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New York’s CMJ Music Marathon comes but once a year, but it can get pretty pricey without one of those fancy official badges, so what’s a completely broke college graduate with no job or weekend plans to do? Free shows! It’s a beautiful thing when small blogs can rent out halls to put up a dozen or more bands that probably haven’t gotten much more media exposure than what those same small blogs and their peers have offered. Its beauty can be aided, slightly, by free drinks and food.
In thirty-six hours (including about four of sleep, because I am weak) I saw twenty-five bands, a meager percentage of the million or so that flood the city for this annual event, but the best I could do with my limited resources. The two big shows for me were the early Brooklyn Vegan shows at Brooklyn’s Public Assembly on Friday and Saturday. Friday night I stopped in for some of the Yours Truly party at Glasslands Gallery, and Saturday included a brief stop at The L Magazine’s day show at Pyramids.
Doors opened at noon on Friday, and I arrived at 12:15, just in time to catch the back half of Jonny Corndawg’s set of sometimes-silly but always sincere acoustic country songs on the back stage. Mr. Corndawg kept the sixty-or-so people who showed up early genuinely entertained – and you know it was genuine because everybody was only on their first beer. When Magic Bullets started up in the front room, making him much harder to hear, he asked everybody to move closer to the stage so he could sing “Silver Pantie Liners” a capella, and we did.
San Francisco’s Magic Bullets was a few songs in when I made it around. I’ve been on a bit of a fey-English-80s-rockers kick lately so I was into them for a bit, but both they and The Phantom Band didn’t hold my attention for too long. (It looked like Magic Bullets was having a great time on stage, though, and I liked that.) The Luyas, onstage in the back room, were great, but I only heard two of their songs and had to make a mental note to check them out.
The first great surprise of the day was Ty Segall. The opening song, sounding like a lost cut from Gish, pulled me in and the mess of dirty garage-punk jams that Segall and his band ran through kept me there. The San Franciscan released Melted on Goner Records this summer, and the home of the late Jay Reatard is a fitting home for Segall.
(The only negative, and this came up a bit during Times New Viking’s set as well, was that no one was really moving. People were enjoying it, but they were just standing still, I guess for fear of spilling their drinks or mussing their hair. I’m not saying everyone needs to be push-moshing to every song, but would it be so bad to show a little enthusiasm? This is forever my problem with shows in New York/drinking at shows/shows with tall stages/things that are supposed to be “cool.” An uphill battle.)
I can only consider myself a casual Times New Viking fan. Their breakthrough third album and Matador debut, 2008’s Rip It Off, was sort of a lo-fi revelation for me – “It’s supposed to sound like that?” stupid younger me asked – but I hadn’t really kept up since. I was excited to see them, though, and I wasn’t disappointed. The biggest issue that arises when many lo-fi bands play live is that the songs don’t hold up when pulled away from the hissing and haziness, they lose their charm and turn out to be dull. Viking defeats this by actually writing good songs and playing them well. They also play them at a completely manic pace. With about ten minutes left in their set – the Brooklyn Vegan crew was strict about set times both days – drummer Adam Green asked “Do we have time for seven more?” They made it through six.
Up next were Dom and NV Noisemakers Oberhofer, two bands that I wanted to see because people and the internet have told me that I should. The style of pleasant electronic pop – maybe you could call it chillwave, but I still don’t think I really know what that means – that helped Dom gain blog-prominence (bloginence?) was which there was almost none of because now they’re a garagey two guitars-bass-and-drums four-piece. A friend of a friend said, “Sounds like Kings of Leon gone surf.” That’s a bit harsh, but I saw where he was coming from. It was pretty straightforward, and fun for a bit, but not especially engaging.
I was having a few similar thoughts about Oberhofer, playing in the back room. Brad Oberhofer, 20, hasn’t been playing live with his eponymous solo project for too long, but he’s charismatic and has a strong approach to songwriting that shows a lot of potential. There’s been a lot of positive change from his early recordings to his newer recordings to his live show with a full band. He still has room to grow and define a sound for himself, hopefully somewhat divorced from the more obvious references that make critics and bloggers want to name drop MGMT, The Unicorns, Dodos, Animal Collective, etc., when they talk about him.
Closing out the day at Public Assembly were Asobi Seksu (up front) and John Vanderslice (in back). For whatever reason, I never thought I would ever see Asobi Seksu. Something about their music seems so airy and hard to grasp, I suppose I imagined them never playing any shows and instead just reclusively recording album after excellent album of dreamy pop songs. I’m glad that’s not the case, because their live show is great. James Hanna’s guitar work is band’s driving force, alternating between piercing solos and cascading washes of sound, and he translates it perfectly from the record to the stage.
I feel like there’s less to say about John Vanderslice. If you know his work, you know you can turn to him for a well-written song that fearlessly approaches whatever subject is on his mind. It was just him and an acoustic guitar onstage, and after about a half-hour, he left the stage to play in the middle of the crowd with a former bandmate and a fellow with a trumpet who he claimed to have met “fifteen minutes ago.” I guess I never thought I’d see John Vanderslice, either, so the end of his set, playing “Nikki Oh Nikki” and surrounded by fans, was definitely a special moment.
That’s all for Friday afternoon. This has turned lengthy, so I’m splitting it in half – check out part two for some talk of Freddie Gibbs, Marnie Stern, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and more. Also, a brief list of bands that I’d wish I’d been able to see. Bummer. Listen to songs by the bands mentioned in this article below!