CMJ 2003 New York, NY - October 22 to 25

CMJ 2003 New York, NY - October 22 to 25
By Helen Spitzer, Jasamine White-Gluz, Lorraine Carpenter and Michael Barclay Aerial Love Feed Prefaced by a telling round of Primal Scream, JAMC and Echo & the Bunnymen from the DJ, this New York quintet revelled in Anglophilia, miming England's '80s stars down to the tall hair and the whiny singer in shades hanging off the mic. Meaty waves of groovy guitar fuzz and sample-assisted drums filled the room from end to end, one strobe and one blue light barely illuminating the stage from below. That's reverence. LC Bettie Serveert By following their career best with their career worst album, Europe's most underrated rock band had something to prove to this small yet dedicated crowd. Thankfully, the songs from their overproduced and limp Log 22 came alive, due to Carol Van Dijk's ultra-cool stage presence and Peter Visser's blistering lead guitar. Don't count them out yet. MB Black Box Recorder Previewing songs from Paranoia, this British quartet dealt out their warm, elegant pop with all the style you'd expect. Singer Sarah Nixey had the crowd in her palm (the guys in particular), offering smart, bittersweet narratives in that sultry vocal style while Auteurs alumnus Luke Haines sang back-up, played guitars and switched to keys for the sweet songs that tipped further towards electro-pop. LC British Sea Power It wasn't their arboreal apparel that kept your eyes glued to the stage, nor even necessarily the music, which wavered between the epic and the forgettable. This is a band that badly wants to be watched, whether the singer is contorting himself while staring you down, the guitarist is jumping off speakers or the keyboardist is banging a drum throughout the venue. When the music actually matches the spectacle, it's magical. MB Broken Social Scene Opening their sold-out show with a dub-driven heartbeat instrumental was a ballsy move, but the swirling, sparse symphonies of sound were more than satiating for the rockers awaiting the release of "KC Accidental," with guest violinist Julie Penner. Metric and Stars were on hand to enhance the lean, mean five-piece that had flown in from Europe the day before. Stars' Amy Millan has trouble living in Leslie Feist's shadow, but who wouldn't? By the end of the set, even the most reluctant nationalists felt like proudly waving the flag. MB The Constantines Both the Constantines and Elliot Smith released singles on Suicide Squeeze, and four days after Smith met his violent end, the Cons concluded an afternoon label showcase with their own song about "the retail mob bleating at the latest dead sensation." This seamlessly segued into a rock'n'roll gospel rendition of NYC man Lou Reed's "Temporary Thing," which — whether they knew it or not — became a life-affirming, anthemic antidote to depression, a promise that even the darkest days will soon pass. By the end, Bry Webb's broken voice sounded like he might start bawling, and a more perfect moment was nary to be found. MB The Decemberists Hampered by horrible sightlines, a trying wait and sound so atrocious that the less hardened among us began to weep, the Decemberists made a valiant effort at being heard. Colin Meloy's clear voice and Rachel Blumberg's glockenspiel were audible, but minus the accordions and theatrics it was just so much white noise. HS Echo and the Bunnymen The '80s alternative super-group from Liverpool took to the stage and made a crowd of 30-somethings a lot happier. The band was in total rock star mode, dragging on cigarettes and dressed in uniform black. Closing the festival with a good mix of new and old songs, the band's appearance was in support of the release of re-mastered versions of their first five albums. Echo and the Bunnymen brought on their immortal post-punk and were appreciated for it; Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant performing together doesn't happen often. JWG Enon Totally danceable, retro and ultra-hip, Enon scored everyone who danced along some extra scene points. The in-your-face trio from San Francisco rocked the stage to the awe of everyone, hitting only a few glitches with overpowering '80s keyboard licks. Nonetheless, Enon was a breath of fresh air as they displayed their innovative yet deconstructive electro sound. Chances are good that this band won't burn out as quickly as other '80s fads tend to. JWG Fiery Furnaces While it's true that this new Rough Trade artist divided the audience, it's not because they did anything shocking, other than cast a Patti Smith look-alike as their lead singer. Rather, it's because half of us were bored silly by an average rock band that offered no spark and nothing we couldn't see at basement shows back home. MB The Faux As this Boston band's brassy punkette Lady K did double keyboard duty (bravely barefoot on CBGB's filthy stage), singer Jo strained, screamed and struck horrible ass-in-the-air poses, looking so dramatically constipated that he nearly made me want to shit. But there was no brown noise in their guitar-free whiplash punk, a sound that swung between no wave groove and marching hardcore. LC The Gossip "I realise it's 8,000 o'clock in the morning, but I feel absolutely delirious." As one of the last acts of the weekend, starting at about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday night, Beth Ditto and pals had no problem revving up the crowd for one last hand-clappin' hootenanny. With the rest of the band looking uncharacteristically giddy while improvising a set list, Ditto's charisma took on a cool comfort. She doesn't have to prove to the world that she's a rock star anymore; everyone in that room knew it. MB JamesonParker This is what happens when major labels decide "emo" is a viable market. Sure, the boys in the acoustic duo JamesonParker are cute and their songs have a certain pop appeal, but there is so little substance behind this project that even Dashboard Confessional fans will get bored quickly. With a little tweaking on the songwriting and a couple lessons in credibility, JamesonParker might be on to something though. JWG Joan Jett & the Blackhearts In tattoos and scraps of black leather, with a cropped blonde 'do that made her look like a punk Susan Powter, Ms. Jett happily satisfied her adoring fans with every last hit you'd want her to play, including the Runaways' classic "Cherry Bomb." Despite their billing, her band was not the original Blackhearts (the guitarist looked about 18), but they dressed and played like '70s punks, mercifully bypassing that corporate punk sound. LC Les Savy Fav Alice was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the Glenlivet was making her feel very sleepy and stupid) whether the cost of the taxi north of 23rd St. was worth the trouble of seeing yet more Canadians in a swank bar, when suddenly a topless mermaid appeared in the enormous fish tank next to her. This being Chelsea, there was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the ordinary to watch the captivating lead singer of Les Savy Fav strip down and offer his round belly to the adoring multitudes. But when he actually reappeared decked in a Speedo, bathing cap and goggles Alice started towards the tank, for it flashed across her mind that she had never seen a rock star either in a tank of tropical fish, nor with a baubled mermaid to accompany him. In another moment, down went Alice after them, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. HS Juliette Lewis & the Licks Yes, Juliette Lewis has a band, a crew of leather-jacketed dudes hired to wail away with her brash party rock, co-written by the ubiquitous Linda Perry. In a skin-tight yellow get-up that Mick Jagger would have worn in the '70s, Lewis belted out the tunes in a rock'n'roll drawl, strutting, stomping, flirting with the band and drawing hollers by talking bad-ass, name-dropping a few of her better flicks and generally pulling off a tight, fun performance. LC The Mars Volta The Mars Volta's performance at CMJ was without a doubt the most over-hyped and worst received show of the festival. Playing approximately three songs over the span of an hour-and-a-half, the Mars Volta went Phish on us and rocked out to an impromptu and unwelcome jam session. Vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala barely displayed his amazing vocal abilities, much to the disappointment of the audience. Although their latest record won over fans and critics alike, this show almost put them to sleep. JWG Mates Of State On CD, this husband and wife organ and drum duo can be occasionally endearing, but on stage the honesty's too much, and their syrupy caterwauling vocals are simply unbearable. Which is disappointing, because their otherwise original sound tends to get lost when you're at the back of the room, covering your ears, shouting at the stage, "shut the fuck up!" MB Mommy And Daddy Wide-eyed and slack-mouthed, Mommy reeled around the stage swinging her instrument the way cool chick bassists do, while Daddy abused his machines and mic, his veins bulging and pores shooting sweat. In what could be one of the hottest opening sets ever, the rock-solid duo more than warmed-up the crowd with their vocal ping-pong and hopping electro-punk. LC My Chemical Romance As usual, these newfound hardcore heroes erupted on stage with their dark, moody punk. Screaming about vampires and lunging themselves into hardcore breakdowns is second nature for the band and they keep getting better with each performance. Hands down the showstoppers of the night, MCR continues to ride the wave of success with modesty and great punk rock. JWG Oxford Collapse Oxford Collapse is another breakneck punk band with funky, busy bass lines and a singer who warbles like an animal on fire. Recalling fellow New Yorkers the Rapture, minus the DFA, plus amphetamines, the trio offered a suitably tense and fiercely energetic set. Everyone had to laugh when the singer, delirious with intensity by this point, asked his rhythm section to "try to keep up this time" after they'd played an impeccable half-set. Those perfectionists. LC The Pale This pop punk band from the West Coast stripped down to an acoustic duo and played during the intermission downstairs at the Eyeball Records showcase. Their two-song set wasn't nearly enough for most of the audience. The Pale were a melancholy mix of Jeff Buckley, Death Cab For Cutie and Pedro The Lion, and their sombre sound definitely turned a few heads. As a full band, however, it's difficult to tell if the intimacy and passion that they had as an acoustic two-piece would carry through. JWG Peelander-Z Wreaking their shocking brand of absurdist havoc, this band of wildly costumed Japanese New Yorkers hold punk's anarchist torch high. After 20 minutes of thumping, wailing punk noise, the band held up signs saying, "drummer wanted," "guitarist wanted," etc., calling volunteers from the crowd to keep up the beats and riffs while the Peelanders hit the floor for some human bowling and freeform climbing. Seriously, this was like one of those whacked-out Japanese game shows crossed with an old school punk gig crossed with kindergarten. LC Pisser This NYC band has AC/DC down to a tee — slow builds, heavy on the hi-hat, big riffs, strangulated vocals about girls who've done you wrong. Toss in a Ving Rhames look-alike on drums and a butt-ugly front-man who really has no choice in life but to play guitar in a scuzzy rock band and you have a tiny, perfect band that could bury half of the major labels' latest pin-ups in the rock revival sweepstakes. MB Radio 4 It was 1:30 a.m. when New York's best punk-funk band finally hit the stage to rouse the masses with their Gang of Four/Clash-inspired manifesto. The quintet was bursting with cool hooks and pumped-up rhythm, thanks to tight, rubbery bass lines and doubled-up percussion, while singer/bassist Anthony Roman spat out his nice and timely politicised rhymes. Their club hit, "Dance to the Underground," capped the set, leaving the crowd buzzing with an electric afterglow. LC The Rapture By outshining headliners the Mars Volta, the Rapture found themselves legions of new fans. Playing most of their dancier, upbeat numbers, the Rapture kept everyone awake by bombarding them with fat beats, loud guitars and catchy hooks. Playing to a primarily industry crowd who was afraid to move, the band did what they do best and brought on the best of electro-dance. JWG Recover Despite driving four days to play a 20-minute set with the Mars Volta, Recover rocked the anxious crowd into a deliriously happy state. Their blend of punk and melodic hardcore was just right and they made the most of their time on stage. A nice mix of Jawbreaker meets Jimmy Eat World, this Texas outfit exploded with some of their favourite riff-driven tracks from their Fiddler Records release, Ceci n'est pas Recover. Although their set was short, it was well worth their drive. JWG Sleep Station The Sleep Station is a sophisticated Proclaimers meets Replacements five-piece from Eyeball Records. Adding a more intricate, subtle rock sound to the evening, their Flaming Lips-esque vocals and lo-fi attractiveness threw off the mostly punk and hardcore crowd. By the end of the set, however, everyone was happy to listen to their conceptual songs about the future and spacecrafts. It takes a while to warm up to them, but Sleep Station is a solid rock band that doesn't disappoint. JWG Split Lip Rayfield Holy blistering bluegrass, Batman! This Kansas quartet with a trunk full of truckin' songs and no drummer in sight could kick the collective ass of an entire city full of wannabe punks. Just acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, and one-string washtub bass, if they ever went electric, they'd be the most neck-snapping band in America. They're guaranteed to rouse your sleepy self at a beery BBQ matinee. MB The Stills Opening for Echo and the Bunnymen, this Montreal/NYC band looked and sounded great, but the glisten wore off when they played the same song ten times in a row. And until that keyboard player learns how to play tambourine, he should just put it down. MB The Stills Maybe mentioning that nouveau garage darlings the Stills were once a ska band would hamper their newfound indie rock admiration. But even with the trumpets behind them, these kids weren't so bad. Completely generic and unoriginal, the Stills made up for it with haunting melodies and tight musicianship. Scepticism aside, the band is going to do their best to live up to their own hype, and it's quite possible their live performance will save them. JWG Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players One hyped-up dorky dad on keys and guitar, one pudgy pink-haired mom on slide projector detail, their deadpan nine-year-old daughter on drums and a few dozen found pictures on-screen, ranging from '60s-era everyday Americana to a McDonald's corporate plan from the '70s, narrated in oddball sing-songs by the two-piece band. Cute, occasionally awkward outsider-ish art by an East village family with a growing cult following. LC Vaux Crammed into the tiny Tribeca Club, Vaux brought their big metal-inspired hardcore to the CMJ festival. With a set cut short and barely enough room to manage, it was clearly not the best circumstances. Space issues notwithstanding, the band did rock out to the best of their abilities, and most of the audience was there for them. The six-piece delivered riff-tingling, dark and sophisticated hardcore in true style, playing arena-sized rock to a small club in Manhattan. JWG Andrew WK The life of the party already had the hipsters and hyper-fanboys in the bag, but Andrew WK eventually won over the whole room, mostly dykes, goths and moms from Queens out to see Joan Jett. He barely touched on his latest (kind of tepid) LP, so the set was tried and true, and manically upbeat, ending with a joyful, chaotic stage invasion that pissed off security to the point where one burly thug nearly punched WK, but he wasn't ready to die just yet. LC