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CMJ 2012: Day 2 – JJAMZ @ Bowery Electric

I remember a time when I would be headed out to a show around 9 or 10 and someone in my family would say with exasperation, “I can’t believe you’re going out this late!” and I would kinda scoff and roll my eyes and think, “OMG, IT’S NOT EVEN LATE!” as I rushed out the door to meet my friends.

Today, as I was putting on my Chucks in my apartment at 8:50pm in preparation to head over to Bowery Electric to catch a 9:20 set by JJAMZ for CMJ, I found myself thinking, “OH MY GOD it’s so late! I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M GOING OUTSIDE.” As I made my way over to the venue this was the running loop of commentary:

“Why are there so many people outside?”

“How can that girl walk in those shoes?”

“Aren’t those girls cold? They’re not even wearing jackets!”

“Are those people eating ice cream? Should they be eating so close to their bedtime?”

“That girl looks like she’s on her way to a nightclub!”

The reason I found myself asking those questions has one very simple answer: I am old and never go out, so the idea that other people are out when I’m normally in bed watching last night’s “Daily Show” on Hulu is kinda a foreign concept to me. (BTW – The answers to those questions are: “Because it’s not even 9 o’clock.” “She can’t.” “They are drunk.” “Their bedtime is nowhere near.” “I believe it’s called a ‘bar’.”)

Anyhoo, as I approached Bowery Electric, I noticed a mass of people outside: people in bands, people who looked like groupies of bands, people who looked like they might be from LA — yup, I was in the right place.

I headed down the stairs and up to the front of the stage just as JJAMZ was starting. Perfect tardy timing!

What can I say about JJAMZ that I haven’t already said? As predicted, the band was a pop-tastic experiment in peppy, toe-tapping tunes. That’s the great thing about supergroups — you’re pretty much guaranteed a solid time — these people have proven themselves in other musical outfits, and you kinda know what you are getting.

I’ve known about The Like for quite some time, but have never actually seen them perform, so much of my observation was focused on Elizabeth “Z” Berg, lead vocalist of The Like and more relevantly, of JJAMZ. It wouldn’t take a genius to make comparisons between the physical likeness that Z Berg has with rock icon Debbie Harry, but I’m going have to go on record right now as noticing because it is a bit uncanny.

The chin-length blonde hair, the defined cheekbones, the perfectly pursed lipsticked lips, the lone lady in a band of dudes — all the pieces are all there. Wearing a pair of fire engine red hot pants, a snug fitting short-sleeved sweater with a bicycle printed on it, and a pair of deadly stiletto boots, Z Berg seemed to unabashedly be playing the part of indie rock pin-up girl, which for some reason (justified or not) seemed to me to be appropriate “LA” of her.

With a girlish voice, that got rough around the edges during the end of phrases, even vocally Berg seemed to be channeling her patron saint of music. (My assumption that Debbie Harry is someone she looks up to is not without proof — earlier this year she told Harper’s Bazaar that her personal style is “somewhere between Twiggy, Debbie Harry and Cher Horowitz.”) I’m not sure if her onstage pouts, frequent hair tousling, satisfied just-woke-up-from-bed stretches were designed to give me a clear indication of what Berg must be like in bed, but that’s what they achieved.

At one point a dubious beer-bellied character wearing no shirt, got on stage between songs and soy bombed the JJAMZ set with a plug for a booze for charity event he (or someone) was running at the upstairs bar, after which Michael Runion quipped, “Hey Z Berg, someone who is wearing less clothes than you on stage!”

There set was over after 7 or so songs — their time was up, and they were headed to Santos for another gig. I was headed towards the door as soon as the last chord was strummed by Alex Greenwald.

CMJ 2012: Who’s On My Hot List to See This Year

Believe it or not, this will be the 11th CMJ I’ve attended (yes, that’s right, I started going to CMJ when I was 11 years old. Amazing, I know). During the time I first started attending the annual event, things were very different. CMJ felt really really important to me at the time — this was the age of Napster, and the Velvet Rope message board, and loads of other stuff that will make me feel old to remember them. This was before SXSW blew up and Coachella was a two-week affair. It was where I was introduced to bands like the Walkmen, Interpol, Ida Maria, Hospitality, and more recently, bands like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Grimes, and Purity Ring, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

So every year, without fail, I dust off my old lady body and try to stay up late with the kids for a few nights. Here are the bands worth me dragging my lazy behind out the door and into the brisk NYC fall weather:

Opossom

I’ve been keen on this Kiwi outfit since catching their album, Electric Hawaii, on the Rdio new releases list. The collaboration between Kody Nielson and Bic Runga has produced some wonderfully beachy, laid-back tunes that in their poppier moments remind me of the opening credit soundtrack for a 1960s screwball romantic comedy.

10/18 – Pianos: 9pm
10/20 – Pianos: 4pm (Free Bowery Presents CMJ showcase)
10/20 – Cakeshop: 9:45pm

Sky Ferreira

My knowledge of Sky Ferreira extended to her being some model who somehow always seems to end up in Terry Richardson’s photos, so I was honestly surprised to find out that she also (apparently) has a budding music career, with an EP coming out on Capitol Records this week. I was even more amazed that the single “Everything Is Embarrassing” is actually very very good — with its seductive ’80s sensitive pop ballad throw-back vibe.

10/18 – Bowery Ballroom: 8pm
10/20 – Pianos: 5pm (Free!)

Psychic Twin

This two-person songwriting team (Erin Fein and Brett Sanderson) produces music that leans synth-mysterious (I realize that’s not a real musical genre). For some reason they sound like Warpaint meets Neon Indian.

Night of 10/16 – Pianos: 1:20am
10/20 – Pianos: 9:45pm
BTW, the CMJ schedule is totally wrong, they are on at 1:20am according to this tweet from Lefse Records:

Little Green Cars

This group of Dubliners have got a pleasing toe-tapping quality to their fellow Glassnote Records labelmates, Mumford and Sons. Their pedigree is impressive, having worked on recording their debut album this summer with producer Markus Dravs (who has also worked with Mumford and Sons, Coldplay). This month will be the first time they will be performing in the US. Looking forward to see them live!

October 16: New York, NY – The Living Room (WFUV Presents)
October 17: New York, NY – The Slipper Room (Glassnote Official Showcase)
October 18: New York, NY – Openhouse Gallery (GOOGLE MUSICIANS GALLERY)
October 20: New York, NY – Pianos (Bowery Presents)

TOPS

Fellow Montreal native GRIMES is a fan, so I think you can imagine what they sound like. I saw somewhere on the internet someone describe them as the XX, but happier, and it’s a pretty fair assessment.

10/17 – Shea Stadium
10/19 – Arlene’s Grocery
10/20 – Death by Audio

JJAMZ
What would a CMJ be nowadays without a superband performing? This time the collage of talent comes from a California base — comprised of Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes), James Valentine (Maroon 5), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Michael Runion (solo) and Z Berg (The Like). Their resume’s are impressive. Expect solid pop music to please your ears.

October 17 @ The Brooklyn Bowl (The Hype Machine Showcase) – 7 PM
October 18 @ The Bowery Electric (The Audio Perv Showcase) – 9:20 PM
October 19 @ The Studio at Webster Hall (CAA Showcase) – 10 PM (headlining)
October 20 @ Spike Hill in Williamsburg (Baeble Music Showcase) – 9 PM

CMJ 2011: Day 3 – 10/20/11 – Guards, Grimes, Beat Connection, and More

Day 3 of CMJ was an all-day affair at the I Guess I’m Floating/ Tell All Your Friends PR showcase at Pianos.

The lineup

My personal music marathon started out with the Seattle-based upstarts, Beat Connection, who were fresh off the red-eye from the Left Coast. Their set started off with a bit of a bumpy start — with the laptop not cooperating just a couple songs in. While the band waited for the Mac to kick back in, they explained that they were super excited to be at CMJ, because it was their first time ever at the festival (as performers or attendees). Awww!


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CMJ 2011: Day 5 – 10/22/11 – Purity Ring and Wavves at Fader Fort

My last CMJ 2001 musical journey was held exclusively at Fader Fort, for two acts I was really pumped to see: Up-and-coming Canadian band, Purity Ring, whose song “Ungirthed” has made them one of my favorite new bands, and existing TMA fave, Wavves.

Knowing that the crowds would be pretty insane for FF day 2, I tried to get there relatively early to catch Purity Ring. Apparently I didn’t calculate on being their early enough — because most of my “earliness” was chewed up waiting for people to leave since the venue was at capacity. But the music gods were on my side, and I managed to get in before Purity Ring got up on stage.

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Shrouded in near darkness, singer Megan James and bandmate Corin Roddick took the stage. I hesitate calling Roddick the “percussionist” only because the musical instrument that he plays is a contraption that can only be described as equal parts electronic drum machine, hand bells, Lite-Brite, and Pipeworks.

Frontwoman James is a petite little creature with an innocent face, long brown curly hair, and an apparently affinity for slightly gothy gear (demonstrated by her flowy knee-length dress and pendulum-style metal necklace thingy swinging from her neck). But while she may be small, she has a very strong stage presence.

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I’ll admit, the sound was absolutely terrible so close to the stage, but from what I could hear, it sounded pretty darn good. Exhibit A and B below:

After some confusing stage shenanigans, Danny Brown and posse gave what felt like a crazy short set — which involved a Tiger-style sweatshirt (see below).

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Then the last act of the evening took the stage — everyone’s favorite tattooed spritely punk, “your boy” Wavves, and his merry band of musical bandits. As expected, the crowd situation got a little crazy, so I cowered in a corner to the the left-side of the stage, staying clear of all the bouncer pushback and impromptu crowd surfing. (Getting hit in the head — like I did at my last Wavves concert — was not something I was aching to repeat.)

Wavves

The fast and furious set was definitely fun. Afterwards, when Nathan came out from “backstage” (aka – from behind the makeshift stage area), eager young ladies and lads huddled around him as he gladly posed for pictures with his fans.

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Who I’m Excited to See at CMJ 2011

Quickly, some recommendations for this year’s CMJ:

These shows are bound to be completely packed. Attend if you dare: Zola Jesus (Knitting Factory on Tues; LPR on Wed); Wild Flag (Bowery Ballroom on Tues)

My picks: Young Magic at Public Assembly at 10pm on Tuesday. If you can stay up late, check out Dent May. Last year I caught Class Actress, who is ending the night at 1am, when she showcased at Cameo Gallery, but sadly was unimpressed. Maybe her live show as gotten better since then?

Other bands I’m hot to check out: Guards, Grimes, Boy and Bear, Active Child, and my (and seemingly everyone else’s) new favorite band, Purity Ring

Would love to check out Bleached and King Krule, but the scheduling gods seem at conflict.. but you never know…

CMJ 2010: Day 4 – The Babies, La Sera, and Neon Indian

I’ll admit, by Day 4 I was hurting a little, so I took it relatively easy with a night filled with some low-key shows.

First stop was to catch The Babies, featuring Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone, at the FADER Fort on the Lower East Side which was sponsored by… er… hmm… I can’t seem to remember…

Next stop was Pianos to see another Vivian Girl with VG bassist Katy Goodman’s side project, La Sera, but with this group Katy gets the spotlight as front woman. Strongly influenced by ’60 girl pop, with lovely melodies and a cheery vibe, the three piece was truly charming.


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CMJ 2010: Day 3 – Braids, Lia Ices, Tamaryn

I dubbed Day 3 as “ladies night” since the three bands I’d planned to see were all fronted by women.

First up was an extremely early set by the Montreal, Quebec-based quartet, Braids, who were playing the opening spot at the showcase at Arlene’s Grocery. As the crowd waited for the show to start, they filled their bellies with cups of the Canadian comfort food poutine, which was being served in foam cups to the audience.

I absolutely loved their set. Lead singer Raphaelle Strandell-Preston kinda looks like an even tinier, dark-haired Alyson Hannigan, with a wide-eyed look and an innocent face. But when Raphaelle sings, she has a sweet yet piercing voice that can quickly turn a beautiful croon into a surprisingly edgy growl. Her voice seemingly skips, jumps, and hops slowly building swells of the keyboards, guitars, and drums. Their music is quirky and beautiful, much like the Dirty Projectors, but with a bit more playfulness.


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CMJ 2010: Day 2 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and The Drums

After a somewhat disappointing Day 1, I was really hoping the second night of CMJ would be much more fruitful. I started the night by popping over to an early showcase at Bruar Falls where Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. were playing. I got there ten minutes before the 7:30pm set and DEJJ still had all their gear parked outside the venue.

About 30 minutes later, their huge “JR JR” glowing letters had been set up and the guys took their places on the stage, commenting that they were going to do a stripped down set due to the limited space. (“So stripped down we’re wearing the clothes we normally wear under our jumpsuits.”) The Motor City natives did three lovely songs (including a cover of The Beach Boys song “God Only Knows”) before drawing their show to a close.

At the end of the show they announced that they’d be handing out comment cards (“like the ones they give out on Top Chef”) and that 5 meant awful and 1 meant fantastic ;). Based on that scale, I would have filled out my imaginary rating card at a 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. charmed me with their fun, poppy songs and upbeat and funny banter.
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CMJ 2010: Day 1 – Class Actress and Silverghost

Ah, the annual running of the music hipsters — aka CMJ. The annual College Music Journal’s music festival hits New York once a year in an effort to give fledgling bands the opportunity to get seen by industry honchos, journalists, bloggers, and the odd fan or two who forked over a pretty penny for a badge.

I started out my conquest of CMJ 2010 slowly, with a light day one – heading over to Lovin’ Cup’s back room performance space, Cameo Gallery to see Class Actress. I had high hopes for the Brooklyn-based artist also known as Elizabeth Harper after becoming a fan of her song “Journal of Ardency.” With it’s synth-heavy vibe and sexy vocal track, the tune is made to be played in a dark and dirty club to get all the ladies dancing in a lascivious manner. I thought it had true potential to be pretty amazing in the flesh.

Soon after I arrived Ms. Harper, wearing black harem pants and a white tank top, and her band took the stage. And as I said before, I was pretty excited to be there, having picked Class Actress as one of the bands I was most excited to see perform at CMJ however, I was really disappointed with the performance I witnessed. I’m not sure whether it was the sound or the backing band’s familiarity with the songs, but the keyboards sounded a bit off and sour.

That said, synths can sometimes inherently sound cheap and horrible, but this in combo with the surprisingly weak vocals by Ms. Harper was the kiss of death. While in the recorded material Ms. Harper’s breathy vocals come off as sexy, during a live show it just doesn’t work the same way. In fact, her tenuous singing voice didn’t come off as a stylistic choice so much as a questionable ability to sing in the first place. No amount of hip swiveling or running hand through hair was going to save this set from sinking.

I really don’t feel all that great about crapping on people’s performances because I know how hard it must be to get up there on the stage and put yourself out there for people like me to judge you, but I’d be lying to y’all if I didn’t really say how I felt about the show.

I almost couldn’t believe how bad it was — I stuck through the entire act hoping that those first few songs were just a fluke — that Ms. Harper had been struck with some kind of vocal performance amnesia and that any second she would snap out of it and I could breathe a sigh of relief– but when she broke into my aforementioned favorite Class Actress song, my worst fears were confirmed: Elizabeth Harper is way better in the studio than she is live. Which I guess is fine — it works for successful performers like Madonna and Taylor Swift, who pretty much cannot sing a lick onstage but still sell millions of albums and concert tickets — but knowing that I probably would think long and hard before ever seeing Class Actress again live.

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