CMJ Day One: All-You-Can-Eat Music From Brooklyn Vegan

Oct 22nd, 2008 // 28 Comments

Like a shy loner whose mom pressures her to go to the middle school dance and socialize with her classmates, I have been thrust into this year’s CMJ coverage. Of course I’m always delighted when Maura is generous and crazy enough to grant me a press pass, and Lord knows I’m not complaining about free shows all week, but let’s do some real talk: CMJ is ridiculous. Who are all these bands? Couldn’t they have just narrowed it down to a few actually good ones and put on just one or two great concerts instead of a hundred mediocre shows? Oh wait, I forgot–the point of music is to consume as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. Join me for a recap of day one’s journey into the heart of darkness: Brooklyn Vegan’s showcase at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

To begin, I’ll start my running game of CMJ Bingo. After just one day I can check off “trip to Brooklyn on the L” (though that may be cheating, since I started in Bushwick), “meeting a blogger,” the Obama “Hope” graphic (it was actually one that said “Progress,” and it was on the drummer from Shearwater’s bass drum, but it was the same picture), “American Apparel,” and “actual college student” (I myself am in college, and I’m pretty sure I spotted a few excitable college radio staffers).

My rationale for choosing the Brooklyn Vegan showcase? I wanted to see Ponytail live. Also it was an eight-minute subway ride from my house. The “not Ponytail” portion of the lineup was Emmy the Great, The Sammies, Shearwater, Passion Pit, Jens Lekman, and The Phenomenal Handclap Band.

Emmy the Great

“Easter Parade”

Brooklyn Vegan seems to have a crush on this girl, who was inoffensive, but entirely forgettable. If you’re going to do gentle folksy stuff, make your melodies damn compelling; I found myself drifting off more than a few times during her set. Luckily she had a full band of entirely competent musicians, so it wasn’t entirely an acoustic snooze-fest, and was at times quite lovely, but again… meh. The one truly bold thing about her set was that two of her songs had almost-explicit references to having an abortion, which definitely caught me off guard.

The Sammies

“Coming Out Wild”

File this one under “Really?” While The Sammies were refreshingly unhip, they were also very mediocre. It was as if the Strokes had moved down south, eaten a bunch of BBQ, and forgotten how to write a melody. I really wanted to like them because I do have a special place in my heart for Southern good ol’ boys, but even at their best moments they were just a warmed over homage to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and generic Southern rock (see the song “Treat Her Like a Queen” on their MySpace).


“Palo Santo”

If there were a compilation called Now That’s What I Call College Radio Music!, this band would be featured on the promotional sticker slapped onto the CD. They were the special secret guest of the showcase, so I guess they’re “kind of a big deal”? I think they’re definitely the kind of band that you should like and be familiar with before attending a concert. While I thought their musicianship and dedication to unconventional instruments (a dulcimer!) was competent and charming, respectively, they were really just kind of a mopey bore. Perhaps I would have enjoyed them more had I been seated in a comfortable chair and not going on my third hour of standing, but under the circumstances I was not a fan. (I will say, though, that the drummer’s name was Thor, and he looked every bit like that would be his name.)


“Beg Waves”

A favorite of last year’s coverage, Ponytail still owns a year later. This was the first band of the night to really get people jamming. If you’ve ever heard their music, you can just imagine all the trite phrases I’m tempted to bring out in describing the live show: “chaotic waves of melodic sound,” “high-energy,” etc. Point being, they were a great live experience. See them if you ever get the chance.

After Ponytail I left. I was exhausted (it’s midterms, people!), my lower back hurt, and the club was starting to get unbearably stuffy. I had wanted to stick around and finally see what the fuss was about this Jens Lekman fellow, but, truth be told, I’m old and cranky at heart so I had to throw in the towel. I know you’re probably disappointed that you don’t get a firsthand account of The Phenomenal Handclap Band, but guess what–I’ve done you the favor of scouting their MySpace. They sound like a shitty hipster band from New York (probably Williamsburg). You’re welcome.

All in all it was an OK night. Also I saw John Norris on my way out.

Side Note: My contingency plan for the evening was the showcase at Pete’s Candy Store, which had a moderately interesting-looking lineup: Apollo Run, Paula Newwoman, and Sgt Dunbar and the Hobo Banned. OK, that Danish lady is a bit much, but at least she might have been entertaining.

[Photo: Frank Hamilton]

  1. LiquidHeaven

    You need to open your mind. Shearwater are great.

    Given how good they are and your review of their show (and every other band except Ponytail) I should probably check out the other ‘mediocre’ bands on the bill.

    Hmm.. maybe CMJ is too cerebral for college kids nowadays?

  2. Maura Johnston

    @LiquidHeaven: Chacun a son gout.

  3. Anonymous

    @LiquidHeaven: agreed. i found shearwater a bit boring when i first started listening to them, but with their material from palo santo and this year’s rook, i don’t really know how you can find them that boring. sure, boring is a relative term, but be patient with this band.

    glad to hear that ponytail haven’t lost any of their steam.

  4. Anonymous

    So, in sum, it sounds like all the bands playing are either that Hot AC disguised as “indie” meaning they are mopey, relaxed, plodding and utterly forgettable or irono/dance pop? Do I have this correct?

  5. Kate Richardson

    I was hesitant to be so harsh on Shearwater because I had a feeling I’d probably like them more if I actually listened to their album, but in the interest of giving an honest review…I was honest about how I felt during their set. It was a little too down-tempo for my patience level at the time. But like I said I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had been less antsy.

  6. Cheap Shot

    You could slam Brooklyn Vegan all you want but his site will always have it over Idolator.

  7. Marth

    I need to jump on the “Shearwater is awesome” train here. Granted, Rook is the only thing I’ve heard of theirs, but it’s probably my favorite album that’s come out this year. Good songs, good performances, and it’s recorded beautifully. I’d actually take Rook over anything Okervill River has released.

  8. bcapirigi

    i got a shearwater promo a few months ago and have yet to make it all the way through.

    also, i’m surprised people weren’t bigger on emmy the great, considering she’s had something to do with noah and the whale, lightspeed champion, and like four other bands i don’t really like but that the kids seem really into these days.

  9. Dead Air ummm Dead Air

    John Norris on my way “out”. Hi-O!

    Also, you missed out on Jens Lekman. I was in the same boat you were until I saw him for the first time, and well, that guy is a baller.

  10. soundbitesnyc

    Can’t speak for BV himself, but writer of that BV post…I definitely have a crush on Emmy. She’s a great songwriter, but if you’re idea of great is Ponytail, her subtleties are obviously not going to appeal to you. Ponytail are ok, but I don’t know if I’d use the word “melodic” to describe them.

  11. Bob Loblaw

    The crowd seemed pretty jazzed for Passion Pit, and they played a tight, high-energy set. Clever songwriting, commercial sound. Big question mark for me is the yowly emo-Justin Hawkins frontman.

    Jens “the Singing DJ” Lekman only sang over one track (that I stayed for, anyway), then basically just spun a serviceable set. It seemed like the planning phase never went beyond “You know what might be cool???” and then he jumped onstage. Still love the guy though.

  12. Maura Johnston

    @Cheap Shot: Yes. We get it. You hate this site. And yet you still come around! Shouldn’t you, I don’t know, find a hobby instead of looking for “slams” where there are none?

  13. soundbitesnyc

    Jens sang at the end too, a medley of two or three of his disco-y songs from the last album. Passion Pit singer would definitely benefit from singing lessons — if he keeps this up his chords will be shot in a year.

  14. Bob Loblaw

    @soundbitesnyc: Having never heard Emmy, alls I can say is the “If you like X, then you won’t understand the subtleties of Y” is a bullshit argument. Loud, crowded showcases usually aren’t the best place to pick up on delicate phrasings or shifts to an augmented sixth.

  15. Anonymous

    @Cheap Shot: The BrooklynVegan comments will always be more hilarious than Idolator but in terms of editorial, the current site I’m on wins.

  16. Kate Richardson

    @soundbitesnyc: Sometimes there are parts of the songs without distinguishable melodies, but most of the time there’s a melody in the guitar riffs, and I always get them stuck in my head.

  17. MayhemintheHood

    I’ve never heard Ponytail…until playing the above video.

    I hate Yoko Ono.

  18. MayhemintheHood

    Also, thank you for the favor re: Phenomenal Handclap Band.

  19. Anonymous

    Emmy the Great …is not.

  20. LiquidHeaven

    @Maura Johnston: how dare you wish gout on my son.


  21. Anonymous

    this is alex from the hobo banned, I am glad you thought that pete’s line up was interesting enough to mention, we really appreciate it. The danish girl (paula newwoman) was actually really horrible live (imho) but the rest of the showcase was lots of fun.

  22. Ned Raggett

    SO annoyed I couldn’t make the local Ponytail show around here the other week, but I was already booked that evening. By all accounts, a total monster of a show.

  23. narymary

    Based on that video I think I can safely ignore Shearwater for the rest of my life and not be any worse for it.

  24. Anonymous

    It was definitely a strange line-up, but the middle portion was phenomenal. Second time I’ve seen Shearwater at that venue, and they owned both times. Ponytail, as much as they are more suited to a smaller room, still were a riot, and Passion Pit was really surprising. Dance-y indie rock is a thorn in my paw, because of how awful the crowds are at those shows (it’s like a fucking Williamsburg Football Team pep rally when Hot Chip comes to town), but they were really fun; way better than Cut Copy, while doing a similar thing. Also, watching a crowd of normally stilted hipsters dancing to “Fantasy” was totally worth it. Then, Phenomenal Hand Clap Band came out and tried to be the Doobie Brothers. Ugh.

  25. Jess Harvell

    kate, i beg of you, turn back now and spend the rest of your week reading old issues of “cracked” magazine.

  26. ObtuseIntolerant

    @Maura Johnston: This is why I lurve you Maura & Kate. And friends (mostly).

    @LiquidHeaven: Cerebral!! Ooooof….don’t backhandedly tell people they are ignorant because they don’t have the same taste as you, OY. Not nice.

  27. Anonymous


    The BrooklynVegan comments will always be more heinous than Idolator…

    There, fixed.

  28. Lucas Jensen

    @Cheap Shot: So it’s not just a clever name, eh?

    @StuntKockSteeev: Better than Cut Copy? I don’t think that’s possible.

    And I may be the lone Ponytail dissenter on the list. That lead singer just bugs me. Someone needs to buy her a Happy Meal.

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