Each day at CMJ we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the best (and worst) shows we happened upon. On day two, we’re shocked by the fact that we actually liked (or loved) most of the bands we saw, including our unoffical pick for the best young rock band around at the moment. This is for everyone who says all we do is complain all the time.
The Best: Ponytail, Bowery Ballyroom
We raved about Baltimore four-piece Ponytail almost a year ago, and our description from back then still holds true: “They’ve got thick, sheeny guitars that burst into flurries of top-speed riffing, but vocalist Molly Siegel’s post-verbal outbursts, which recall animals from all over the Wild Kingdom, are what really sends this record over the edge for us.” What’s changed is that the band’s gotten so much better. The bubblegum Boredoms–Deerhoof is the other popular point of comparison–Ponytail play technically adroit art-punk (absolutely sick drumming from Jeremy Hyman) at whiplash tempos, with duelling guitars from Ken Seeno and Dustin Wong that recall surf rock as often as speed metal as often as no wave, songs that manage to make all sorts of crazed dynamics and prog-rock flourishes feel as catchy as the Buzzcocks. How’s that for real-deal rock critic type talk?
Still, there’s plenty of “jagged” art school rock clogging the MP3 blog arteries right now, and it’s still Siegel, “singing” words that might as well be baby talk with a terrifying intensity, that pushes Ponytail to “holy fuck.” Tiny and good humored–”thanks!” she chirped with a smile between each number–but utterly possessed once the band kicks into a song, Siegel sreeched and stomped the stage, jutted her hips as she rolled her eyes back in her head and cried like a newborn bird, grinned in pleasure (or pain) as she growled like Cookie Monster, let out rainforest noises, scatted like the ladies of Kleenex, and copped a vocal lick from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen.” It was, as Maura said, “like an entire band built around the concept of the female orgasm.” Sadly, the songs on the MySpace page only hint at their evolution over the last 12 months–they played all new material last night, written for a possible second album on Monitor Records due in 2008, and if they get into a studio with a sympathetic producer it’s going shame any other band making a similar racket–but leave your bunker if they come to your burg and give them a little of your money. This is the one band where we won’t get pissy in six months if they end up hyped to no end. They deserve it.
Ponytail [Official MySpace]
The Worst: Cobra Starship, Don Hill’s
Maybe it was just the fact that they had to follow the amazing Pack–the teenaged Bay Area hyphy crew that briefly made slip-on Vans the hottest bargain footwear in hip-hop history–who left the stage to “Baba O’Reily” after managing miracles with just two-note synth basslines, a few fingersnaps, and four guys shouting in unison. But from their turgid “anthemic” alt-pop to their smug singer copping b-boy moves that should have shamed even the most shameless White Rapper Show contestant, New York’s Cobra Starship was a sign that it’s probably time to put mall emo out with the recycling next week. Even the other sub-par stuff we caught yesterday–the cruddy, muddy Celtic folk-punk band (O’Death) where you couldn’t even hear their fiddle over the nasal screech of the vocalist, or the embarassingly winsome and earnest singer-songwriter (Peasant) with the stage presence of an old lady staring down an oncoming big rig–didn’t stoop to (ironically? unironically? does it fucking matter?) rocking out on a keytar.
[Photo: Frank Hamilton]