We know you’re not gonna believe this, but there was nothing that wack about day three at CMJ, at least on the musical tip. So here are the three shows that entertained us most and the one that bored us right back into hating rock music, at least until a Memphis punk saved the day.
Jay Reatard at the Mercury Lounge
This Tennessee kid is no longer a kid and has long been far from an orthodox punk. But live, he still plays like a teenager’s fantasy of what the ultimate punk show should sound like: fast, short, and with even less bullshit between songs than the Ramones. Reatard’s current sound (under his own name at least) is early British punk played as raw as ’60s garage and sometimes as fast as hardcore, and on stage, the “insects in an Altoids tin” production and slight Anglophilic tinge in the vocals on his awesome solo album Blood Visions get smashed into a 1-2-3-4! roar of unison headbanging and sawn-off guitar leads. (No solos, thank you.) Best set of CMJ after Ponytail, for those keeping up.
Not sure why everyone pegs these Florida ladies as “alternative” when their beats are more concerned with moving asses than foregrounding their quirks and their “fuck you” shouts could be right off a gritty underground hip-hop mixtape. (Except for the fact that they advertise themselves as such on their MySpace page or get extra dap from indie rock blogs for being sexually explicit femme rappers, which is perhaps some kind of novelty compared to all the sexually explicit male rappers on the radio or for anyone who’s never heard “How Many Licks.” Or maybe it was the Daft Punk sample.) Still, all the coverage is earned and explicable because the combination–fleet rhymes, growling party chants, casual nudity, and beats that would make Luke Skyywalker’s heart swell with pride–actually works a treat at loosening up stiff indie rock audiences. Plus they even managed to sneak a conscious plea in at the end without coming off forced after all that masturbation talk.
Cut Off Your Hands
On record there’s the worry these guys would come off like a slightly pissier Bloc Party, the recording studio smoothing out the kinks in their knotty and noisy Brit-punk. Live, they earned their “almost unknown New Zealand band plays eight bazillion CMJ shows” hype stripes by somehow not flagging after four or five gigs, and while the lead singer has copped everyone else’s flailing stage moves (Iggy, Ian Curtis, Guy from Fugazi), his spazz didn’t feel forced. Bonus points for having one of those “everything shaved except for a mop on top” haircuts I haven’t seen since the high days of industrial.
Trail Of Dead at Highline Ballroom
Maybe I’m just a philistine, but I’m inherently suspicious of any band with more than five members on stage. In a non-jazz, non-Allmans/Skynyrd, non-ska context, what this usually means is leaden “epic” rock that thinks a big stinking crescendo (with or without pained, emotive shouting) should make you preemptively wet your pants with catharsis. With two keyboardists, two guitarists, and a drummer who had the full arsenal of twirling-his-sticks moves down pat, you could figure out where each of Trail of Dead’s songs were going from the hushed, shimmering open chords–i.e. the exact same boring place each time, i.e. to the heartswelling (and loud) dramatic moment where boyfriend and girlfriend grip each other’s sweaty hands just a little tighter. Having not seen them for several years, I’m unsure of when they molted into such a maudlin Big Rock spectacle, but they should definitely see about getting in on some of that Friday Night Lights soundtrack love Explosions In The Sky has been milking.