CMJ Music Marathon New York City — October 30 to November 3, 2002

CMJ Music Marathon New York City — October 30 to November 3, 2002
Reviews by Chuck Molgat, Elizabeth Bridge, Helen Spitzer, James Keast, Joshua Ostroff, Lorraine Carpenter and Michael Barclay !!! Dressed head to toe in mirrored black body suits (including masks), this septet's slippery grooves are a homage to the Disco Not Disco comps and their post-punk dance party ilk. Although he was a joy to watch, the band could do without their overbearing hype man; the grooves speak for themselves. MB Asteroid Four In the last year, the Asteroid Four have not only tweaked their name (used to be the Asteroid No. 4) but have overhauled their sound in a big way, too. As evidenced by the band's twangy set, one of the Rainbow Quartz label's premier psychedelic garage rock units has up and moved to the country, and not just in a slightly-inflected Byrds kind of way, either. It'll be interesting to see if the psych-pop purists at the NYC label share the band's cowboy enthusiasm, or simply tell them to go west. CM Bangs These Ramone-y riot grrrls had a few frustrations on their mind: unco-operative guitar strings, their CMJ bio, George W. Bush, and a power outage that unceremoniously ended their set. But nothing could dampen their enthusiasm for anthemic new material. MB Bering Strait This melodic prog quartet turned a typical rehearsal into an unofficial CMJ showcase by taping a gig poster to the sidewalk outside their basement practice space. It helped that the cosy dive was located in the heart of East Village club land. The young band plays heavy, mid-tempo stoner-rock led by a vocalist who alternates between piano and guitar. The other guitarist is no hack on musical saw, either. And the pleasure of witnessing a solid, adventurous drummer in close quarters shouldn't be underestimated. CM Broken Spindles Playing alongside a dull, budget cinematic abstraction, sequenced, flittering beats and dark electronic ambience, the Faint's Joel Petersen (bass, guitar) and girlfriend Geraldine Vo (accordion, keys) left the '80s behind for this musically strong mixed-media exercise. LC Calexico Donning Day of the Dead masks set the scene perfectly for Calexico's delightful pseudo-mariachi madness. Enhanced by a pedal steel player, bassist, and two trumpet players, the Arizona aces previewed new beauties like "Crystal Frontier," from their forthcoming February release. MB Cex "This song is about my parent's station wagon, it's called ‘The Wayback Machine.'" And with that, Baltimore's Rjyan Kidwell took off on another whimsical rap about stuff we like — bikes, "Thriller" and, well, sex. But his dynamic IDM-inspired laptop techno beats make this more than ironic indie rap. JO Britt Daniels Spoon's charismatic front-man proved he doesn't always need the full band to rock out. Accompanied occasionally by a boom box, he had the packed room hanging on every literate word. An ideal end to the night came when he was joined by the brilliant Kevin Lovejoy on keys. HS Destroyer Dan Bejar's new Destroyer line-up did its best to rock an imagined stadium-sized crowd (in a packed Knitting Factory), but ultimately only drowned out the raison d'etre lyrics. The closing number, "Hey Snow White," the worst song on the new album, was a shockingly effective epic. If he lets this band stick around, they could eventually discover the subtleties that made his last two albums classics, while rocking out like Bejar so obviously wants to. MB Division of Laura Lee With a telling intro by Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog ("How many Swedish garage bands do we need?!"), this quartet is better on record, bringing the daytime Hilton Ballroom crowd to its feet but failing to thrill with trudging garage/punk/emo. LC David Dondero The music scene's latest under-heard mopey bard is Florida's David Dondero, who engaged an enthusiastic crowd from behind a mop of unkempt hair and a good-natured cynicism. With a warble in his voice and an electric guitar on his slouched shoulders, Dondero relayed the tales that he would normally be overhearing from the his seat at end of the bar. JK Donots "How many German bands have you seen in your life?" asked singer Ingo Donot. "They all suck, huh?" It's hard not to agree. On their first-ever trip to the U.S., the excitable band ran through a solid set of pop-punk tunes that owed more to Southern California than their Aryan homeland. Their breathless exuberance held the crowd rapt until their rollicking Twisted Sister cover got us all singing along. JO Flaming Sideburns No matter how good they sound, it's difficult not to write-off the Flaming Sideburns as Hives rip-offs: they're Scandinavian (albeit Finnish, not Swedish), they play '60s-inspired garage punk and they're prone to hyperbole (the new record is called Save Rock N Roll). Not to mention that lead singer Speedo Martinez also preens and pouts like Mick Jagger's illegitimate offspring. But just when it was becoming too much, Hives' leader Howlin' Pelle Almvquist took the stage to a riotous reception, climbing on to the bartop to shout out an explosive number before retreating backstage. Well, if Pelle doesn't mind, then why should we? JO Flare With beards, biker bandanas, guts and goth hair, this NYC seven-piece's appearance is wholly deceiving. Along with standard pop/rock gear, their ambitious, enveloping pop is the sweet sum of myriad little parts, like bells, ukulele, fiddle and melodica. LC Fog Fog is multi-instrumentalist Andrew Broder, who has recently enlisted a full band to expand on his very slow, intricate soundscapes in the downer vibe of Codeine (both the group and the drug). Hard to tell for sure though, since their energy-sucking performance practically put me to sleep. JO Forty-Fives Neither the drummer nor the Hammond keyboardist for Atlanta's the Forty-Fives could looked like they were having more fun. It's hard to say whether it was their animated faces or the band's powerful garage-flavoured rock'n'roll that grabbed the near-capacity crowd at the Mercury Lounge more. EB Gogol Bordello Jaded hipsters were unable to keep from clapping along when the fiddler and accordion player hit the stage. Following singer Eugene Lütz's increasingly suggestive dervish routine, the appearance of carnival-esque go-go dancers transformed village spectacle into Eastern European art porn. HS The Gossip With an identical line-up to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Gossip's minimalist trash-punk blues distinguished itself by enthusiastic singer Beth Ditto's country/soul belting and her queer-positive shout-outs to all the fellow "fatties" in the audience, while she stripped down to her skivvies and was cheered on by the Slits' Ari Up. MB Gary Lightbody Following a short, making-of film about the Reindeer Section's recent album, the ringleader of this 20-something-strong, Celtic super-group played a solo acoustic set of the band's sensitive, freckled folk-pop, ever uplifting in all its hung-over, sad bastard-ness. LC My Morning Jacket Listening to their beautifully languid 2001 album At Dawn, you would never predict a live show this explosive. Maybe it was the fact that they were sandwiched between two lame-ass Next Big Things (OK Go and the Music), but this raggedly glorious Kentucky quintet were playing as if it were the last gig of their young lives. The dreamy pseudo-reggae of "Phone Went West" somehow culminated in an arpeggiated Sabbath meltdown that left us all breathless. MB Northern State Northern State take the piss out of hip-hop while paying tribute to its roots. The Long Island ladies' delivery may be unoriginal but their rhymes are smart, their intertwined flow is on-point and it's always nice to hear fun-living feminists rapping about The Bell Jar and Dorothy Parker while warning boys, "fly into our trap and we feed you to Venus." JO Outrageous Cherry What's up with Detroit and their minimalist drummers? Like her compatriot in the Von Bondies, Deb Agnolli ain't playing with a full kit, but holy cats, does she put that snare and floor tom to good use! Tight, rhythmic garage rock with psych flourishes over smart, well-crafted pop songs. HS Pas/cal In tweeds, ascots and grandma's sweater — with equally vintage keys and amps — this Detroit sextet overrode technical quirks with cutesy gimmicks, classic pop finesse, pristine boy/girl vocals and smart, impassioned lyrics, an endearing set showing shades of Belle & Sebastian. LC The Polyphonic Spree In a converted bathhouse in Brooklyn, 23 musicians dressed in floor-length white robes took the stage for a two-hour orchestral pop event of bombastic proportion. A ten-person choir, on a balcony high above the stage, joined a band consisting of horns, keys, percussion and a harp — yes, a full classical harp. Like the Danielson Famile with less God and more Godspell, the Polyphonic Spree was a celebration of epic rock the likes of which hasn't been seen since ELO, topped off with an all-too-appropriate cover of David Bowie's "Five Years." JK Portastatic Performing with a rhythm section that included his brother on drums, Merge label impresario Mac McCaughan was overshadowed by his label's line-up at this showcase. But with his ever-improving singing voice and the fleshed-out arrangements, McCaughan successfully buried the stigma of being a Superchunk side project. MB Quixotic This young addition to the Kill Rock Stars roster mix sweet '60s girl group elements with '90s indie rock, but singing in unison doesn't pass for harmony, ladies. Much better were the drummer's solo turns at the mic, with haunting and complex melodies. MB Radio 4 Taking cues from the Clash, and unabashedly derivative: this is Radio 4. Correctly reading the crowd's pre-election mood, the band pumped up the funky politic. Propelled by horns and percussion, cuts from their uneven Gotham! CD roared to life and woke up the dance floor. HS Robert Randolph and the Family Band Wearing a pained expression and a pimp hat, 24-year-old Robert Randolph led his Family Band through a series of jams featuring his virtuoso pedal steel guitar playing. Despite winning "new groove of the year" from the, uh, Jammie Awards, the New Jersey native is not quite up to Ben Harper standards. Nevertheless, he brought a non-preachy gospel vibe — with a serious infusion of countrified funk — to the rock-centric proceedings. JO Sahara Hotnights Sigh. Sahara Hotnights are an indie rock boy's dream — just imagine a whole band of Meg Whites. They rocked harder than any other band I saw at CMJ and actually had real songs to build their Detroit-inspired riffs around. Maria Andersson's shriek-shout vocals and punched-up glam even prompted the first stage dive of the evening. In fact, once the girls collapsed in a big sweaty mess at set's end, the club immediately emptied, despite two more acts on the bill. JO Sing-Sing Emma Anderson (ex-Lush) lends her melodious songcraft, chiming guitar and high-end backup vox to this sweet, semi-electronic pop, topped by Lisa O'Neill's lovely, lightweight voice. Sadly, despite quality tunes, the show was as plain as the white of their suits. LC Soft Canyon Changing the name of a successful band is often career suicide, but for Tricky Woo's Andrew Dickson it makes perfect sense, as Soft Canyon bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The neo-hippie Dickson is in full-out Allman Brothers mode with the help of the Local Rabbits' rhythm section, but it sounds like he's still getting comfortable in his new skin. MB Soundtrack of our Lives After a long night of delays, singer Ebbot Lundberg strode into the audience trailing his mic cord, and then literally roped 'em in as they launched into "Sister Surround." Lundberg possesses true self-confidence, evident when he coyly lifted his brown smock over a generous belly, and proclaimed proudly, "it's real!" HS Soviet Electro-clashers Soviet couldn't even be bothered to dress up for Halloween. Nevertheless, their synth pop music was certainly decked out in full retro-‘80s regalia. Problem was, while it had all the details right — emotive keyboard textures and guitar washes — the results were uninspired rehashes. Instead of an original take on a 20-year-old genre, they chose to channel bands like Duran Duran and Roxy Music, matching their coldness but not their songwriting skills. JO Superheroes Never fear, Denmark's synth-jockeying, pop-rocketting six-piece is here! You wouldn't know it from their sometimes nauseatingly upbeat, guitar-heavy electropop recordings, but front-man Thomas Troelsen (aka Rock Thomas) is the awesome Iggy Pop that new wave never had. LC Telepathic Butterflies Overzealous U.S. customs agents reduced this Winnipeg quartet to a trio, but the powerful psych-rock unit managed to score short-handed. Had the show gone according to schedule, the Butterflies would have blown away a packed house at 12:45 a.m. Instead, they ended up rewarding about 30 folks who stuck around until the set's start time two hours later. At least there was plenty of room on the dance floor. CM VHS or BETA As with the New Deal, the moment of revelation is the live show. Like a disco-house-electro version of the New Deal, but from Louisville, Kentucky, and heavy on the guitar. A surprisingly muscular, seamless set, and if you thought you'd seen the end of electric drums, guess again. HS Whirlwind Heat Frenetic and full of bravado, their performance antics were less punk rock than a theatrical re-mounting of punk rock. Singer David Swanson may have meant the repeated shoving of the mic down his pants as an extended metaphor for his cock, but his tricks were played out after five minutes. Would benefit from boot camp with the Constantines. HS Yeah Yeah Yeahs Watching NYC's new buzz band on their home turf on Halloween was well worth a two-hour line-up. Dressed in ghoulish garb for the occasion, the trio's raw energy was monstrous, although they did take a while to truly catch fire. Singer Karen O commanded the stage like it was her first time acting her rock star fantasies outside her bedroom, but it was Nick Zinn's Link Wray/Poison Ivy guitar work that tied the show together. MB Thalia Zedek A 2 a.m. slot on the closing night of the festival — what, did somebody book this alphabetically? — was nonetheless the ideal time to soak in Zedek's gritty urban blues. Joined by her ex-Come guitarist Chris Brokaw and a four-piece band including mournful violin, Zedek ended her set with a sleepy cover of the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says," the perfect way to end a weekend of NYC rock'n'roll. MB