The CMJ Festival 2002
by Grant Moser
The CMJ Music Marathon came to New York again this last
week of October. With 60 venues participating, at about
5 bands a bill, for 4 nights, there were over 1500 bands
here in the city to catch. What a treasure trove of music
- or a nightmare. I only went to two clubs here in Williamsburg
- Northsix and Luxx - and it felt like I was speed-dating.
Wednesday, October 30
Northsix - I set out that night eager to hear what our
fair nation had brought us. I stopped by Northsix first,
and caught the first band of the night on the main stage
- the High Tigers, from New York City. A combination of
The Smithereens and Green Day, they played entrancing pop
with the drone familiar to the first band and the melody
overlays from the second. I then went downstairs and caught
the end of a funky bass-driven sort-of reggae/Rusted Root
sounding band I thought was called The Joggers from Pittsburgh.
However, they aren't listed as performers on the CMJ website,
so I don't know who I heard.
They were followed by Pinq, a quartet from San Francisco
that produced a wall of sound; liberally playing with tonal
qualities. They were a mix between Birdwatcher and Secret
Machines, a textured moody music that built nicely. I kept
thinking indie the whole set, sort of an Afghan Whigs, Built
to Spill, Joy Division fusion - if that makes any sense.
I got one of their CDs, "Quiet Games for Hot Weather,"
which is worth checking out. It seemed to me they also would
have sounded better in a larger space, but they pulled off
what was given to them wonderfully, and the crowd was very
I then went back upstairs and saw Circle and Square who
were all over the place. The music was chaotic rock, crazy
and almost W.K.-like, but speed-jerky. The singer was very
sure of himself on stage, which is usually a good thing,
but not this time. I split for Luxx.
Luxx - I walked in on Broke Review, a road-house, roughneck,
chicken-wire-in-front-of-the-stage band. They had attitude,
played brashly, and exemplified why sometimes whiskey is
spelled with no "e." They are based here in the
city, and as the set went on the music became more rock
than hillbilly. I heard a weird surf vibe somewhere in there
Next came Sea Ray, which I've heard a lot about. There
are 6 people in the band, one a girl on cello (I think it's
a cello). They played a movie behind them on the wall. They
were obviously early-80's influenced, with a New Order-feel,
but lighter. They're from Brooklyn and play good music,
but it was just a bit too light and floaty for me.
Thursday October 31
I didn't go out that night. Let's just say I was still
handling the night before and my excesses.
It was also Halloween and I heard two different opinions
about the night: 1. It was Halloween, people had other stuff
to do and so attendance was down; 2. Attendance was fine.
Friday November 1
Well, I decided I should flip venues and start at Luxx
tonight, but that was blown to hell when I got to Luxx.
Two really good bands were playing later, so I went over
to Northsix to see their opening bands. Of course, upon
arriving there, I learned there were good bands playing
there late night as well, so I ended up going back and forth
between the clubs about three times.
Northsix - Armor for Sleep was a pop band, pure and simple.
They were a Goo Goo Dolls emo-rock band with crescending
bass, or American Hi-Fi. They were dramatic and loud, they
liked to rock out, but the music was just so pretty. It
was nice, but like my friend said, "Yeah, they're great.
Five years ago."
Schatzi was a loud moody pop-rock band from Austin. I've
heard lots of good things about Austin, but these guys were
very similar to Armor for Sleep - a good bar band. It was
poppy fun, but just like Foo Fighters or Blink-182 or whatever.
Just wasn't anything new or exciting.
Luxx - So I headed back to Luxx to catch Love Life from
Baltimore. Damn. A goth, Joy Division, Cult, garage-y, psychedelic,
tribal vibe. They were dark, raw, inconsistent, yearning,
and consistently shifting within songs from drunk depression
to outrage and angst. It was like an American Barbez. Bombastic
and experimental, they asked to play with no stage lights,
and the long and involved songs were like meat stripped
from bones, sparse and cleansing, like an exorcism. I picked
up one their CDs, "Here is Night, Brothers, Here the
Birds Burn," (which should tell you about them immediately)
and you should keep an eye out for it and them.
Next came Oneida, from right here in Brooklyn. A high-energy
band, they also incorporated chaos into their songs, a Velvet
Underground with screeching guitars. The rhythm of songs
was punctuated by bedlum from the keyboards. They were trying
out sound, giving it an audition, then moving on to the
next applicant. They were aggressive, talented, and moody
with passion. They made noise beautiful.
Northsix - Back at Northsix I caught the Oxes, another
Baltimore band. They were loud, obnoxious rock with no vocals
that I caught. It was Rage, Slayer, System of Down, and
Incubus rolled together - a roaring sound. They were pure
rocking energy and attitude. They stood on their amps and
jammed and the vibrations ran through everything in the
place. Raw and intimate, the crowd loved them. At the end,
they began a cover of The Strokes' hit for about 10 seconds
and then took off in another direction and made it better,
like jazz musicians expanding upon a theme. It was pulsating,
pounding, and blistering.
Then came Har Mar Superstar. I don't really know how to
explain him. Apparently he is a big deal - he has a whole
page in the latest Spin, has opened for the Strokes, written
songs for J. Lo, and partied with Nicky Hilton. I'm not
really sure why, maybe it's exactly why circuses have freak
shows - pure entertainment value.
He does a white rap shtick with R&B music reminiscent
of Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder - that
funky early-70's sound. Or Bell Biv Devoe. Either way, he
looks like Tiny Tim and Ron Jeremy mated, and he has no
fear of undressing during the show. His rhymes are quick-fire
and humorous, he is arrogant and cocky, and you have to
watch. It's repulsive and amazing at the same time. It's
an experiment - that won't last very long.
Saturday, November 2
The last night of the Marathon I decided to go to the Knitting
Factory to see the Merge Records line-up and try a different
venue from Williamsburg.
The first band I see is Destroyer, a Velvet Underground,
early-Bowie band. They were fun to watch, and their last
song ruled - a climaxing, jam-ridden, roller coaster. The
next band was the Radar Bros. from California. Very melodic,
but like a slow Floyd. I started talking to my friend, and
didn't realize they had left the stage.
Then came Britt Daniel, the whole reason I came tonight.
He's the lead singer for Spoon. He performed solo (well,
he had a boom box for a few songs to supply back-up) and
he could have played through until the next morning and
I would have stayed. He was perfect. As singer-songwriters
go, this guy is un-*&^%$-believable. Melodic, catchy,
original, fun, enjoyable, perfect phrasing and tune management.
Ryan Adams who? If you've never had the pleasure of hearing
this guy or his band, go get their music now. My god. He's
going to be around for a long time.