The CMJ (College Media Journal) Network has been trumpeting indie music long before it was co-opted by the mainstream. The music (and film) marathon — which took place Wednesday, Oct. 13, through Saturday, Oct. 16, in New York City — offered hundreds of shows at 50-plus venues. CMJ also hosted more than 50 panels.
That many bands in that many venues in that many days is, of course, stupidly overwhelming. The Motor City had tall representation with more than 20 bands, and local label showcases included Times Beach, Ghostly International and Small Stone. Though it’s impossible to see everything, here’s a quick drive-by of a few things that went down. Despite myriad show choices, it seems everyone winds up wanting to see the same damn shows.
Some perfunctory eavesdropping can quickly clue any idiot in on who’s droning what about which bands. Montreal’s Arcade Fire faired well in the buzz bin, as did teeny emo-tronica duo Idiot Pilot. Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records was, of course, well-represented by disco-synth outfit The Faint. And so it was that Detroit’s Paybacks found themselves on the recipient end of much blowjobian talk this year. And why not? By the end of their headlining Mercury Lounge gig on Thursday, shouter Wendy Case and crew had landed a two-night house band gig on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly. Said appearances — which is scheduled to air Thursday and Friday, Nov. 4 and 5 — should go lengths to further the band’s growing adoration among American kids, major magazines and big labels. Look for the Paybacks on a big record company roll call list soon.
The sold-out Thursday showcase, which boasted no shortage of gushy (see drunken) crowd patter on all things Detroit music, also included Blanche, honorary Detroiters the Greenhornes (from Cinci) and the Sights (who waited until after the show to get thoroughly tanked, no word on whether or not they made their Ottawa gig the next day). The ubiquitous Little Steven and onetime Smashing Pumpkin/current Perfect Circle James Iha (who happens to own Scratchie Records, home to the Sights) milled about. All bands rose to the occasion with inspired sets. The show was fueled by copious amounts of lager (wow, really?), much of it by Sights keyman Bobby Emmett, who had each Payback chugging beer during their set.
On Friday, Back In Spades brought their guitar-driven sound to an enthusiastic crowd at Lower East Side hangout Arlene’s Grocery, the Tee Pee records showcase. Amped up by singer Stephen Palmer, the band played a mix of new tunes and songs from their aptly titled debut The Time Is Now. Bassist Nick Bataran started a fight with his gear at a recent show in Detroit, and the battle seemingly raged on as he continued to be plagued by sound issues.
The Go lit up the East Village’s Continental on Friday. What could be described as a kind of home-away-from-home, the Continental was packed with rockers eager for a dose of whatever the current interpretation is of the real deal. Letting loose with their completely uninhibited, appropriately inebriated brand of rock ’n’ roll, the Go (bolstered by Dion Fischer’s guitar heroics) conveyed a musical dialogue that breeds the elusive “favorite new band” sentiment. The Go ended with a jam session on “Brain Damage.”
The premise of CMJ is finding the new, and there were a few unexpected discoveries. Los Angeles-based Lion Fever opened a spectacular Dim Mak Records Saturday showcase at Sin-é. Fever singer Jennifer Pearl’s deep and dark vocals cut through in a way that recalls P.J. Harvey. It’s not often that a drummer is talked about, but Kevin Garrison’s inimitable style and phrasing pushes this band to an elevated level. Electronic post-punk quintet Mahjongg comes from Chicago geographically, but a little of everywhere musically. Dance-inspiring beats paired with unexpected tonal twists makes for an original sound born of unlikely influences that run the Funkadelic to Joy Division gamut.
Of course, the CMJ mission of discovering new music is hit-and-miss. At Plaid on Friday, Columbus, Ohio-based garagsters the Sun were average at best. Granted, it’s a monumental task for anyone to hold an audience’s attention when a lovely Hustler party is going down on the other side of the club, still they lacked the chops to successfully jump the garage train, particularly at this late date.
A great way to conclude a weekend of trying on new bands is to go back to a sure fit. Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee on Saturday drew a sea of slightly hammered hipsters with his catchy pop and his whimsical, sunny day vocals. Almost as impressive was his innocent and natural stage presence that reassured the now subway-weary CMJ crowd by seeming to say, “No, really, we’re all friends.”Send comments to Ryan Sult and Doug Coombe at firstname.lastname@example.org