JP's CMJ 2014 Day 5: Slowdive, Low, Moon Duo, White Fence, A Place to Bury Strangers

JP betrays the emerging bands for one day

By: JP Basileo

October 28, 2014

"...this would be the day I planned everything—the day I wouldn’t have to rush, I’d be where I had to be, when I had to be there, arriving in a calm, collected manner... "

I promised myself this would be the day I planned everything—the day I wouldn’t have to rush, I’d be where I had to be, when I had to be there, arriving in a calm, collected manner, the whole day. I kept my promise inasmuch as my day starting late, cutting some of the showcases I thought about running to, and meeting my aunt and uncle for a beer at Smorgasborg. I’ve learned that, for the most part, at CMJ, if you miss a band playing an afternoon set, chances are you’ll be able to see them at an evening set. Or better yet, a late night set. I was planning on seeing Olympya (WA) shoegazers Broken Water, amongst a slew of other bands, at Exploding in Sound’s Third Birthday Party and Unofficial CMJ Showcase, but I was moving a little slow again, and it’d been a while since I’d seen my uncle. Besides, The Austin Psych Fest Showcase at Rough Trade would run into the very early morning, and I’d have a good chance of seeing SF drone rock powerhouse Moon Duo, whom I’d missed the night before (in case you didn’t read day 3’s shitshow).

However, as I was enjoying a sandwich from Porchetta (swoon), and waiting for a pint, it dawned on me that Slowdive was playing a sold out Terminal 5 tonight, and I had a press pass, and that with said press pass, I might be able to get in. Earlier in the week, I had kicked around the idea of trying to use my badge to get in, and I had tried throughout the week to cover as much as humanly possible, staying out ‘til hours approaching ungodly, so that I might be able to enjoy the show Saturday. I hope I succeeded. A payoff, if you will. I said my goodbyes to my uncle and aunt (it was so nice to see ‘em), and hoofed it so hard to the L train, my shoes felt like they were going to fall off. I made it to Terminal 5 by 5:40. Doors were at 7. So I overestimated how long I’d be getting over there (for once), so what? I had a beer and sat and came close to nodding off while Beach House’s “Bloom” played on the p.a. A few dear friends had tickets to the show, and I wound up meeting them and we drank some more together, and the opener, Low, came on at 8pm on the dot.

They started so slowly and subtly you could hardly tell a band was onstage, but it grew in intensity and eeriness until the entire room stood silent, dumbstruck. Throughout their set, the bassist switched between his bass and a keyboard. Another quiet, heartfelt jam. Another. After a little while, I was waiting for something to break. It pulled at my heartstrings a little, and I could notice myself feeling it. They graduated to a little hop in their step, upping the tempo (which wasn’t saying much, but it seemed like a sprint after the series of snoozers they just played). The vocals lulled in low moans, like what you’d think a banshee would sound like if he was drunk. Perhaps Low wasn’t for everybody—one of my friends leaned over to me and said “I know what you should write for your magazine: ‘zzzzzz.’” But they continued to sooth. If music is to serve a purpose, then when you’re running around like a madman for four days, and everything seems to be spinning at full force, a series of crooned lullabies doesn’t seem so bad.

I’d caught a steady buzz, not necessarily from the beer, but simply from the hum of the room, readying itself for Slowdive. When they came on the stage, it was almost sudden, catching everyone off guard, but there was a giant roar, which was almost immediately drowned out by a wave of sound from their self-titled track. They played for nearly an hour and a half, encores included, and I’m willing to bet there wasn’t one human being in the room who wasn’t in a complete trance by the end of the set.  I seemed to float in and out of consciousness, having closed my eyes, rocking back and forth, almost therapeutically, hoping to be taken by the sound. It was a numbing experience, one of probably only a handful of live sets I’ve seen that have left me in a stupor. Little did I know I was going to experience yet another one even later in the night.

The show got out close to 11, and I knew the Austin Psych Fest showcase would still be underway, so I left my dear friends to go to Rough Trade. I couldn’t believe my night wasn’t over, and then I remembered that just about every other night this week has ended with me going to another show I didn’t expect, or couldn’t believe I was going to. That and I felt like I had to redeem myself from missing out on Friday night’s good time. I showed up and found out that they were no longer accepting CMJ badges for entry, but suddenly I was more than happy to pay for my ticket, because the lovely lady at the box office informed me that Moon Duo was going on next, followed by White Fence, and then A Place to Bury Strangers.

It wasn’t long after I moved through the crowd, to a spot directly in front of the stage, that Moon Duo came on, and that leftover hum I still had resonating through my body from Slowdive, quickly became a full on convulsion. Not even necessarily voluntarily, I felt my whole self shaking and moving to the catchy, haunting drone of static psychedelics coming from a guitar, two keyboards (manned by the same woman), and one of the steadiest drummers I’ve ever seen. There were no choruses, no variations on the rhythms and guitar parts, other than spatial soloing over looped fuzz. Every song went on for what seemed like forever, and you felt like it could go on for forever in this same unchanging and repetitious vein, and that would be just fine. It was incredible. I could look to my right and left, and see every other fellow idiot in the room dipping and grooving to these bangers.

By the time Moon Duo finished, I was in a daze, which lasted until I shot over to Vinnie’s on Bedford for two slices. I realized I hadn’t eaten since Smorgasborg and, that was only one sandwich, and none of the portions there are close to being considered “sizeable.”  I met some cool people right outside the pizzeria, who were also attending the show, simply because they noticed my CMJ badge dangling from my carabiner keychain (how punk rock). They were cool as shit and they totally got me ridiculously excited to see A Place to Bury Strangers. I wound up hanging with them the rest of the night. We got back to the show and White Fence was in the middle of a jam that I was sure was their last song, as they played a trippy surfy solo for what seemed like 15 minutes, and we showed up while it was already happening! But it wasn’t their last song! They played three more (I think) after that. They were an excellent live band. I know Jake Saunders is covering them, so I won’t speak too much on them, for fear that I’ll be repeating things already said about them. But they were an excellent live band.

I figured I had time before A Place to Bury Strangers started their set, so I accompanied my new friends right outside the show space, and we were just standing shootin’ the shit when I heard a blast of noise from inside. I figured it was the house music coming on, perhaps a little too strong. I had figured wrong, and then I figured wrong again! It was A Place to Bury Strangers starting their set off at full blast, and they were on the floor! They must have set up in secrecy during White Fence’s set, and nobody noticed. It caught us all by surprise. What ensued was one of the wildest things I’ve ever witnessed. It was psychedelic noise-terror-rock in the dark. Best way I can describe it. Strobe lights and smoke machines and a couple of laser lights illuminated the floor, but for the most part it was dark, only adding to the idea of losing your mind. They played so loud, and so hard it was difficult to believe this was even possible to go on as long as it did, or for me to stand watching for as long as I did (which was the whole set). Sounds only seemed to pile on more sounds, noise effects on top of hardly discernible melodies, to the point where I began to doubt my own sanity.

Then I witnessed their bassist duct-tape a strobe light to a speaker, get on top of his amp, and then throw the speaker to the ground. I witnessed the bassist pancake-slam his whole bass onto the ground, and then subsequently tore the strings from the neck, still attached and everything, only seeming to add to the tidal wave of noise. I looked over at the guitarist, and amongst some serious guitar theatrics, I saw the strings of his guitar begin to get plucked from the neck as well. I couldn’t believe how poorly their instruments were being treated, but it meant for a damn good time and the wildest show, so I didn’t care too terribly. People were screaming “one more song,” but we knew it was over. They no longer had functioning instruments. It was wholly a sensory overload. The noise shook me, the anxiety I felt because of the strobes raised tensions, and the stage presence instilled a natural need for self-preservation, which was acknowledged and then ignored, as everyone wanted to be there, myself very much included.

(I’m seeing them again at Death By Audio on Monday, and I can’t wait.)

I left Rough Trade emotionally spent, mentally drained, lost. I noticed my jaw had dropped and I couldn’t stop saying “wow” and “oh my god” (I hope my new friends didn’t find me too annoying, but I imagined they were in similar states of shock). We said our goodbyes, them hitting a cab, and me catching the L back to Bushwick, and I couldn’t listen to music on the subway, like I normally do. I had to sit and process what I’d just seen. Between Slowdive, Moon Duo, and APTBS, Saturday was easily the highlight of a most excellent CMJ experience. I hope I did my job, and did it well, but I have no regrets for this week, not even an impromptu free tattoo, and I'm extremely grateful to have been a part of something so essential to the New York City music scene. I don't mean to be sentimental, but sometimes it's the nature of music. Thank you.