CMJ Day Five: A Recapitulation
As one blogger so delicately phrased it, "CMJ goes out with a whimper". There wasn't a whole lot I wanted to see on Day Five of CMJ. So I rested my weary bones, wandered around Williamsburg, and caught a couple of shows. One highlight was Ha Ha Tonka's performance at Union Pool in Williamsburg at a homey, jam-packed venue. I believe there was a BBQ going on as well. Williamsburg was lovely, flourishing with so many creative, friendly spirits. It's beautiful in its own way and I absolutely fell in love with the place. Another highlight was seeing Santogold at the Fader Party. Think MIA meets Gwen Stefani. According to her myspace, people like Michael Jackson and Libyan ruler Moammar Qaddafi like her music. It sounds like brilliant marketing ploy to me. She opened for the sold out Björk show at Madison Square Garden two or three weeks prior. She has incredible hype, but I'm not quite sure the music snobs will buy into it. The room was packed when she started her set and as her beat-heavy backing seemed a bit lacking, the crowd started to thin out. Santi asked the crowd, "Is the background music loud enough?" What she was really asking was: "Why aren't you guys feeling this?" Try selling it to the masses not the snobs.
After four twelve hour days of music marathon-ing, who in their right mind would subject themselves to Justice's highly demanded dance party in midtown or Band of Horses' sold out show at Bowery? Instead of going to see big acts on the last day of CMJ, I spent the day reflecting and compiling a list of my top ten best shows.
I arrived just in time for a very short set by Auckland natives Cut Off Your Hands. They played for nearly fifteen minutes, but they brought the rock. The lead singer put his all into what was, presumably, his first CMJ show of the week. He was on the ground at times singing with his all and he concluded their set with a brazen act: climbing the pipe on the ceiling like a monkey. I'll never forget the elation this single moment brought me on my first day of my first CMJ experience.
Cut Off Your Hands - "Still Fond"
As we were waiting for them to take stage I joked with the guy next to me, who had asked what they sounded like, "They're enormously loud and noisy, but we're used to that sort of thing in LA". The band took stage with a zen-like chant, every member singing in unrefined chorale, and dove head first into a clamor of music. Normally, I'm not into this type of scene, but there is something entirely mesmerizing and, consequently, endearing about their innovative approach. They nearly ripped everyone's face off with their blistering experimental rock. It was a high-energy, constant flux of screaming and singing. My first Health experience was eye-opening, to say the least.
Health - "Crimewave"
I ran back over to the Cake Shop to catch San Francisco's Papercuts. I've been a big fan of their second release Can't Go Back ever since Grizzly Bear toured with them. Their lo-fi murmurs are reminiscent of the mid 60s. Front man Jason Quever's voice is so saccharine I almost can't bear it. They ran through a set that included my favorite song "John Brown", which sounds like it belongs in San Francisco circa fall of '68. Their music contains simple, ghostly qualities that bring to mind Simon and Garfunkel. The small underground venue was brimming with appreciative folk. Papercuts were quite well-received.
Papercuts - "John Brown"
As I arrived at the Highline Ballroom, The Octopus Project was playing. Catching a part of their set was pure ecstasy for me. I have always wanted to see their experimental, electronically driven pop play out live. They used all sorts of crazy instruments including a Moog I have never come across. The machine transformed front woman Yvonne Lambert's vocals into oscillating goodness. People were really into them, which surprised me because they hail from Austin and I didn't expect their reach to extend this far. There must be something said about their in-between banter. I wished they had abstained. Band member Toto Miranda spewed happy-go-douche-y (yes, I just coined this term) nothings to the audience between songs and I just wanted to hurt myself for having to endure it.
The Octopus Project - "I Saw the Bright Shinies"
Aside from Bon Iver, I was most excited to see The Most Serene Republic perform. I first discovered their unique sound from their remix of Stars' "Ageless Beauty". Generally, you can't entirely distinguish an artist's sound from their remix of someone else's work. However, The Most Serene Republic defy that as well as many other musical norms. They were some of the most amazing musicians I have ever watched. Their songs contain some of the busiest drum and bass work I have heard in quite some time. I had always noted this while listening to their music, but watching it play out before my eyes was stupefying.
The Most Serene Republic - "Present of Future End"
By this point I'm completely beat, but I trek on to Williamsburg via the L train to the Music Hall to catch Yeasayer. I'm a huge fan of their forthcoming debut All Hour Cymbals. Front man Chris Keating's compulsive, schizophrenic presence is exactly what I envisioned it to be from listening to his album. He kept readjusting the mic stand as though it were in the wrong place and once he finally decided it was, he gave off an expression of complacency. Keating provided some much needed comic relief. As the set came to a close, he checked his cellphone, joking about how he got a text message from his mother: "She usually comes to our shows. Momma are you up there?" He looked upwards and jokingly exclaimed, "No, not tonight. Momma's dead!" Yeasayer plowed through a set comprised of tunes from their debut All Hour Cymbals, including my favorites "Sunrise", "Wait For Summer", and "2080".
Yeasayer - "2080"
I swung by the Fader Party again to catch MGMT, one of my favorite artists at the moment. Things were in full effect over there. The space was packed with people and we were all dancing along, doing feel-good two steps to MGMT's throwback tunes. It was clear how much clout these Brooklyn natives have in this neck of the woods. People continued to flow from the downstairs VIP artist's room in order to see what the commotion was all about. Everyone was digging their tightly executed set, which included crowd pleasers like the funky "Electric Feel" and the Bowie-esque "Weekend Wars".
MGMT - "Electric Feel"
The three-pieced Bon Iver took stage and proved to us what the hype was all about. Their debut album For Emma, Forever Ago isn't even out yet and everyone from Pitchfork to LAist absolutely loves it (I never thought I'd put those two websites in the same sentence). Front man Justin Vernon wore his heart on his sleeve: "I can't believe people are actually here to see us play before a bunch of real bands". Bon Iver's debut was not intended to be unearthed and thus the resoundingly positive reviews are probably a bit overwhelming for him. Through their short set, I felt as though I finally understood the premise of Bon Iver's debut: a lonely act of utmost sincerity. "Our record is coming out in the first quarter, as they say". Vernon was witty and tremendously entertaining. His pristine, powerful voice soared over their minimal execution. They jammed through "Flume", "Creature Fear", the title track "For Emma", my personal favorite "Skinny Love", and they encouraged a crowd sing-along to help recreate "The Wolves (Act I And II)". After hearing the raspy, silver-plated guitar lines of "Skinny Love", I think I can die a happy man.
Bon Iver - "Skinny Love"
British dance-rock group Foals took stage on time, but didn't start due to a series of unfortunate technical difficulties. I suppose they wanted their second US performance to be perfect. Who can blame them? People started to get antsy and even began to yell, "Play already!" The keyboardist sensed our anxiousness and replied with humor, "We're really comfortable with our equipment. Really. We've done this loads of times." After a long wait, they decided to play because they couldn't solve their amp-related woes. Despite this dallying, Foals destroyed us. People were flailing about as though they were having seizures, making it nearly impossible to snap shots of the band. The crowd was way into their performance, even pleading for a few more songs as their set concluded. They ran through a substantial set of mostly new tunes that put Bloc Party to shame. Seriously. They put on one of the most energetic, unforgettable shows I've seen thus far at CMJ. If you ever get the chance to see them, you ought to do yourself the favor of experiencing their addictive dance bliss.
Foals - "Mathletics"
1. New Young Pony Club at Studio B on Day Three
I hopped in a cab to Brooklyn in order to catch my favorite Brit-dance group New Young Pony Club at Studio B. They rarely make it out to the states and I had been anticipating their Modular People showcase for quite some time. Studio B is in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and that translates to the middle of nowhere. Yet this single club manages to draw the biggest dance mainstays in the scene. Whenever Justice or Mstrkrft come through town they're more than likely hitting up this place. I walk in and New Young Pony Club is rocking out. This place was hopping like a club in Manhattan, except this was in a desolate, industrial area of Brooklyn. People were getting down and dirty, throwing their hands in the air like they just didn't care. It was pretty astonishing and unforgettable. Lead singer Tahita Bulmer led NYPC through a set of hopping tunes from their latest Fantastic Playroom. She was graceful, at times nearly falling out of her low-cut dress, as well as compelling. Bulmer kept prodding the New Yorkers to get into it, "Come on NY! I know you guys can do better than that!" Songs like "Ice Cream", "Get Lucky", and "The Bomb" were all extremely well-received. The culmination of the entire performance was their cover of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam". The room was hopping and it started to smell like rancid puke, a familiar club smell, towards the close of their set. However, people wanted more of their lively antics after they left stage. So New Young Pony Club came out and granted us a meager yet fulfilling encore.
New Young Pony Club - "Ice Cream"