OK, there are a TON of CMJ day and night shows happening all over Brooklyn and downtown today, so we're going to get right to the highlights from Friday so we can get back out there. After listening to most of the KEXP live remotes from home yesterday, I made it back in time for Ghost Wave, a New Zealand quintet who play catchy—if bratty—guitar pop that seemed to lean heavily on the Stones and other Brit bands from the '60s. None of them looked old enough to drive, much less drink, though lead singer/guitarist Matthew Paul clearly has talent beyond his years. Will be interesting to see how these kids develop over the next few years.
Saying farewell to CMJ headquarters, I wandered across Bleecker Street to the Bowery, where I stumbled upon the electro-flavored Monarch/Nylon day party at Bowery Electric. (CMJ organizers were less than forthcoming with info on this year's day parties, official or otherwise.) White Prism, led by the lissome (if limpid) expat Aussie Johanna Cranitch was more style than substance, but Welshman Rod Thomas' Bright Light Bright Light was like a more emotive version of The Postal Service—mixing dancehall beats with unrestrained, deeply penetrating vocals that was a bit retro but catchy as hell. I don't know what it is with the Welsh, but there must be something in the water over there.
I only managed to catch one band at the Reeperbahn showcase at Cake Shop, but Columbus, Ohio's Saintseneca played straight to my heart with their piercing lyrics, delivered Lumineers-style with guitars, ukeleles, and a thumping drum that sounded like the haunting beat of a peyote ceremony. Lead singer Zac Little even had the saloon look down, with his big red mustache and matted hair shaved on the sides. Their closer, "Blood Bath," really sent the basement on fire, the players descedning into chaos before erupting into a joyous anthem. The unforseen success of the folk-rock genre has spurned a host of imitators seeking to cash in, but few genuine avatars. Count Saintseneca among them.
Pelican’s second night at St. Vitus was just as well attended as the first (i.e. completely sold out with precious little room for CMJ badge-holders.) However, it was lead singer-less Sannhet that really struck a chord. From the flickering, static-y projection to the heady incense wafting through the air, their exceptionally loud, blistering set spoke to every sense except taste unless you happened to have a beer. It was hypnotic start to finish and proof positive that there is sonic room to grow and experiment within hard rock.
The annual M for Montreal showcase at Arlene's Grocery has always been a sure-fire hit for intriguing bands from North America's most interesting musical city, which made it all the more disappointing that none of the three acts I saw left much of an impression. Quebec rapper Webster MC'd to a half-empty room while Foxxtrott electro-pop never really rose to fever pitch (despite the live French horn). And Yamantaka/Sonic Titan, who all performed in kabuki face paint, seemed content to place theatrics above actual musicianship, droning on without any real direction.
That was all quickly forgotten by the time I walked over to Bowery Ballroom, where Eleanor Friedberger was about to take the stage at the Champion showcase. Friedberger, who rose to fame as one half of The Fiery Furnaces, is touring in support of her second album, Personal Record, which she says was inspired by her musical heroes from the '70s. She doesn't specify who those heroes are, but it doesn't take a genius to see the uncanny resemblance Friedberger has to rock icon Patti Smith—not just in appearance but in her searing, confessional lyrics, unvarnished emotion, and onstage swagger. Far and away, the best performance I've seen so far this CMJ.
I hung around after Friedberger's set to catch Seattle's The Long Winters performing their 2003 album When I Pretend to Fall. Frontman John Roderick was engaging enough, but these sort of nostalgia trips are designed more for industry honchos than people trying to discover the next big thing. So, I left mid-set and was happy to be home before 1:30.
More pics on the photo page, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter @feastofmusic for live updates throughout the day.