CMJ Day Three: A Triumphant Return To Mediocrity

Kate Richardson | October 24, 2008 10:00 am

The disadvantage of being an “actual college student” while covering CMJ is that you have to, you know, go to college. When I got home from the Beach House show at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, I had to write my recap post then and there because I had class starting at 9:30. Which means that I was facing last night on three hours of sleep and a full day of school. Under the circumstances I decided to take it as easy as possible last night, so I headed over Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg hoping it would be a hype-free zone with seating. The good news is that I was right on both accounts; the bad news is that people are still trying to drive me slowly insane with generic folk. A more nuanced assessment of that situation, plus some Western swing, after the jump.

First things first: I again came up empty-handed on CMJ Bingo, this time because I was in an extremely low foot traffic area at a very small venue. However I will say that for the first time in my life I actually wished I had some Sparks, as I think the whole experience would have been greatly improved by being both drunk and a lot more energetic.

When I showed up Shelley Green was already strumming away on the narrow back room’s tiny stage. This girl really broke my heart because immediately I just knew that I was going to review her set with a snide and reductive comment such as, “Sounded like Fiona Apple’s 30-minute rendition of ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark.’ ” And it totally did; all of her songs were simple strumming within a similar batch of chords (here I admit to being technically deficient when it comes to music–all I know is that they all sounded very similar and also very much like “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”). I really feel bad about being so dismissive because she was competent and earnest, and her voice was actually quite interesting, but at this point if you’re going to stand on a stage alone and emote with nothing but an acoustic guitar around your shoulder you have to be really really good. Only the most skilled of songwriters can make it work.

But in the interest of not being completely negative I will say that her song “My Balance” (which is on her MySpace) is quite charming and comes very close to having that magical combination of elements that make a song worth while, and her cover of “You Belong to Me,” during which she successfully channeled Judy Garland, was by far the shining moment of her set.

Next up was My Imaginary Friends. In their best moments this band played really entertaining Western swing, and in their lesser moments kind of boring standard piano pop:

“Hello Miss McGinty”

It was a treat to hear warm Americana-ish music (complete with mandolin!) in such a cozy setting, but unfortunately about half of the set was skewed toward the band’s piano songs, which were far inferior. If I had to give you a descriptive point of reference, I’d say they sounded a lot of like an edgier Sara Bareilles.

At that point I was fading fast, but I resolved to stay through at least one more band. Unfortunately that band was Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons.

The Wandering Sons, for some reason, were not present. Perhaps they’d had it up to here with Cory’s uniquely boring blend of adult contemporary and Zach Braff soundtrack. So it was just Cory, his acoustic guitar, and a female backup singer. To give yourself an idea of what this sounded, like listen to “So Wrong For Me” on his MySpace. I stayed through two songs and then had to leave because I was either going to fall asleep or be driven to the edge of sanity by the overwhelming banality.

I missed The Shivers. Judging from the MySpace they’re sort of interesting but I was so tired I never would have made it through the entire set.