Hype Machine held the first night of their CMJ “Handpicked Showcase” last night at Brooklyn Bowl. The six bands in the lineup were: JJAMZ, Indians, The Neighbourhood, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Virgins and SUA.
JJAMZ is a veritable indiepop supergroup, whose members include guitarist James Valentine (Maroon 5), drummer Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley/Bright Eyes), guitarist Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), bassist Michael Runion, and lead singer Z Berg (The Like). As the show’s openers, JJAMZ brought a ton of energy to the stage. Berg’s vocals seemed a bit raspier, more worn than on their album and after hearing her try to belt their ballad “Poolside,” I believe she blew out her voice instead of being an intentional effect. Every member of JJAMZ is seriously talented, with both Greenwald and Runion taking over lead vocals for separate songs, like the new “Waste of Time,” a more alternative, Greenwald-led track that was my highlight. Overall, the music was fun and catchy, the insanely danceable “Suicide Pact” closing the set and leaving me humming an oddly morbid chorus to myself.
Indians (aka Soren Juul) took the stage next, standing simply behind a setup of mixers and a keyboard. Juul was a bit overzealous with the electronic effects, creating so much sound with so many parts that it sounded like we were underwater, drowning under the weight of the sheer number of elements he wanted to include. His voice, through all the reverb and distortion, was actually quite nice and strong. In the middle of his set, Juul moved to the side of the stage and picked up a guitar and played a couple of songs acoustically. This was my favorite part, when the background instrumentation was less convoluted and Juul’s vocals were the focal point. I did enjoy Indians’ closing song, mostly for the strong bassline that had been missing from the opening electronic section.
If you’ve listened to The Neighbourhood but have never seen what they look like, you’re in for a surprise. With a lead singer dressed like Joe Strummer and a guitarist rocking a scarf, it’s no wonder that the band’s sound is a fusion of a number of completely opposing styles. While the beat was hip hop, the guitars and bass were more indie, dance rock and the vocals ranged from rap to blues to alternative. The Neighbourhood had the audience hooked from the moment they stepped on stage, leading them on an endearing, expletive-heavy sing-a-long and showing off their insane musicality while having a bit of fun before surging into their closing song, the single, “Sweater Weather,” a classic, nostalgic surf rock anthem.
The secret guest of the night was Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but because CMJ shows usually go late they played in the middle of the showcase, which was great for me but less so for the bands following. They absolutely brought the house down. The band played their set pretty much straight through, pausing once or twice to thank the audience, but other than that the music didn’t stop. “Ffunny Ffriends” and “Bicycle” were electric, pulsing energy through the crowd. Parts of their set felt like sitting in on a lo-fi jam band, singing and dancing along to favorites like “How Can You Luv Me” and then standing in awe as the trio continued to riff and improv on their instruments. Unknown Mortal Orchestra played like a headliner, going totally nuts and all out for every single song.
I enjoy The Virgins quite a bit, so even as a fan I can say that having them play after Unknown Mortal Orchestra was a stretch. Their indie surf rock seemed like a lullaby after Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s musical punch in the face. That said, the set, considered as a separate entity, was pretty successful. “Venus in Chains” was a hit, putting out a more Tom Petty, Americana energy. Throughout the set, awesome guitar solos were worked into various songs, though some of the slower songs were a bit flat. They sometimes felt like they wanted to be faster and gave off a high school prom vibe.
Another band played after The Virgins, but the energy in the space was waning, so I called it a night. Gotta rest up for the coming shows!