CMJ 09 - Atlas Sound and Broadcast

Just around 8 o' clock, we headed over to Brooklyn to catch Atlas Sound w/Broadcast and the guys that opened for them. Selmanaries (the aforementioned "guys.") underwhelmed.  But that may have been a keenly planned trap orchestrated by Broadcast.  Here's the setup. So there you are feeling underwhelmed after those "guys."  All of a sudden, the heavy beats and noise rock starts, accompanied by a trippy-as-hell abstract video installation mind-game thing. I gotta be honest.  My first thought was along the lines of "what the fuck?"  and my second thought was to flee for my life.  The second thought was supported by the earth-shaking bass.  I abandoned my friends Maura and Ali and headed to the my safety zone - the men's room.  Are you kidding?  The bass was not only earth-shaking, but also below-the-earth-toilet shaking.  Shit, these Broadcast kids are powerful.  I returned to the show and enjoyed the band and their video which may have been outtakes from the tape in The Ring.  I was convinced I was being brainwashed.  Broadcast finished, and my paranoia aside, were pretty impressive. Enter Bradford Cox, in what was one of the strangest and most engrossing shows I have witnessed.  He started off by tearing into some tracks off Logos, before taking a quick banter break.  I had this feeling like I was witnessing something special; he is a very sincere performer.  That's easy to appreciate these days.  My favorite track from the new album, "Walkabout" got a fascinating treatment: slowed-down, folk-tinged, and equally impressive as the studio version, I was completely invested in the show at this point. The thing is, it's not unique for me to be invested in a show.  It happens all the time. But that's where Cox really started to set himself apart.  I'll make it quick, but reread a couple of time for effect.  After starting a Velvet Underground cover that was "worth the wait" (there had been some time between songs), he promptly stopped the band, suggesting that that were off key.  He proceeded to take requests from the audience; some Atlas Sound songs (c'mon people), Rock Around the Clock, The Monster Mash (he almost played this, but claimed to have forgotten the tab sheet for it).  Here, he made iconic rock poses for pictures, played the intro to "Hattie Carroll" and basically used a couple songs' worth of time to hone his standup routine.  Honestly, it was pretty damn funny and a unique break from music.  He finished his set (which included the complete VU song), but the five-minute comedy break still sticks out as a memorable and enjoyable part of the show. The set was really strong, and very different from a Deerhunter set (he is Deerhunter's frontman if you didn't know.)  There was some folky stuff (harmonica included!), some psychy stuff, some noisy stuff, but it all put a new face on a familiar figure.  He also wasn't wearing a dress tonight. The whole time, all I could think is:  Bradford Cox is almost a genius.  He's the nerdy best friend you would think was a genius if you hadn't seen them behave under the slight influence of alcohol. I'll get some pictures of him up tomorrow.

CMJ Day 3: Lost In Williamsburg

The best CMJ shows are the unofficial ones in the daytime at tiny venues. It's actually fun finding the bathroom in the basement, the stage on the second floor, and with the ground and mezzanine it makes a total of four floors begging to be explored. The bands usually float around too for a short, friendly chat. Case in point, Brooklyn Vegan threw another show at Piano's (old legitimate Piano sign still decorates facade) and the line-up was difficult to pass up: The Muslims, Japanese Motors, Pretty and Nice, Friendly Fires, Crystal Antlers, etc. I was able to squeeze in an interview with The Muslims, recent L.A. transplants from San Diego, who I had seen at the Echo unexpectedly in the summer. Their sound is garage rock-ish, reminiscent of several key rock acts of past decades, but refreshing and new. We tried hard to make my tiny travel recorder work among weekday street noise, and hopefully the quality is good enough for me to post when I return. The band has been super busy at CMJ, but the too-short interview is hopefully the precursor to a real, grueling, hot-seat style interview in the studio. For playing so early in the day, Boston boy band Pretty and Nice really got me in the dancey mood. They have extraordinary energy, joking about their malfunctioning equipment, soliciting a snare drum from the crowd, and playing really edgy punky pop (not pop punk). They toed the line between rebellious and out of tune, but luckily stayed on the first side. I had no interest in Eagle Seagull at all. Don't get me wrong, the keyboards were great and so were the violin solos, but I really saw nothing special with their music or performance. Six musicians produced a really full sound with great coordination, but somehow the creativity was lost. The band utilized repetitive hooks and relied on the talent of the vocalist, who could not produce enough variety to perpetuate interest. In the evening, I went to Webster Hall to finally catch one of Fujiya and Miyagi's performances at CMJ. I didn't know until I saw the massive line of teenz that Crystal Castles was actually the headliner. The earlier comment about enjoying small venues is directly related to the fact that this place was pretty darn big and packed (with annoying, illicitly drunk teens). Lymbyc System opened the night, and man, I have been so lucky catching worthwhile openers. I doubt this is P.C., but the band is two unassuming-looking guys with Jew-fros playing shoegazey, experimental electronic. They reminded me a whole lot of Tortoise, only less Jazzy. While at times they sounded like a tiny music box lullaby, L.S. definitely brought the volume and the beat in, and the show peaked in several climaxes. The scrawnier guy played keyboards, and was obviously trained on piano, while the slightly less scrawny fella played both drums and bells. They're on tour with Crystal Castles. Whomadewho was hilarious, wacky, and totally lovable. I will scan my drawings of them later, but for now, just look at their myspace. The dude played guitar with a Heineken bottle. Need I say more? Now, I have never seen a live video of Fujiya and Miyagi or, well, even a photo. I had no clue what to expect. The best part of the show was seeing how the sounds were made and who was making them. Surprises: 1) The guitarist is the main vocalist, but the keyboardist and bass player contribute as well. It's pretty subtle on the album, and I couldn't tell if the singer just layered his own vocals. 2) The guitarist is amazing. It's subtle on the album, but F&M really let those solos shine. 3) The album sounds so cohesive that you could believe one person was recording everything, but really it's just almost-perfect coordination. Every day has been discovery, disappointment, and pure satisfaction. My ears are aching, even after wearing earplugs, and probably from the HUGE speakers at Webster. I left before Crystal Castles not just because I've seen them before, but because I was going to strangle the kids in the crowd. Whatever I.D. check lady gave these young babies liquor should get the boot. They yelled "Crystal Castles!!!" during Fujiya and Miyagi's set and kept talking about how much they sucked. FAIL. (Pictures and stuff soon. Sorry I write so much. Sorry this is unedited. More tomorrow!)


CMJ Day Two: The KSCR folk were able to wake a little earlier, a sign that we are adjusting to the time difference. I trekked on over to Cake Shop in the lower east side, which is a two-floored bar that also serves vegan pastries. Terrorbird's showcase included Frontier Ruckus, Rainbow Arabia, Starfucker, Shugo Tokumaru, Faunts, Tobacco, Women, Takka Takka, Marine Stern, and School of Seven Bells. Cake Shop is sort of a cruddy place to see bands. The visibility is horrible, such that if you are 8 rows back you can't see anything. I pushed and slid my way through the crowd, only to catch a slight glimpse of someone in the band. Shugo Tokumaru was a highlight of the show AND of the day for me. Their music would make an excellent soundtrack to just about any foreign film. The combination of Japanese vocals, French-pop-ish accordions and elements of folk/bluegrass was really something striking. Shugo Tokumaru's vocals weren't dominating, nor detracting from the music. I'm sure the parallel has been drawn with Beirut, although the two are quite different (no horns, for one). The pacing was really compelling: he and his band made beautiful, nostalgic music go fast! Tobacco was exactly what I expected, and a little more. Musically, the set was not much different from the album. Perhaps aware that watching people do a little ditty on the keyboard ain't the most exciting thing to watch, the band set up a corresponding video show with grandmas eating ice cream, a montage of women in pornos (without nudity), vintage exercise videos, and girls blowing bubbles. The two members were hilarious to watch, sporting black hoodies and serious faces (which broke later with a sound gaffe). All in all, I was totally satisfied with the Terrorbird event (yeah, free Sparks) and took a little break before the Carpark/Paw Tracks showcase at Le Poisson Rouge (I think it means red fish). I am still recovering from the event, and deciphering my notes which indicate that I had very strong (negative) feelings about the bands. Rings was the worst thing I have ever put myself through. To say something broad, and keep in mind I left after four acts, the show was filled with experimental bands who couldn't quite justify the use of cacophany and painful pitches OR were simple because they were unskilled. Tickley Feather was a disappointment, and I was underwhelmed. Annie's vocals were the highlight: delicate, ultra-feminine, and very bird-like. She channeled a very eerie and whimsical mood, and it was hard to imagine those sounds coming out of a person and not a keyboard. Overall, though, the product was pretty and not beautiful, and the show was unique but not special. Of course, it was enjoyable but very much lacking depth and variety; I could not imagine where else they could go with this. So, I couldn't wait for Beach House, but I'm sure I'll see them around. Pictures and interviews soon, when I'm not blogging from an Internet Cafe.  

CMJ Night One: Jens and His Technicolor Top Half

As learned by last night, the key to CMJ is to commit to one venue for the evening. I trekked to the Music Hall of Williamsburg, an amazing 3-floor venue for the Brooklyn Vegan showcase. Somehow, I stood throughout 5 acts, albeit my legs were shaking, my feet were aching, and I was totally dehydrated. The Sammies were unfortunately an unpleasant start to the night. The dorky four piece from Charlotte were the typical pop-punk outfit with lead, rhythm, bass, and drums. Charming as they were, the music was utterly forgettable--predictable and repetitive--but well-rehearsed. Their best songs were near the end with some obvious southern rock 'n roll influence, but overall, I liked the karaoke band at Arlene's better (see: Jeff's blog). Shearwater was a super awesome, older fivesome playing dreamy, somber, country-inspired rock. The highlight was Thor, their drummer/clarinet player who had a sleeveless blouse, bangs, and one pigtail braid. On stage sat two keyboards, a tambourine, banjo, trumpet, three bass guitars (two electric, one standup [with and without the bow]), acoustic and electric guitar, and the aforementioned clarinet and drums. They were a pleasant surprise. Ponytail totally took me back to L.A. 'cos they remind me of so many Smell bands. Four kids playing the funnest noise pop/tropical-y punk is fronted by this little androgenous yelling kid who had some sort of ADD. The energy on stage just permeated through the crowd, and the night really began to take off. I loved seeing two Telecasters battling. Ponytail plays well-coordinated, well-practiced pop. Restless for Jens Lekman, I thought I would not survive Passion Pit, but I actually was pretty absorbed in their set. Five of the cutest boys from Cambridge, MA played (suprisingly not annoying) keyboard/synth dominated electronic pop. The lead singer looked like a skinnier, hip Booger from Revenge of the Nerds and had a voice like a (less annoying) version of the Mars Volta dude. Three keyboards alternating with bass and guitar made for dreamy but energetic, fun dance music. I have to admit, when the moment finally came, and Jens Lekman appeared like a god descending from the sky, in a pink parrot sweater, I was disappointed. I suppose I expected more singing from the "singing DJ" gig, but the set was still tons of fun. The people around me had been standing up for more than four hours at this point, but managed to dance their feet until they were numbed. Jens was set-up on the far back corner of the stage. His pale complexion was reflecting 100% of the spotlights, so that he glowed orange, pink, and green while mouthing Mariah Carey's Fantasy and doing his characteristic old man clapping. The point was hammered home that Jens likes American female pop... a lot. All in all, Brooklyn Vegan put on an excellent showcase and I may go to their other events this week. Tonight, I must choose between Tobacco and Fujiya and Miyagi at the Mercury Lounge, or the Carpark/Paw Tracks showcase (Beach House, Tickley Feather) at Le Poisson Rouge. I will blog again tomorrow, probably from this $2/20 minutes computer. Missin' you, L.A.

KSCR@CMJ: A woman transformed

The first in a series of articles from the KSCR contingent at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. We all have a pretty strong idea of who we are as social creatures -- how outgoing we are, which lines we'll cross -- but there's an interesting mix of energy, encouragement, and ample liquor that can help us discover how inaccurate our self-images can be, how different a person can be hiding inside. That was certainly the case for the crowd at Arlene's Grocery last night. In the Lower East Side grocery store turned rock venue, Monday night is karaoke night, but calling what happens at Arlene's karaoke is kind of like calling Times Square an intersection. Arlene's offering differs from the familiar Koreatown karaoke experience in two ways:
  1. You've got an audience -- no, a crowd. Not a bunch of Japanese businessmen trying to drink away the day either; these are the kind of diehard rockers who always seem to pose a few articles of clothing during an extra-wicked solo. And they're all cheering for you.
  2. Forget TVs and tinny PAs; you're accompanied by a full live band that'll play you through any song in "the Bible," a 4-inch binder filled with lyric printouts, from memory.
Giving amateurs the chance to song real rock classics in a real stage at a real rock club with a real audience is the vocal equivelant of Guitar Hero: you get caught up in the simulation. Otherwise shy patrons vanish into themselves and become Nikki Sixx or Blondie or Johnny Rotten. Case in point: Julie from Belgium. Small, stylish, thick European accent, first visit to Arlene's, first time on stage. Say goodbye to Julie and hello to Bono, circa 1992. Some regulars did pitch-perfect versions of Rage Against The Machine or The Clash without so much as a glance at the lyrics book, but it was the performers like Julie, the live-band karaoke virgins caught up in the electricity of the moment, that really set the room on fire. And we, the audience, eat that shit up. From the second you grip the mic you are our personal Jesus. When you say, "Rock," we say, "How hard?" It's the kind of magic that stays with you long enough to make the late-night trip back uptown on the Hydra-headed New York subway system pass by like a dream. Check out CMJ Music Marathon here. Got a band you want us to catch? Restaurant that can't be missed? Leave us a comment!

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