. The venue seemed to retaliate a bit though, playing the Decemberists’ The King Is Dead in full, potentially a mean jab at the similarity.
9:00 PM- Le Poisson Rouge- Sea Wolf
I had only heard hit “You’re A Wolf” from Sea Wolf and didn’t really know what to expect. Most of it was pretty uninspired stuff and didn’t really keep my attention long, as I ended up sitting in the back (quite the luxury for my aching legs and feet) and using the venue’s free Wi-Fi. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, but I was pretty much waiting for my song to come on so I could hit it and quit it. A fellow CMJ’er seemed to have the same plan, as we simultaneously burst out of our seats when we heard the electric guitar riff of “You’re A Wolf” start up.