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.
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.
“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).
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.)
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]