My first stop was at Brooklyn Bowl for the Live4ever showcase. I got there in time to see Le Blorr finishing up their set. They're a two-piece (guitar and drums) with a high-voiced lead singer whose hair falls in front of his face, Kurt Cobain-style, while he's singing. They were pretty good; but it was early and the crowd was thin. The band seemed relieved to get off stage -- understandably: It's got to be tough to play a cavernous space like the Bowl when you've got a spot in the line-up that's guaranteed to be under-attended.
1,2,3 was up next. They're a four-piece with a lead singer with Lyle Lovett hair and a nasal voice, weird but good. Their arrangements had strong, distinguished lead guitar lines and satisfyingly rubbery drum beats, by which (I think) I mean you could really hear the kick drum go "thwump." They sounded good! Catchy rock songs with an alt-country twang to them.
Fifth Nation was up next. They're a two piece with a lady on Stratocaster and a dude with an elaborate mohawk (Johnny Napalm from Guitar Hero-style) playing the drums. She looked like Debbie Harry as an extra in Easy Rider: She was wearing white and face paint and a dress with a long white fringe, but she could really shred and had a great voice. She wore a tuning fork around her neck. Their songs didn't stick to a fixed genre; they seemed like kind of a mix of college road-trip music: Jane's Addiction, Sublime, Manu Chao. I wasn't crazy about their sound, but there were definitely people in the audience who enjoyed it: Several of them moved up towards the stage and started doing that dance that white people do when Dave Chappelle has John Mayer play guitar for them, including one very straight-laced guy near me -- sweater, khakis, trench coat he'd folded up and placed in a corner -- doing a pretty decent Elaine.
I bailed about half of the way through their set so as not to be late for Bad Movie Night (not a band) at Tom's. This week we watched a long-awaited classic called Mutant Hunt, which is about some cyborgs (who are actually just plain old robots, I think) who get mutated by being injected with narcotics. And this makes them want to rape people, or maybe just do murders. The movie doesn't really make that clear. Although, to be fair, Tom and I were preoccupied with trying to choke down an airplane bottle of wormwood-flavored Swedish aquavit -- you may have heard of it by the name Malört, or Bäska Droppar. Whatever you call it, this stuff is icky, like chewing up a bitter mouthful of Tylenol, and the taste is difficult to dispel. Jeppson, the company that bottled the brand we drank, brags:
Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malört reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malört.I think I'm probably a 98%-er on that front, but I'll let you know if I change my mind. Yeah, though, Mutant Hunt's a real stinker: Horrible leads, incomprehensible story, indifferent characterization and cinematography. Other things that make it an excellent Tuesday night choice: The line "Inteltrax has a government contract. It can hold anyone for 72 hours since the federation act of [...] two years ago, ever since the space shuttle sex murders," and the fact that its director, Tim Kincaid, also directed the (non-sci fi-themed) title Gale Force: Mens Room II and acted in the movie Cop Blowers. That list bit I learned from the excellent Destroy All Movies!!!, which Emma got me for my birthday; truly a gift that keeps on giving.
On Wednesday I hoofed it down to Fontana's on Eldridge St. to check out this huge twelve-band showcase show. I'd never been to Fontana's before, and I liked it alright -- it's like a nicer, bigger version of Fat Baby, I guess? I'd timed things right, because The Threads were just setting up in the low-ceilinged basement when I got there. I'd liked their Soundcloud offering, but got worried when I saw them wearing black silk shirts and fancy hats. Were they gonna be a super-serious bridge-and-tunnel ska band? Imagine my relief when they turned out to be an awesome, sleazy punk band whose performance hearkened way back to the rip-off shows I used to go to when I was in high school: A six dollar ticket'd get you into a bill that promised, say, UK Subs, but was stacked with four or five hours of unlisted openers you had to endure in the too-close company of (much older) strangers while you smoked yourself sick to your stomach. As frustrating as the experience was when I was 15, the curfew-less adult me wishes those shows weren't a relic of the 90's. The Threads' lead guy came out in a brown suit and a fedora (and sporting what I'm hoping were violet aviator shades), drink in hand, and lay down on the stage. He had the effeminate and dissipated air of a late-period Dee Dee Ramone, and he sang with the mush-mouthed half-articulation of Tim Armstrong (who does that in turn, I have heard, to sound more like Joe Strummer). Their songs had the same gloom-and-doom thematic touchstones as I Love Living In The City and Wart Hog. I ate it up. It didn't hurt that the guy also spent every non-singing moment fucking around with the other guys on stage, whacking the drummer's cymbals, putting the soloing guitar players in headlocks. Take note, rock and roll singers: That is a top five stage move.
After them was a band called Spirit Animal, which was a kind of synth pop group. Their lead singer was an enormous dude with a sort of half-bowl cut, wearing a European-looking multicolored leather jacket; kind of like Win Butler Meets The Wolfman. They were alright, but the whiskey I'd bought myself to keep my courage up had kicked in pretty hard and I was fading. I decided to bail. When I got home, I googled The Threads and realized why they tickled my memory the way that they did: Mick Brown, the lead singer, is a former member of the L.E.S. Stitches, a great Saint Marks throwback punk band that was a staple of my teenage show-trotting at The Continental and Coney Island High.
Thursday was the busiest night of the marathon for me. I started the evening at The Delancey, where I was looking to catch a set by Haim on the basement stage. "I don't know how to pronounce it," I told the girl stamping my wrist. "I'm pretty sure it's 'hi-m,'" she said, "but how cool would a Corey Haim-themed indie rock band be?" While I waited for it to be showtime, I lingered by the upstairs bar listening to the band that was playing on the miniature stage -- it's really just some elevated seating they'd cleared the chairs away from. I missed their introduction, but based on some cursory calendar-checking I'm pretty sure it was Lisa Jaeggi and her band (dude on acoustic guitar, dude on bongos). She's got really great voice, very high and sweet like Feist, and she wore feathers in her hair and face paint, like the lady from Fifth Nation. They played some very catchy, textured pop songs.
When they were done, I went downstairs to check out Haim, who were just getting started. They're a five piece band fronted three women who also cover bass, lead, and rhythm guitar; and who each sported variations on the same aesthetic. They were all cool big-sister types -- as near as I can place it, not having had one myself -- confident, casually authoritative, with long hair and black heavy metal t-shirts. At the beginning of their set, the girl on bass explained that they were all from L.A., and that this was their first unsupervised trip to NYC. "I don't know if it's the New York vibe or what," she said, "but I feel like buying condoms." They played 90s-inflected pop rock, trading off on the vocals, although there was a commonality to their voices as well. At the time, I thought they sounded a little like Lisa Loeb, but I don't know if that's right. They finished their set with a crazy drum-off, all three of the girls dueling the drummer. "Come make out with me, I'll be in the back," said the bass player.
No time for that -- I had to hop the F up to Broadway Lafayette to get to Dominion to see Street Chant. I'd always thought of Dominion NY (are there other locations?), what with its pretentious signage and convenient adjacency to the Blue Man Group theater, as being a bit of a douchebag preserve. And upon viewing their interior first-hand, I don't think I was wrong about that, but I didn't know that they've got a reasonably okay performance space in the back. Street Chant is a kiwi three piece, two girls with guitars, plus a guy on drums. Sonically, they were a mix of Bleach-era Nirvana punk and good, dissonant 00's indie rock (say, Sleater-Kinney). Their lead singer sang with a mumbly, punky snarl. I thought they sounded great, but it seemed like Dominion's monitors left something to be desired. "I can't even hear myself," the lead singer complained. Consequently, perhaps, they cut their set off a song early.
The amount of equipment stashed behind a velvet rope to the left of stage promised more bands, but I bailed to make sure I got to Webster Hall in time to see We Are Scientists. When I got there, there was a not-great frat metal band on stage with a lead singer who looked like the guy who plays Anders on Workaholics, and for a second I was worried that I'd forgotten what We Are Scientists sounded like, but in due time they announced themselves as being Recover, from Austin. We Are Scientists took the stage next, and they looked and sounded exactly like I remembered: Airtight arrangements, bright vocals and guitar lines, not-quite-pop hooks. And warning, dear reader, this is gonna sound lame, but: What impressed me the most about them was their easy stage presence and the way they handled a myriad of technical problems with grace and humor -- they broke strings, their mics and patch cables went on the fritz, but they kept the songs going without letting on how ticked off they must have been. "I've been playing with you for ten years," said Chris Cain to Keith Murray, "and every year it gets worse."
I took Friday off. There were a few show that looked like they could be interesting, but after the requisite Bel Argosy rehearsal I was just so beat that it was all I could do to stay awake on the subway and plonk myself into bed.
On Saturday I went to the best show of this year's festival -- ours! That's right: Bel Argosy played CMJ this year, at Legion, thanks to the good will and connections of Cenk and The Cardinal Agency. We were joined by Majuscules, with whom we've performed several times before; and Porches, with whom we've been booked a couple of times before but who've never managed to make it for logistical reasons (and who turned out to be pretty awesome). We'd played Legion a few weeks previous, and the setting was mostly the same -- noisy little back room; fussy, manic sound guy -- but the somebody'd shelled out for a little drum kit, which saved us from lugging portions of our own, and there were real, honest-to-god monitors in front of the stage. What a difference! Mind you, I still turned in a characteristically sloppy and frantic performance, the weird little house hi-hat periodically tipping over and off of the stage; but I could hear everything that was happening this time.
No, it was fine -- a real treat, actually. I've been going to CMJ for years and never once dreamed I'd get to play a showcase show, as part of a band with less than a year of shows under its belt. And we made 50 bucks! Indie scene prestige; Benjamins: It's the Bel Argosy way.