CMJ is not a festival to be recovered from lightly. So even though I’m a little late, here are the (partial) shows I saw on Friday and Saturday!
On Friday, I headed to Bushwick for the Topshelf Records Showcase at apartment-turned-concert venue Suburbia. Because of my day job, I showed up unfortunately too late to catch Doors, Have Mercy and Prawn but just in time for Diamond Youth to take the stage. The band absolutely rocked their set, their energy pulsing through and engulfing the crowd. The alternative rock sound was a bit more punk in person, noisier and less polished in the best way. They were really having fun performing and feeding off the crowd, creating an engaging mess of music.
Next up was Slingshot Dakota. The duo, backed by just a keyboard and drums, brought just as much energy in their minimalist take on ska. The absence of any stringed instruments is unique and highly welcome; it sets the music slightly off kilter, wandering between indie, folk and pop without having to be branded by an overly distinct guitar or bass. If pressed, I would compare vocalist Carly Comando’s voice to The Hush Sound, though it would be unfair to both. Comando brings depth and soul to the otherwise modern instruments and composition.
Spoiler Alert: The next band, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, played for 15 minutes before I even realized there was a band on stage. Suburbia is an awesome venue, but it is also scorchingly hot. I’ve been on the Backdraft ride at Universal Studios, and I honestly say that Suburbia is honestly the hottest I’ve ever been. Needless to say, I left during this set. But don’t worry! The World is a Beautiful Place…makes another appearance!
Unsatisfied with my truncated outing on Friday, I opted for another abbreviated show on Saturday afternoon. I again hit up Brooklyn for the Run For Cover Records showcase in Greenpoint. I apparently refuse to see any show in its entirety, so I missed performances by Turnover, Pity Sex, Young Statues and Ghost Thrower, which is very sad.
I came one song into Koji’s set and, in the interest of full disclosure, the review of his set is going to be absolutely and totally biased because he’s a friend of mine. But, he is not related to me, so I can still rag on him a little. A totally departure from every other band I’d seen at CMJ, Koji took the stage accompanied only by an electro-acoustic guitar. He showed off his beautifully strong voice and punk roots with an emotional, raw set. He awed his audience with his authenticity and intimate asides between songs, had them singing as loud as himself with old favorites and introduced a couple new songs from his upcoming full-length that I’m totally stoked for, friend or not.
All good writing comes full circle, and so do all good festivals! This showcase had a secret guest that, awesomely enough for me, happened to be The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die. What I hadn’t been able to notice, let alone comprehend, at the previous night’s show is that the band is actually a septet: drums, keyboard, bass, three guitars and a cello. Their DIY indie aesthetic, with more knobs, mixers and pedals on stage than a recording studio, hit tons of magic moments, though inevitably, with that many people and instruments on stage at once, sometimes it just sounded like noise. There were also odd spoken word segments opening and closing the show that didn’t fit for me, but The World is a Beautiful Place… overall showed stunning, awesome musicality balancing their horde of instruments and voices in a way that created a powerful, rich sound.
Tigers Jaw headlined the show for good reason. They step on stage looking like any indie band, any five people, but they bring together a slightly offbeat arsenal of stylistic choices in a totally brilliant way. The keyboard tuned like a funeral organ, the syncopation between the melody and lyrical stresses and combination of high- and low-octave voices create a nostalgic, ‘90s grunge indie atmosphere that still manages to feel new and enthralling.
I’m almost glad I didn’t manage to see an entire show over these two days because I already left feeling completely blown away and musically inadequate. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?