JP's CMJ 2014 Day 2: Caveman Wampire, Splashh, Celestial Shore, J Ferdinand, Icewater, Ronald Paris, Future Punx

By: JP Basileo

October 24, 2014

" I was hoping the onstage outlet I sneakily plugged my phone into would recharge my own muscles. "

I had a bit of a late start today. I slept through three alarms, and when I finally did wake up, I felt like I had cement running through my veins. Sore, hungover, out of it. It was well past noon and I had wanted, or planned, already to be caffeinated, at a show, and to have had my day 1 recap written; not to be standing over a stove reheating the chicken over rice with white sauce I’d impulsively gotten at 4am. Sonofabitch. I shot over (and by shot, I very much mean moseyed) to Cake Shop for the Terrorbird showcase. Clearly it had been underway a good amount. Between eating godawful leftovers, writing up yesterday’s happenings, crawling into a shower and then crawling to the coffee shop, it was something like 4pm! It’s a terrible feeling when it’s the first time you’re stepping outside for the day, and you can see that the sun’s already starting to go down.

I caught a chunk of Future Punx’s set. Phase-heavy synths and cool delay soloing over driving dance rhythms reminiscent of the spastic early Devo awesomeness, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mildly distracted. I was still flustered, exasperated and perhaps just slightly disgusted with myself, so of course my first instinct was to grab a beer. A friend of mine was in attendance (he had pointed me in the direction of Terrorbird), so I started to cool off (or warm up, rather), let the bump of Future Punx instill a little shake in my hips, whether I realized it or not. But then my friend said he was going to Grand Victory to see Palehound and the Brixton Agency Showcase. And he had his CAR. And we all had the weather yesterday. I don’t think it was too unreasonable that Future Punx was the only band I saw at Cake Shop.

We hopped in and headed to Brooklyn, found an uncharacteristically lucky parking spot right in front of the venue, and subsequently found out that they were no longer accepting CMJ badges, and we couldn’t get guest-listed. Familiar misfortune. But it was all right (pardon the pun)! Baby’s All Right was very close by and they were having a free showcase, and Caveman (a band who graced the cover of The Deli a fe years ago) was playing. It was a seemingly longer walk than we anticipated, I think simply due to the rain. That and only having one of those $4 umbrellas you can get at a coffee cart, which, if you breathe heavily enough into it, will turn inside out.

We got there around 6:30-ish, and Ronald Paris of Porches was just in the middle of his set. We b-lined it to the bar for $3 High Lifes (god bless ‘em); a better deal than that crummy umbrella, now sitting amongst a plethora of bottles and plastic cups in a garbage bag birthed at Baby’s All Right. I turned from the bar, and on the stage was another guy and a guitar. The first thing I heard was, “I’m lost. I need a capo or I’m outta here.” I felt for him. Hiding behind a pair of sunglasses, looking like he felt awkward in his own skin (no offense to the dude), he was shy, but his singing was bold. He propelled his voice in waves of melody over simplistic chord progressions, accumulating his strength in his shades. A capo was delivered and the last song he played was absolutely lovely, his confidence in his performance shining over his finger pickings.

Next up was Chicago’s J. Fernandez. I was very taken by the band's performance, maybe because I was finally starting to relax, maybe because I recognized in Ronald Paris that people here are doing bigger things than I am, and my petty grievances with how I handle myself pale in comparison to the feeling of getting onstage and realizing you don’t have a capo when you need one. But I digress. J. Fernandez played a very cool, effectually discordant, yet immediately beautiful set—dissonant chords are thrown in to offset things just a bit, it seemed, to create the slightest sense of unease, and then cut out by the shimmer of a beautiful chord, and the progression from one to the other uplifted the soul. The whole thing was tasteful, very pleasant to hear and see. Their drummer had an excellent sense of bass, and put a maraca to really good use. Cool bass licks infiltrate trippy organ and guitar fills—it sounded like the perfect soundtrack to a road trip in the 70’s. The vocals only added to the wonder created by the instruments. They were curious, yet knowing of what they are. Soft-spoken, yet poppy. I might say they played one song too many, only because I loved their second to last song so much, I thought it would have been the perfect closer.

By the end of J. Fernandez’s set, I was on my third High Life, and I was feeling pretty fine. I accompanied my friend for a cigarette, and I could see my breath. I could tell I made the right choice by coming here, and staying here. Changing locations too much on a day like today would have only made me miserable. Icewater came on around 7:50. Hey, I thought. Another indie pop band with guitar, keys, and bass. My own fault for not choosing my showcases in order of diversity? Perhaps. However, this band kept it fresh with two singers, something I feel like I haven’t seen in a while. Sure there are backing vocals for most bands, but to have two separate singers, singing separate songs, seems to have taken a backseat to an over glorification of a frontman. The lead singer of an indie band these days can seem like a demi-god to some crowds bopping along the music tides. So it was cool that Icewater spread it out a little more. The voices were different, one a little higher-pitched, one a little more Dylan-like, but they would both match harmonies with their almost southern sounding, twangy guitar parts, making for a very pretty experience.

By the time Celestial Shore (another band that received cover-love from The Deli) played, I was drunk again. Goddamnit. But my ears were reinvigorated with fuzz. Finally. It was about time. I was nervous I’d drown in all this clean delay and organized keys. A clean channel came through the set, but their haze and grit made it so that I couldn’t attentively hear anything else. Guitar parts were sporadic, yet cohesive—a chaos that made sense, almost like a grunge-pop. Soft vocals offset the sludge tones, breathing life into the room. It was fun to watch, if only to see their drummer have himself a time on that crash cymbal. It seemed like every time he hit it, a smile would grow on his face. Some of the songs may very well have been written solely around an insane drum solo, but who cared? There was a slow jam thrown in there, which had a sudden, jolting tempo change. The last song was bluesy and cool, fading out real nice with the singer/guitarist noisily riffing his guitar frets on his mic stand, which was neat. Yeah, neat.

I cut back on my beers for Splashh’s set. I wanted to see them because I love me some shoegaze, and I’d been told they do a good job. I walked back into the room to find they’d already started their first song, and the space looked totally different. It was like walking into synth heaven—smoky green hues blotted out the glass backdrop, whose bulbs were still flickering in the background. Swirls of guitar mixed with the bell-chime hum of synth sounds, going through a gauntlet of phasers. I felt like I’d gone into space and back, or rather, to the 80’s and back, and it was only the first song. Incessant throbs of bass drum supported heavy but not harsh guitar, bolstered by effects and softened by the vocals. It was catchy and cool. And then there it was. A tambourine! I was thrilled. The third song was intoxicating (not to say I wasn’t already intoxicated, but I mean this strictly in the musical sense). It crept under my skin and into my flesh, like the audio equivalent of first time I experienced staring into space when there wasn’t a light around anywhere. I felt small. They reminded me of Chapterhouse, with a very dancy last song, and the light show behind the smokescreen going absolutely nuts. Now, I’d thought Splashh were based in NYC, but they all had accents, it seemed. No matter.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Portland’s Wampire. They looked like a bunch of stoners and I’d heard they were going to have a rapper at the end of their set. They started and it sounded almost like a samba-infused indie rock, both melodically and rhythmically, and I was shut right up. Their sound seemed to evolve over the course of their set, entering a 70’s dark funk sound, and, perhaps due to my having heard of their rapper, going into a hip-hop sound. As a bassist, it’s difficult not to pick up on what other bassists are doing within their bands, and Wampire’s was creative not only in his harmonies, but also in volume.  The effects were subtle—another band that, if you’re not watching, you might think have a horn section playing. But then they did. A lady saxophone player joined the band for their last three songs. And then their rapper came on midway through the jam-band section of their last song. The tempo just about doubled and this dude in a tie-dye shirt jumped onstage, spitting a whole bunch of shit I couldn’t really decipher. “Throw your hands in the air” was all I made out. A cliché I didn’t mind hearing because it was backed by cool tunes, and it was very interesting hearing delay on rap vocals (a mistake, I thought, but a good one). I saw real versatility in Wampire.

Suddenly, it was eleven-fuckin’-thirty and I was already tired again! I was hoping the onstage outlet I sneakily plugged my phone into would recharge my own muscles. When you day drink, you should really know the pace at which you’re able not to stop. Otherwise you get hungover before it’s time to go home. And it’s the pits. And I’m still not the best at it, despite countless hours of practice. Anyway, Caveman set up and I saw a lot of floor gear and extra drums and I got excited. They started playing and it was like veterans took over. Not saying anything about their age, just that they sounded like they’ve been doing what they do forever. Ambient keys backing up-tempo drumming and clack percussion started the set, and it only built off there. They seemed to build a tension for a desire for a guitar swell, and then delivered. Nothing was missing. If something was, it was deliberate; its absence was noticeable, and then it was fulfilled. I thought it was a beautiful and brilliant approach to songwriting, or playing live. Either way.

By song #3, titled “My Time,” everyone was moving, myself included. It put blood back in my veins. Replacing the cement. The set grew in intensity with each song, the wall of sound expanding—spatial and unrelenting. The beautiful terror of approaching tinnitus (my ears are still ringing). I was filled with respect for them. It felt by the end like I’d maybe gotten better at CMJ, and it gave me hope for tomorrow. I got home around 4 (after trying to run over to Nothing Changes for Body of Light and Memorymann, and finding out I missed just about everything), but it felt earlier.