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October 2009

CMJ - Thursday Recap

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Day 3 of CMJ started out at The Delancey, where Reni Lane kicked things off in the basement around 7pm, With her bright red hair and matching sequined dress, she definitely has things down in the looks department - too bad her stage presence (or backing band) didn't rise to the same level. I mean, is it ever a good idea to cover Blondie's "Heart of Glass" in NYC? 

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She was followed by Suckers, who played trippy psychedelic rock with plenty of reverb and lights to match. They had a soothing, mellow vibe, filled with cooing vocals that occasionally slipped into falsetto, reminding me of 1990's Brit band Spacehog. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to keep me around for their full set...  

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Because, actually, the more interesting scene was upstairs, where Paul Wallfisch was holding his regular Small Beast, just like he does every Thursday in the bar area. Pete Drungle played a 40 minute improv set on Wurlitzer, accompanied by drum box and Theremin. It was both soothing and exotic, a welcome respite from the all-around aural assault. I wonder what the out-of-town indie kids thought of it. 

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From there, I hopped the M train out to Williamsburg, walking up to Union Pool for the Arts & Crafts (and friends) showcase. Toronto's Timber Timbre played soft and low via violin, guitar and slide that shimmered like an out-west desert sky. Lead vocalist Taylor Kirk sounded like the tenor version of Leonard with his hushed, dark vocals that held the packed room completely in thrall.

DSC02554By contrast, Goldhawks filled the Music Hall of Williamsburg with sunny guitar rock that felt more American than any band I've seen this week. Small detail that they happen to be from the UK.

DSC02566They were followed by Mumford and Sons: another UK outfit unfamiliar to me by recommended by several friends. They turned out to be the highlight of the night, ripping through a set of tight, bluegrass-tinged rock that sounded like a miraculous union of the Punch Brothers and Coldplay. Lead singer Ted Dwayne was completely charming in his stage banter, looking like a character straight out of "O Brother Where Art Thou?" with his mustache and vest, his soulful, honeydripped voice soaring above the banjo and upright bass. The packed house was clearly in on the secret, whooping and hollering throughout. Great show. 

DSC02615Closing out the bill at MHOW were Aussies The Temper Trap, who are among this moment's indie darlings, gracing the cover of this month's CMJ Magazine. Their vibe was melodic and dancey, but Chris Mandagi's vocals were shrill and overpowering - and not in a good way. The last straw for me was "Sweet Disposition," where they nakedly ripped off The Edge's guitar riff from "Where The Streets Have No Name."

DSC02639Walking back towards the G train, I stopped in the Cameo Gallery, situated like a speakeasy in the back room of a restaurant on N. 6th St. Imagine my wonder when I stumbled upon L.A. duo Voices Voices, playing experimental noise underneath a fiberoptic sculpture lit up like an acid rainbow. If it weren't for the pictures, I couldn't say for sure it wasn't some kind of fever dream. 

DSC02642Eventually, I ended up back where I started, catching the midnight set at Union Pool by Montreal's Hollerado. Terrible name, but fun band, full of retro guitar riffs and straight up harmonies. Which, at that stage of the evening, was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Back out to the LES tonight, with a hopeful nightcap somewhere closer to home. (More pics below.)

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CMJ - Wednesday Recap

DSC02430 I spent day two of CMJ bumping around the L.E.S., which boasts the highest concentration of venues, both established and temporary. Ground Zero last night was Arlene's Grocery, which hosted a showcase hosted by M For Montreal, featuring no fewer than six bands from La Belle Ville. Silly Kissers played techno-pop, fronted by a girl and boy in white face paint and a guitarist who bumbled his way through some silly stage banter. Beast was dominated by the diva-like Betty Bonifassi, but felt otherwise disjointed. Think About Life were just as engaging as when I last saw them in Toronto back in May, but the dance-averse NY crowd left things feeling flat. (My guess is they'll see a whole other league of crowd response tonight during their appearance at the Halifax Pop Explosion.) Francophones Malajube played proggy hard rock with high energy and verve. (Unfortunately, I had to run before catching the explosive Annie-Claude and Duchess Says, who went on around 1230a)

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Having a pass allowed me to wander off between sets, so I was able to catch Drink Up Buttercup's wild, aboriginal set at Cake Shop. When guitarist James Harvey broke a guitar string, he compensated by bringing the band out into the audience to perform a capella, with drummer Farzad Houshiarnejad keeping time by banging on a trash can lid with a maraca. (He later borrowed a guitar from the next band.) From there, I wandered over to Piano's, where I saw These United States' play some quicksilver roots rock, whose lead singer, Jesse Elliott, ended up most songs completely out of breath. 

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But the big discovery last night was a band I just happened to stumble upon: Norway's Megaphonic Thrift (pictured above), who tore through a 45 minute set at the Suffolk Back Room (a.k.a. the CSV Cultrual Center). They were like a cross between Built To Spill and Yo La Tengo, fronted by the Doug Marsh-like Richard Myklebust on vox and guitar. All I can say is: Wow. If you missed them, they're playing one final show this Saturday at Glasslands before heading back across the pond. 

Apologies to my friends at New Amsterdam/Canteloupe for missing their dual-showcase at LPR last night, but when I'm in festival mode, new music isn't really what I'm jonesing for. I'll come back and hear you guys soon.

Out to Williamsburg tonight - hope to see you out there. (More pics below.)DSC02473 

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CMJ - Tuesday Recap

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The 29th annual CMJ Music Marathon kicked off last night here in New York, with over 1,200 artists playing some 60 venues around downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. Obviously, I'm only able to see a small fraction of all the gigs in town this week - and my badge only gets me into venues that haven't yet reached their quota (somewhere between 40-50 per venue) - so expect a random assortment based more on chance than choice. Which, hopefully, will yield at least one or two new discoveries.

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I started out last night at S.O.B.'s, where Eldar played the 8pm set. The 22 year old pianist possesses a phenomenal, lightning-fast technique that's nominally jazz but goes well beyond it into rock and fusion, aided by Armando Gola (bass) and Ludwig Afonso (drums). He had both an electric piano and some kind of wheezing electric organ with him onstage; he could have done without the latter. 

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Next, it was a quick stop by NYU's Kimmel Center for a student showcase in their a 4th floor performance space that has lights and sound that would be the envy of most NYC clubs. I caught Bennett Jackson & The Ranch Hands, who could best be described as a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Fortunately, there were cans of iced Cafe Bustelo to provide a well-needed jolt.

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From there, it was a 10 minute walk over to Ace of Clubs on Great Jones Street to catch 28 North: a straight-up outfit from Pittsburgh who play classic rock mixed with ska, jazz and funk. It wasn't my particular cup of tea, but it was a refreshing breeze in CMJ's vast sea of indieness. 

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For the 11p show, I walked over to Bowery Electric to catch Awesome New Republic: a Miami trio who sounded straight out of the 80's, mixing drum machines and synths into their dancey rock (fronted by the charismatic Michael John Hancock on guitar and vocals.) Funny, I didn't even know the "Magic City" had a scene, though I'm not surprised to learn their rock is heavily laced with electronica.  

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I ended my night at Bowery Ballroom, where I was happy to see old favorites Jukebox the Ghost headlining, to a room nearly filled with enthusiastic fans who happily clapped and danced. Which is no mean feat, given lead singer/pianist Ben Thornewill's penchant for clipped meters and offbeat melodies. Unfortunately, this was Jukebox's final NYC gig this year, as guitarist Tommy Siegel will be having surgery on his vocal chords as soon as the band finishes recording their new album.  

Back out tonight for more fun. See you out there! (More pics below.)

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Sunday Special

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So, I ended up passing on both the CSO and Wilco last night in Chicago, opting instead to drop $3 to hear a pair of local bands at the Empty Bottle: the dingy bar/indie venue on N. Western where I had such fun the last time I was in town. Sadhu Sadhu are a local trio who played psychedelic 60's rock that occasionally roared like MBV. Johnny, the guitarist, was a real stringer, peppering his solos with distortion without leaning on it. They were followed by UUVVWWZ (not to be confused with these guys): an experimental group out of Lincoln, Nebraska full of dissonant guitars, fronted by Teal Gardner's otherworldly wail. At first, they made me cringe (usually a good sign) but by the end they'd won me over with their raw energy. They'll be in New York all this week, playing CMJ shows all around Bklyn and Manhattan if you want to check them out for yourself.

Speaking of CMJ, I just learned that I'll be badged up again this year, so be on the lookout for regular updates throughout the week. (More pics below.)

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