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CMJ Marathon 2013 - Runners' Diary: John Day 1
- by John McGovern


I am waiting for my badge, courtesy of The Deli, at the Judson Memorial Church outside of Washington Square Park. Every time I see the arch in the Square, the country bumpkin inside of me becomes excited, and my thoughts drift to scenes from Woody Allen movies where he says things like, “You’re a very attractive gurl, and I just wanna tawk to you about Nietszche.” This iconic location feels like a climatic place to pick up my badge; now I can’t imagine getting it in the mail alongside some junk mail and a menu from a Chinese restaurant slipped under my door. So I received my badge and walked a couple of blocks to one of my favorite pizza places in the area. I’m 90% sure this is the same place as the one in the intro to Louie. As I feast on my delicious pizza, some middle aged guys at the table behind me discuss CMJ. I can’t make out exactly what they’re saying, but at some point I hear one of them saying that CMJ has changed (For better or worse? I’ll let you decide, reader). This reminds of the way that older people everywhere talk about their wonder years, and I head towards the Williamsburg Bridge with a sense of purpose, feeling as though I was passed an invisible, non-existent torch from a random group of guys at a pizzeria.

Despite a few unplanned detours (I have a real shitty sense of direction), I arrived at the Cameo Gallery for the Oh My Rockness showcase with plenty of time to spare. The first band on the setlist was Big Ups. For certain genres of music, the quality of the live performance rides largely on the performance of the lead vocalist. Big Ups play some variety of post-hardcore that cannot described (I swear this isn’t just me being lazy) but has to be experienced. We live vicariously through the bands we see; they go mad so that we can satisfy our desire to go mad. In this respect, Big Ups delivered, and their songs, which had short, Minutemen-like lengths, ventured far beyond the typical hardcore shtick. The band has perfected the loud/quiet dynamic, and they take all sorts of wild divergences, even dabbling a bit in funk and psych, with absurd lyrics to add further to the chaos.

Waiting for the next band, who was supposed to be Greys from England, I sat staring at the lit up strings on the ceiling of the venue to relax. (Ok, I admit it: I had to do some jogging as a result of my aforementioned detours). It was announced that Connecticut’s Ovlov would play next, because Greys van broke down. I hadn’t planned to see them, but I’m pretty happy that I did. Ovlov sounded a lot like one of my favorite bands, Dinosaur Jr. Everyone dreams about seeing older bands they like in their prime. This was probably as close as I’ll ever get to seeing Dinosaur Jr. circa You’re Living All Over Me. Their frontman/lead guitarist, like J Mascis, is an insane guitar play who doesn’t outstay his welcome, ending his elaborate solos before they turn into cheesy classic rock solos (No Stairway). Olvov blends melodies with noise as well as the best of them.

Next I headed a couple of blocks over to see ASTR. There seemed to be more ironic moustaches out than usual this evening, and I spotted two right when I walked into the room. But instead of theorizing about the significance of this, I watched ASTR perform attentively. Pure pop music is not usually my thing. It took me a few songs to get into, but eventually I came to appreciate ASTR’s hooky dance tunes that sounded like a cross between Lady Gaga and Grimes.

 

After this brief sojourn, I headed North towards Matchless. In light of my earlier wanderings on the East Side, I wanted to make sure I was going the right way. I asked an old man in the middle of McCarren Park if Manhattan Ave was this way. He yelled some agitated, incomprehensible response similar to Dana Carvey’s old man character from SNL way back if anyone remembers that. Reality checks are not a bad thing.

I found Matchless (take that old man) and caught the last few songs of Grand Resort’s set. Grand Resort play dreamy, synth-heavy guitar rock. They sound like a hybrid of The Smiths, chillwave, and a bunch of bands of Captured Tracks. It’s the kind of music that sounds as though it inhabits its own world, and entering that world is exciting every time. I am pissed that I missed a good deal of their set so I order a beer plus a well while I wait for Shilpa Ray.

Shilpa plays brooding music that is... brooding in a meditative way as opposed to a self-loathing way. No feel-bad-for-me-I’m-an-emo-kid kind of stuff here. The music is bawdy sometimes, subdued at other times, and maintains a loose, free form feel to it. But what makes Shilpa Ray’s music great, above all, is that its brilliance is subtle. If you don’t listen carefully, you might miss it.

With plenty of time of time to spare (read: no time) I strolled over to Legion Bar on Metropolitan. I caught the end of The Brooklyn What’s high energy set. We need more bands like this. You get the sense that at any moment the band is going to destroy all their instruments and incite a riot. They don’t hold anything back, playing straight up garage rock with a hungry enthusiasm. If you want to wash away the pretension of some self-important “indie” band you just saw, there’s no better band to see than The Brooklyn What.

Next up was Sharkmuffin, who kept up the high energy with a jangly garage rock set. The band has a lot of surf rock elements in their music as well, and one of their best songs, indeed, was called “Mermaid Sex Slave.” The title shows the band’s sense of humor, and beyond the set “rocking,” they were a lot of fun to see. And isn’t having fun what CMJ is supposed to be all about? I’ll let you ponder that question. See you tomorrow.  - John McGovern

 

 

 

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