CMJ Music Marathon: A Night at Rockwood Music Hall
"Persona," a New Opera: Finding a Voice at National Sawdust

CMJ Music Marathon: A Night at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano 

Hannah Cohen(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

On the second night of last week’s CMJ Music Marathon, Webster Hall was filled with bands that ranged from dreamy self-absorption, to dressed-all-in-black arena rock, to a trippy electronic dance fantasy. I caught acts on two of the three stages.

In the Ballroom upstairs, model and musician Hannah Cohen sang ethereal and meandering songs that looped in and out of focus. These contemplative meditations probably would be best listened to in a darkened bedroom illuminated by a galaxy of twinkling candles. Once a California high school soccer star, and the daughter of a jazz drummer, Cohen was “discovered’ as a model and spent most of her 20s modeling and then hanging out in the New York art scene. Now she sings moody and languorous songs as she pads about the stage slowly, seemingly lost in her own world, like a cat. Some people have compared her in some ways to Lana Del Ray.

Neon Indian

Later on in the evening, playing to a packed and very vocal crowd, Neon Indian (aka Alan Palomo), had the audience in a swoon, not only enthralled by the electronic haze of its music, but also by the exciting visuals generated by Microsoft’s Kinect software. Sensors tracked band members’ movements on stage and also were generated by the rolling music, splashing brightly colored graphics up on a big screen on stage, making for an immersive show, with graphics generated in real time rather than as some pre-programmed light show. Not that the crowd was aware of, or cared about any of this. They were just into the groove.

I am not generally a fan of electronic music, but I must admit that I enjoyed this show very much. The only problem I had is that the next day I could not remember any of the music. It was like eating some super delicious and light dessert that tastes heavenly at the time, but not too long afterward leaves you still feeling hungry.

Atarah ValentineDownstairs a flight of stairs, in the Marlin Room, the vibe was much different. Atarah Valentine is a singer who visually reminds some people of Freddie Mercury--if Queen’s lead singer had had long flowing hair. Valentine and his fellow musicians are like an old-time New York band, all dressed in black, Valentine himself in a black leather jacket (until he took it off, after getting hot and sweaty jumping around the stage). On arena songs like “Teenage Hustling” and high-energy bursts like “Breaking Free," the band plays every song as if it were the last song they ever were going to perform on Earth. It’s as if they are born, live an entire life, and then die in each song. And then a few seconds later they start another one.

20151014-DSC_3945Next up on stage were The Mosers, an old-fashioned type of rock and roll band from New Jersey (none of whom are named Moser). Sometimes compared to Weezer in their sound, The Mosers start off most of their songs with medium rhythms that hook you in, and then they explode in a middle section, unleashing power chords and increasing their volume to a climax, then winding down the sound again. You can get a good idea of their sound listening to their newly released single, “Cold-Hearted Girl.” 

So, for this one night, if Webster Hall was a person (just counting the acts I saw, because there were others I missed), the Ballroom was like the head, all dreamy and psychedelic and a little spacey, and the Marlin Room was like the heart and soul, all sweaty energy, driving beats, and the panting of desire.

20151014-DSC_3570More photos can be found here.