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Friday evening was upon us. A walk over to Williamsburg’s Glasslands Gallery for a show hosted by Yours Truly followed the end of Brooklyn Vegan's show, but we were way early and it was my friend Nick’s birthday (happy birthday Nick!) so we went to his new apartment for a party. I stopped back later and caught the end of Oberhofer’s set, which successfully pounded the whistled motif from “Awy Frm U” into my brain.
I was really hoping to catch New York’s Cults. Their set time had been pushed way back, though, but I stuck around for Young Man. A full band was present to flesh out the solo project of Chicaco’s Colin Caulfield, a young singer who was plucked straight off the YouTube after Bradford Cox discovered his cover of Deerhunter’s “Rainwater Cassette Exchange”. As with Oberhofer, I found myself thinking that, down the road, Young Man could really be a notable band, but right now the songs sound a little too familiar.
I left again with intention to return by 1:30 A.M. for my number-one most anticipated CMJ performance: Freddie Gibbs, backed by Bay Area soul-rock revivalists Grillade. Everything went late, though, so when I arrived at 1:45, Sun Airway wasn’t far into their set. I wasn’t too excited about their Oh, Naoko EP, but this set convinced me to take another look. They played tracks from the EP and their new album, Nocturn of Exploded Crystal Chandelier (Dead Oceans). Maybe I’m just a sucker for any band that can induce literal shoegazing (and its side-step shoulder-dance companion) but the Philadelphia-based indie group, risen from the ashes of the guitar-driven A-Sides, was doing everything right and had the audience in the palm of their synthesizer.
Some technical problems slowed Grillade from getting started, but they weren’t discouraged by their nearly-3-A.M. start time and attacked with three high-energy R&B jams. Their sharp musicianship, great stage presence, and the towering voice of singer Ragen Fykes had the crowd on fire.
Anticipation for Freddie Gibbs was high from the start, and the room went nuts when Fykes called his name. He stepped up on stage like he’d been right up front the whole time and jumped right into “The Coldest”, from this summer’s Str8 Killa EP. The band was on point, playing Gibbs’ beats as if they were compositions that they had written. Gibbs’ rapping was untouchably sharp, and his lyrics take on new meaning in the live setting, where you can see that he means every word.
His records are full of stories and, like you would hope from any writer you respect, he knows how to handle himself in front of a crowd. His songs and demeanor can be intimidating, but his banter, limited as it was, was funny – “I’m rapping hard as a motherfucker up here” – and he borrowed a lighter from a guy in the front row during “National Anthem (Fuck The World)” so he could light up the blunt he was holding behind his ear, because, like his stylistic ancestor 2Pac, he just doesn’t give a fuck. When he went on to say as much, though, and played “Personal OG”, which includes a line about being a “marijuana addict,” a vaguely melancholy vibe came up. It’s some pretty hard shit when you can recognize an addiction as just something you do, not something to reform. But Freddie Gibbs is a pretty hard dude. After five songs, he left as casually as he arrived. People called for “One more song!” but it he was long gone. I got home around 5:30 A.M. and went to sleep for a bit (again, because I am weak).
Saturday was rough, but two cups of coffee, a bowl of Mini-Wheats, and a clementine later, I was back in Brooklyn for the second free Brooklyn Vegan day show at Public Assembly. As I expected, since Ted Leo was scheduled for 1 P.M., the crowd arrived much earlier. Morning Teleportation was starting when I walked in. My first impression was “disco Nirvana.” That had nothing to do with their music, it was just because the singer was wearing a colorful sweater and had blond hair. I was skeptical at the beginning of their set, afraid that they were poised to break into psychedelic jamming, but they showed a lot of restraint and played songs that stayed tight and were exploratory without veering off on tangents. To put it simply: the solos wailed and hooks were strong. Fun fact: they’re signed to Isaac Brock’s label, Glacial Pace.
Next on the main stage was Ted Leo, forever a favorite of mine and, objectively, one of the best songwriters ever. He tore through a twenty-minute solo set that included “The High Party”, “The Sword And The Stone”, and “Bottled In Cork”. I’ve never been let down by a Ted Leo set. This was no exception, although I would’ve loved to hear a lot more from him. He did a set a few hours later at the WFMU Record Fair in Manhattan, and if I’d had the money and wanted to leave Brooklyn, it would’ve been worth it.
But alas, I stayed put and watched Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., a band whose name I had never heard even one time before I read about the thirty or so CMJ shows they’d booked. I wasn’t sure what to expect, what with the gimmicky name and three-foot J- and R-shaped stage lights and the NASCAR suits that frontmen Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott were wearing. Turns out, their music is all business, carefully toeing the generally un-toed line between soulful R&B and folky indie rock. Their set was killer, running through this summer’s Horse Power EP and some new songs, one of which kind of sounded like a lost Marvin Gaye song. The slow-jam groove of “Nothing But Our Love” brought the house down (my house, at least), and its stop-start chorus, “I get more than I deserve," drenched in reverb-ing keyboards, was a highlight of the day.
Heavy Cream and Wild Nothing were next on either stage. I watched some of both, and Nashville’s Heavy Cream won out. The quartet is hot off the release of their first album Danny, put out by Infinity Cat, the label run by Jake and Jamin Orrall of JEFF The Brotherhood, the former of which produced the record. If any of that registers with you, you might have an idea of what Heavy Cream sounds like: simple and clean punk jams, straight out of the summer.
I hadn’t seen Titus Andronicus since the release of The Monitor. I was curious about what their set would include, if they would play many of the lengthier songs from the new album or any of the only-slightly-less-lengthy songs from The Airing of Grievances. The set ended up pretty Monitor-heavy, though – “A More Perfect Union”, “Richard II”, “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” …and that was it, they ran out of time, apparently because of some equipment problems at the start. It was disappointing to see them rushed off, but at least they led a roomful of people in a singalong of the last song’s climactic refrain, “You will always be a loser,” first.
I stepped out of Public Assembly to catch former Titus Andronicus member Andrew Cedermark, scheduled to go on at 4 P.M. at The L Magazine’s party at Pyramids, a few blocks away. New York singer-songwriter Luke Rathborne was still playing a solo set at a quarter after four. I’ve heard a few tracks in which his Dylanesque songs are backed by a full band, and they’re quite good. With just him and his guitar, though, the songs lacked some of the urgency and liveliness that appealed to me in the recordings. I’d like to see him perform with a band, and also at a show that I wasn’t planning to leave so quickly.
Back at the Brooklyn Vegan show, comedic musician – musical comedian? – Reggie Watts was set up in the back room. It’s hard to explain what Watts does (check out this great Village Voice interview from July for some insight into his mindset) so let me describe his set-up: microphone, mixer, loop/delay pedal, pitch-shifter. He improvs a beat, loops it, and then raps or sings or speaks or mumbles over it, does voices, plays with effects, stops and starts at random. And it’s really funny. I can imagine him doing this and getting a lot of dead-eyed looks from a crowd, but everyone in attendance at Public Assembly never seemed to lose interest in his completely absurd act. He only played three “songs,” but with the line between stand-up routine and music so blurred, it was hard to tell if that really mattered.
The last group on the back stage was Marnie Stern’s. I had read about Marnie Stern, but I’d been completely sleeping on her albums. This turned out to be a mistake, because she’s awesome, a total shredder with a lot of energy and a catalog of dynamic and unique songs. She and her band looked like they were having a lot of fun onstage, which is always great to see. The drummer was impressive, too, playing the percussion performed on her records by Zach Hill, whose frantic, stuttering attack is a perfect match for Marnie’s quick finger-tapping and complex guitar arrangements. Theirs was one of my favorite shows of my day-and-a-half in the field, as well as the last band I would see before I went home and slept.
That said, there were many, many more bands around last week that I wish I’d been able to watch. Here are a few at the top of the list:
-The aforementioned Cults has been getting some great press as of late thanks to their excellent self-titled debut 7". They play simple, sometimes electronic-tinged, sometimes eerie pop tunes with doo-wop flairs that hit the pleasure center pretty squarely. They were even profiled by Adult Swim, who helped the band make a video for "Oh My God" that features a lot of balloons.
-Andrew Cedermark’s music is in the vein of, yet distinct from Titus Andronicus'. It's quiet and contemplative just as often as it's ready-to-explode tense; the songs are alway smartly assembled, but they're less life-or-death than his old band's, and a little more life-will-go-on.
-I was excited to see that Diamond Rings was playing Pitchfork’s #Offline fest. The Canadian singer burned up my internet with the reserved and infinitely repeatable “All Yr Songs” last year, and I was afraid he'd gone away forever. Turns out his debut album, Special Affections, came out this week.
-Gold Panda is an up-and-coming English producer that I’m excited to hear a lot more from. The wicked chopped-up melody of 2009's “Quitter’s Raga” gets all stuck up in your head, and then it’s over before it even hits the two-minute mark. His new album, Lucky Shiner, is out now.
-Los Angeles' Teen Inc. has released, as far as I know, only one record, the "Fountains"/"Friend of the Night" 7", but the songs sound like some kind of cross between really funky Prince jams, The Cure, and a near-overdose of antidepressents. So at the very least, I'm curious.
-Cloud Nothings was the solo project of 18-year-old Ohioan Dylan Baldi, but it's now a full-on indie/pop band, and a pretty catchy one at that. Click here to listen to Turning On, a compilation of their first year's-worth of recordings.
-Finally, Jersey's Screaming Females is a band I've seen a few times, but it's been a while, so I miss them. The last year has been huge for them, and included an MTV appearance, magazine and newspaper profiles, a new album, tours with the Arctic Monkeys and Ted Leo, and a watershed performance at this summer's Siren Festival at Coney Island. They work really hard, and I look forward to watching them receive more much-deserved recognition.
That's all. Thanks to the venues and show-bookers for organizing all of this. Listen to songs by these bands below!