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CMJ Music Marathon: It's a little longer than 26 miles and five boroughs
by Alexander Laurence

Alexander Laurence

I flew back in NYC a few days before the ominous beginnings of CMJ. This time around there were even CMJ shows in Williamsburg at Galapagos. This was my third consecutive year attending. I had seen other great shows by Mercury Rev and Snowpony in previous years. It was the 20th anniversary. Made me wonder what the first years were like?

I was extremely jet-lagged and tired. I had quit taking drugs a few years ago. I had constipation and my nose was running. CMJ is an endurance test all on its own. Bands get up on stage for 45 brief minutes. Sometimes they have flown in just to do one gig. They have to be on.

Some bands are touring, and come here to the city-wide festival on the day off from an already hectic schedule. There are a lot of subway trips back and forth. Get your passes. Or cab rides. Many people just hang out faithfully at one venue like Westbeth Theater or CBGB's, and are glad to watch whoever comes on. At least as Wetlands you can go downstairs to check out another band without being rude. It's all a question of how many bands, how many films, and how panels, and how many days can you stay awake?

Thursday

There was an intense scene at the NY Hilton in Midtown. That was about as far north I would go all week, all month for that matter. As I was walking up Sixth Avenue, I started to see CMJ badges, and canvas bags. The crowds of people started to look alike. Jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes, glasses, etc. I went down in the messy basement. I got my CMJ badge fairly quickly. I talked to a few people in line. I met a guy from Silicon Alley magazine. I met a girl from some college radio in Virginia. They were vague about who they were there to see. I got my bag of goodies and headed back down to the trains. I ran into a photographer friend who said that he scammed a badge just to get into some free shows.

I sat down near Rockefeller Center to look what I was carrying. I ate an energy bar that CMJ had given me. I had a general plan of whom I wanted to see. Most of these bands were listed in Free Williamsburg in the last few weeks: Arab Strap, Hooverphonic, Cinnamon, and Grandaddy.... There was a nice simple white sheet of venues and listings. I noticed that PJ Harvey was playing at 6pm at Bowery Ballroom. I had about a half and hour to get down there. I decided to go even though I was tired and sick. My afternoon nap plans were scrapped, and I was jumping on the smorgasbord ride of music.

The bag of goodies was too much to handle. It's a week later and I'm still trying to sort out all the promotional materials. I haven't made a visible dent in the thirty or so CDs I was hand-delivered on the street. After about a fifteen-minute wait, I was lucky enough to be picked to be let in to see PJ. Only my first gig and already these badges are a dilemma. The past two years I was eother on the list or I snuck in. When I got in the crowd was fairly packed in. I sat downstairs and had a stiff drink. I think that I saw a bit of Tiffany Anders upstairs but was immediately bored. While downstairs I filled out a form and got another t-shirt. I soon learned that I was sitting next to Arab Strap. The bouncer gave them a hard time for drinking and not having wristbands and IDs. This was a party for Island Records apparently. I saw Tracy Bonham mulling about somewhere. I also saw Esther Balint. She's in a band too. She guy from Matador Records wanted me to introduce him to Arab Strap but we were just sitting at the same table. I think that I was sitting next to the drummer. The bouncer came up to them and said: "Dude, you need to have an ID." Arab Strap: "We are playing here tonight...." I walked upstairs.

PJ Harvey's Is This Desire? was sort of a dud. We didn't know what to expect. She came out in the same dress that she's wearing on the album. She was wearing that weird necklace that seems glued on. After about ten seconds into the first song, it seemed like the decision to come here was worth it. She played songs like "Big Exit" and "Mansize" and it was a wonderful show. I was screaming for more than the eight songs she played. The band who backed her were a bunch of ugly geezers. This album should cause waves in the pop world. I can feel it. It was a great show to see to start things off.

Arab Strap

Arab Strap wasn't going on for a few hours. I hadn't been in NYC long, so I went to Odessa on Avenue A, which I had been going for years. The waiter, Alex, recognized me. It gave me time to sort through my heavy bag and throw away some stuff. I soon noticed that a table behind me was filled with people with CMJ badges. When you walk around CMJ week, the badges are all over the city. The zombies have taken over. I went over to Mercury Lounge to see if Cinnamon, from Sweden, was going on yet. They weren't letting in any more badges. So I went over to the Ryko/Palm Pictures party at Tonic. King Cobb Steele was on. There were free drinks. But it was so hot in there that it was uncomfortable. I stormed out.

Back at Bowery Ballroom, there was a big line for Arab Strap, Macha/Bedhead, and The Go Betweens. I was hoping and praying that I would be able to get in. I was interviewing Arab Strap on Saturday so I thought that I was on the list. This was not the case. I had to wait for over an hour. I was getting very tired at this point. A consolation was some guy gave me a blinking red light that amused me and my friends to no end. When the bouncers had kicked about a hundred people off the sidewalk, and there was only a few people left, they told us five people with badges could come in. I snuck to the front of the line, which pissed some people off. All those Belle & Sebastian nerds could fuck off as far as I was concerned.

Arab Strap was already on. They had played a song on two. Like PJ Harvey, Arab Strap is doubly better as a live group. That's why they released a live album I guess. It was a quiet and intimate show. Aidan Moffat is a strange front man. I left perplexed and slightly energized. That was two great shows I had been to in a row. I would have liked to see Macha and The Go Betweens, but I was too tired. DJ Rap and DJ Assault were at the Frying Pan. I missed out on that too.

Friday

I woke up fairly early again. Had to meet Grandaddy around 2pm for lunch. After a bit of toast and marmite in Williamsburg at my home base, the Tung Fa Noddle Company building, right next to the bridge, where I could hear the trains going by all night. I felt dusted. I needed some cocaine right away, but all my friends were in NA. The interview with Jason and Grandaddy went well. I came back to Williamsburg to hang with some friends and make phone calls. I drank a ton of coffee. I smoked a pack of cigarettes. My friends wanted to go to Angelika to see "Best in Show." I was going to see it with them but I wanted to go see Hooverphonic and BT at The Roxy.

My experiences are Bowery Ballroom were so horrible that I thought the Roxy would be worse. I had one bad experience of going to see Tricky there that was a disaster. But they let me in fairly quickly. I was handed a bunch of stuff. I got to play video games. I was getting into the new Sega Dreamcast, playing the new Football game, that I missed a few songs by Hooverphonic.

Hooverphonic was the most fashionable band so far. Probably the one who would sell the most records this year that I would encounter. They were mellow. Since I was sleep deprived and coffee agitated, I sat on the sidelines and rested. BT and his band were probably the most exciting thing I had seen yet. The drummer was great. His mix of rock and techno was the most crowd-pleasing event I had seen in a while. I was sitting on a speaker where I was comfortable. But girls kept on coming over and sitting right in front of me then getting bored and leaving. The guy doing the glow stick dance was very impressive. I was getting a contact high from the experience. Where was the E though?

I stopped by the ResFest at New School to pick up some magazines and see a friend. Then I headed over to Irving Plaza to see Grandaddy. It was easy to get in, but the place was trashed, the floor littered with empty beer cups. They were playing the first song. There was a film of the windmills in Northern California, around Tracy, projected behind them. They were a great live band. Similar to Arab Strap but more spaced out and harder. They got a good reaction. Later I went back to Williamsburg to see a punk band, High Society, who were good, and The Ken Firpo Rent Explosion, who had the most members of any band I saw. This was not a CMJ event, by the way.

Saturday

This was a wasted day. I sat around Williamsburg waiting for Robert Lanham, the main force behind Free Williamsburg. I missed the Flaming Lips movie. I missed any CMJ events at the Hilton. I was not able to find any drugs. There was plenty of sales on Bedford Avenue though. I stayed home till really late then went over to Wetlands to see The Damage Manual. They were supposed to play this summer but canceled the tour. This was one of their first American shows.

When I got there, Ari Up, from The Slits, was on. She was really tall and thin. She had her underwear popping out from a low tube skirt. I guess that was supposed to be sexy. She had the longest dreads I had ever seen on a white girl. She looked more like one of the girls in Shampoo. She played a form of Reggae music. I am really against white people pretending to be black. I guess she is from Brixton? Not sure if she is even British?

While the Damage Manual set up I was downstairs watching a more fun band, The Plastic Plan. They were a band from Atlanta, Georgia, and they could really play. It was a three member band, drums, bass, and keyboards. They sounded like a mix between Gary Numan and Matthew Shipp. A lot more engaging than Ari Up. I really don't like Punk either.

The Damage Manual took about an hour to set up. Martin Atkins had his own drum riser. His drum kit seemed customed made. They are a band made up of other bands like PIL, Killing Joke, Pigface, and Ministry. When they came on I notice that the Jah Wobble wasn't in the band. They had a guy from Thrill Kill Cult replacing him. After three loud songs, they didn't really explain why Wobble wasn't there. They have only been together less than a year, and one member has already left. My interview with Wobble was in Free Williamsburg this pasy summer. I left soon after and went to the Cooler to meet up with Robert Lanham.

The Starlight Mints were on when I got there. The Cooler was packed. I sat down in a back room and watched them on TV. When Brian Jonestown Massacre came on I went to the main room. They have had a few members come and go, but that's always been true of them. But the main force, Anton Newcombe, and Joel Gion, were there. They were much better than the CMJ I saw them at two years ago. I suggest that anyone should check out this band. They are a good live group.

I then missed the V2 party at Irving Plaza. I didn't go to any of the late gigs. I was sad that I didn't get to check out any DJs like David Holmes or Ian Pooley.

Sunday

I didn't go to any gigs this day. I went to see the music video program at ResFest. There was some good ones by Mirwais and Moby. I didn't go see Cinerama or Hovercraft as planned. And I had seen Moby a few weeks beforehand. I went to a friend's house who was having a special dinner party. Risottoe and relaxation sounded like what I needed.

I'll have to be more organize next year. I'll have to get more rest. I'll have to be more energized. It was fun but it's difficult to see that much music in a weekend. I have only seen The Sea & The Cake since. You have to be on a lot of drugs. When you get older you can't stay up for days like you used to.

*****

Bands That I Saw: PJ Harvey, Tiffany Anders, Arab Strap, Hooverphonic, BT, Grandaddy, High Society, The Ken Firpo Rent Explosion, The Plastic Plan, Ari Up, The Damage Manual, Starlight Mints, Brian Jones Massacre.

Bands That I Wanted To See: Death Cab For Cutie, Broadcast, Spring Heel Jack, Cinerama, Confrontation Camp, Campag Velocet, Armand Van Helden, David Holmes, Wheat, DJ Rap, Momus, Baxendale, Moby, Oranger, At The Drive In, Ashley Park, Of Montreal, Damon and Naomi, Rhocerose, Ian Pooley, Free Heat, Hovercraft, Bratmobile, Le Tigre, The Mooney Suzuki, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Schooly D.

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