My CMJ Wednesday began rather inauspiciously since the first band I wanted to see was nowhere to be found five minutes before its scheduled set time. I grumpily left the Alphabet Lounge as I realized I wasted about an hour that could have been spent checking out the Jack White-sponsored Rolling Record Store, which was parked outside Santos Party House throughout the night. Oh well, I guess Mr. White will just have to wait another day for me to blindly throw money at him.
Shrugging off my early frustrations, I ventured to Pianos to see LA/NYC guy-girl duo Starred. The female part of the duo is current Brooklynite Liza Thron, who had previously collaborated with former Girls frontman Christopher Owens. A drum-machine manning, accordion playing third member also joined the band live. Starred’s style definitely owes a lot to Mazzy Star, which probably accounts at least partially for the name choice. Or the band could have been named for their cosmic sound, which comes from Thron’s haunting voice shiningly dotting Matt Koshak’s spacey guitar.
Their music was a good start for my day - dream pop works wonder in the morning after a late night filled with booze. If I had one complaint about Starred’s set, it would be their total lack of crowd acknowledgement - although admittedly bands playing this genres are notorioous for a certain shynesss. To paraphrase Bruce Wayne’s doctor: I’ve seen worse stage banter, because there was no stage banter. However, this wasn’t exactly the band’s fault; the crowd seemed much more interested in talking than listening. I found it oddly hilarious to watch a group of twenty and thirty-something year olds yapping on and on while sitting on couches that barely reached a foot in height and drinking substances that make you feel all bubbly inside. Replace the alcohol with apple juice, and you’ve got something that looks a lot like what I remember first-grade being. I think might be worrying about this whole “being an adult” thing a little too much.
I stuck around Pianos to watch the beginning of Incan Abraham’s
set. The four-piece band out of LA provided some fun indie-pop courtesy of the dueling lead singers’ contrast with the upbeat, tropical rhythm section.
Next, I visited Ella to see Bern & the Brights
play their second gig with the new lineup. The Montclair, NJ hailing quartet played a country and soul tinged style of indie-pop spearheaded by two lead singers, one of which sounded like a female version of classic Elvis Costello. In addition to the balanced vocals, the acoustic and electric guitar perfectly complemented each other as the ecstatically happy riffs from the latter meshed with the steady strumming of the former.
My next stop was the very official sounding CMJ Union, located next to Union Square Park. The venue was also very official looking, and, as the sniveling indie kid in me might say, a bit too corporate. One of the charms of CMJ is the opportunity to jump in between venues that feel like someone just decided to put a bar and a stage/large carpet in their living room (hence, venues named “The Living Room.”) With the large security presence and a significant portion of the crowd wearing “staff” shirts, the CMJ Union ironically ignored the spirit of the festival.
When I arrived at the Union, England’s Alvarez Kings
were finishing up their set. Despite the fact the band was headlining the “Music is GREAT Britain” showcase, Alvarez kings didn’t sound all that British. Instead, they played a more American-style of dramatic indie-rock.
Following Alvarez Kings was the reason I attended the CMJ Union in the first place: Local H
(top picture). The Chicago-based rock duo was my most anticipated act of CMJ, and they did not disappoint. Before the show even started, I knew the show was going to kick all kinds of ass when the lead singer/guitarist told the sound guy to “Just give me as much as you got.” The band then proceeded to rock the fuck out. Dispersing fan favorites like “California Songs” and “High-Fiving MF” with songs from their new record, “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum,” Local H was an uncontrollable monster. I really wish they could’ve performed their set in a smaller venue, but, for a brief moment, Local H turned the CMJ Union into the coolest place in NYC.
My night ended at the Bowery Electric with Seattle trio The Blakes
. Though they were scheduled to start at 12:15, when I arrived around 11:45, the band had already started. A band starting early at CMJ is a minor miracle, one that lands somewhere between the oil lasting eight days and Moses parting the Red Sea. Or maybe a band cancelled earlier in the evening, but it’s either that or divine intervention.