Monday, October 27, 2008

CMJ: Weekend Wrap-Up

I thought that my CMJ fun-fest was over after losing my badge on Thursday, but CW Marketing Director Annie Quan hooked me up with a replacement identity: Todd Something (her recommendation). It was no “Brian Bradford,” but I’ll respond to anything if it gets me into shows for free. By that time, however, it was too late to go to any of the shows I had planned – Broken Social Scene or the guilty-pleasure Saves the Day. My 16-year-old self is still kicking me. With no obligatory shows, I decided to take Friday night off … well, from the music.

I woke up at the crack of noon on Saturday, intent on seizing the day. First order of business: The Advanced Alternative Media party at the Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn. I don’t know how AAM got my email, but the invite promised free food … so duh.

Despite my suspicions that the invite was spam to anyone who’s ever had contact with a music promoter, it turned out to be somewhat exclusive (good thing I RSVP’d; they didn’t even check my badge). Since it was a day showcase, it had more of a corporate feel than any other show: the smell of indie-industry types was heavy in the air. After being asked what part I did in the “industry” by a hipster-cougar (to which I responded, “I dunno, I slept my way into this party”), I retreated to the hot dog bar. At least they didn’t lie about the free food.

Here’s a quick rundown of the AAM showcase:

The Uglysuit – A nice band from Oklahoma City. They played atmospheric alt-rock that was pleasant, but nothing remarkable, but their enthusiasm to play in New York (it was their first time) was very endearing. They also had a lot of hair – sometimes it would get stuck in their guitars.

Crystal Antlers – Honestly, it was just too early for me to deal with Crystal Antlers, it was like watching every cliché of hipster-irony rolled into one performance. Imagine Dan Deacon, Mastadon and The Blood Brothers making sexy with American Apparel and Vice Magazine’s Dos and Don’ts section – that’s Crystal Antlers.

Ruby Suns – They’re a nice little New Zealand duo who play jungle rhythms amidst programmed beats and other electronic experimentalisms. They had a solid set, despite a little corny. It’s probably what it would sound like if Animal Collective had scored The Lion King.

A Place to Bury Strangers – Probably my most anticipated band of the whole festival – their debut album is one of my “Best of 2007 That I Found in 2008” and they have the reputation of being the loudest band in NY. The band was a little haggard from the long weekend (I think they had played a 2 AM set that morning), and they showed it through the first couple of songs. Halfway through, the band found its footing and delivered the wall of industrial sound that they’re known for. Singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann will impressively abuse the hell out of his guitar just to get the right type of distortion, which he did during the band’s rousing finale. Pulling his guitar around the stage by its strings amidst a visual onslaught of strobe lights and rear-projection, he left the crowd in epileptic awe.

Monotonix – As I’m sure all of you who saw this band when they played with Silver Jews at The Urban Lounge already know: You don’t see Monotonix, you experience them.

Up to that point, the whole “party” felt forced and obligatory; the bands were haggard and no one looked like they were having much fun. In contrast, Monotonix lit a firecracker under our asses (figuratively, but I have no doubt they would actually do it given access to pyrotechnics) [Editor's note: When they played Urban, the lead singer was treated to a young lady licking his sweaty, hairy armpit after the show in a fascinating/horrifying display of animalistic foreplay].

The three-member outfit could’ve been direct descendents of Rasputin – sporting chimo moustaches and robes – and they were equally disgusting. Instead of setting up on stage, they set up their drum set among the thinning crowd. Using internal amplification instead of relying on the house sound system, they were free to move the entire band all throughout the venue, which they did.

Vocalist, Ami Shalev would jump on the audience, carry them, take beer away and pour it on himself, dump trashcans out on the drummer, climb to the VIP section and show his hairy ass to whoever like these were traditional Tel Aviv (their hometown) customs. Armed with endless power cables, the guitarist and drummer somehow managed to keep up with his shenanigans while (remarkably) never skipping a beat. Although it could have been passed off as kitschy (and the Zeppelin-esque music good, not extraordinary), the performance was exactly what the day needed. By the end of the show, the entire band was standing on top of the sound booth while fans supported the drumset.

The entire performance was a photographer’s wet dream, and I cursed my lack of camera. However, I did manage to get some pretty poignant shots with my camera phone. They’re a little blurry (or… arty?), but I think it gives a good sense of the energy.

After the AAM party, I made my way over to the Lower East Side. By that time it was raining very hard which, combined with no concrete destination, forced me into Pianos, a shitty overpriced bar that was recently featured in Nick and Nora’s Ultimate Playlist (they had the gall to charge me $4 for a PBR). While milking my cheap beer, a similarly-disgruntled Brittish fellow named Liam began chatting with me. He had specifically asked to come to Pianos cuz he heard it was known for putting on good shows. Since it didn’t look like the bands were going on anytime soon, we decided to blow to another bar around the corner, where the drinks are half the price (Welcome to the Johnsons – my favorite bar in Manhattan).

During our time there, Liam was kind enough to indulge all my American-centric questions (“So what does bollocks really mean?”) and pretended to be impressed by my music-journalism outlet (“That’s right, THE Salt Lake City Weekly. You probably read it all the time in London.”) After many rounds, we decided to go back to Pianos where we caught the end of a pleasant-yet-unexciting pop band.

Next up was the Inlets, who played contemplative tunes doused in melancholy. As boring as that sounds, they pulled it off pretty well. Even the presence of a banjo (my musical Achilles heel; Liam’s too – he was a fine chap, indeed) actually added to their most potent track.

When the Inlets were done, we were all forced to take a step backwards to “make room for dancers.”

“What kind of shite band needs dancers?” asked Liam. My thoughts exactly. It turned out to be the best performance of the night.

Glasser is an avant-garde musical act from LA, masterminded by Cameron Mesirow. Accompanied by a single guitarist, she belted impressive vocals in the vein of early Bjork. Her adorable prancing onstage was accented by the interpretive dance troupe, Bodycity. Although I was fried from a whole day of live music, she managed to stir me inside.

And then it was time to go home. I said goodbye to Liam and goodbye to CMJ. I fell asleep on the long train ride home, content as rain poured on the city above me.

On Sunday, I did laundry.
(Ryan "Todd Something aka Brian" Bradford)

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