The last day of CMJ always feels like a beehive of activity, with everyone running around in a desperate frenzy to catch this or that buzzed-about band before they leave. My day started at the annual Aussie BBQ at The Delancey, where Sydney-based duo Ginger and the Ghost played the upstairs bar amidst psychedelic projections. Ginger (aka Missy) shouted her lyrics in a poofy white dress while banging on a papier-mâché-encased drum set, and The Ghost (aka Daniel) played hazed-out looping guitar. A bit over the top theatrically for my taste, but they were charming in that Aussie-friendly way.
At Rockwood Music Hall, Portland's Hockey played a '70s-sounding set that mixed guitars and synths, coming across as Strokes-lite. Easy going down, but not particularly distinctive: Are these guys really signed to a major?
Far more engaging were NYC-based Caveman, one of this week's big draws, playing the Bowery Presents showcase at Pianos. "I used to get wasted in this place all the time!" shouted lead singer Matthew Iwanusa. "Still do!" Despite Iwanusa's antics, Caveman turned in one the tightest shows I saw all week, their shoegaze sound anchored by guitarist Jimmy "Cobra" Carbonetti, who seemed like a dark sorcerer in his big black hat and bolo tie. If Iwanusa resembled Ben Affleck, Carbonetti was the spitting image of Johnny Depp. The room was packed beyond capacity, always a promising sign at CMJ.
From there, I rode the J train over the Williamsburg Bridge to check out the happenings in B'burg for the first time this week. First stop was Brooklyn Vegan's showcase at the brand-new club Baby's All Right on Broadway, just a stone's throw from Peter Luger's. With a free Sailor Jerry's cocktail in hand, I caught a full set by Nashville-based Torres: like The White Stripes in reverse—with Mackenzie Scott on lead guitar and vocals, and a skinny boy on drums. Despite her doe-eyed appearance, the 22-year-old Scott showed she was capable of unleashing fierce guitar licks and simmering, snarling vocals, like a young PJ Harvey or Cat Power.
At Trash Bar, I saw the opening set by San Francisco duo Happy Fangs, who wore white face paint and shook pom-poms in an ill-fated attempt to get the crowd moving to their punk-lite sound. At least there was an open bar.
NYC's EULA played across the street next at Grand Victory (formerly Bruar Falls), where lead singer/guitarist Alyse Lamb unleashed a ferocious set of post-punk, screaming with unfettered passion into her mic; just full-on speedball energy.
These kids who opened the Flowerbooking showcase at Knitting Factory were actually pretty good. Too bad they're listed in the CMJ program as "Special Guests." Why don't venues ever archive past events, or at least not freeze their calendar?
I caught the tail end of another local act, Empress Of, at Cameo Gallery, which was by far the most crowded I've ever seen the speakeasy space. More hazed-out indie-pop, but bonus points for the clever Craiglist-knockoff website.
At the Popgun showcase at Glasslands, I was happy to catch Philadelphia duo Pattern Is Movement for the first time since CMJ in 2008. Andrew Thiboldeaux (lead vocals/keys) and Chris Ward (backup vocals/drums) have mellowed out significantly over the past five years, with Ward no longer collapsing his 250-pound frame on his drum kit, and Thiboldeaux doing the same quavering voice that has made a success out of Beirut and Dirty Projectors. A highlight was a surprisingly affecting cover of D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," as was "Suckling" from their first new album in six years, to be released this January.
Somehow, I managed to miss headliners Hospitality at Glasslands. Fortunately, it was only a short walk back to Baby's All Right, where the BV showcase was drawing to a close with one of this year's most buzzed about—if horribly named—bands, Joanna Gruesome. After a 30-minute delay due to technical issues, the Welsh quintet launched into a high-energy set that ranged from melodic shoegaze to thrashing post-punk. The alternatively catchy and sneering vocals came courtesy of 22-year-old Alanna McArdle, who looked like she'd just stepped out of a cocktail party with her black dress and short-cropped hair; only her forearm tattoos gave her away.
Back at Pianos later that night, local act Weird Womb took to the stage for Dub Pie’s loosely organized but very fun free showcase. The small room was buzzing with energy as the quartet plowed through their sludgy, garage rock. Frontman Dakota Pollock interspersed the set with “jokes” of sorts and even if they didn’t quite land the group's confident, swaggering approach more than made up for it - at one point they convinced two dedicated fans in the front row to form a sort of mosh kick line.
New Zealand/Brooklyn’s Streets of Laredo were up next and offered a perfect contrast to Weird Womb. Dreamy yet upbeat, the sprawling group filled every corner of the small stage and every inch of the room with their unique take on nouveau country-folk. While there are plenty of groups tapping into the Mumford and Sons niche hoping for the same success, Laredo’s thoughtful lyrics and rousing melodies felt earnest and fun without an ounce of New York irony.
With another CMJ happily in the books, I can't say for certain that I heard any one major trend this year, or that there were any sleeping giants among the 1,400+ bands. But, I had fun, and no one got hurt—at least not permanently. What did you see this year? Feel free to share in the comments below.
More pics on the photo page.