Frederick Foxtrott’s CMJ Music Marathon Review
This year I had three days in my schedule to attend College Music Journal’s annual marathon of music that takes place all across New York City. Over a thousand bands played over 200 venues over the past week. This does not even count the hundreds of unofficial CMJ events featuring a myriad of other shows. As a former server in New York’s late night Meatpacking District, I have come to value my nights and weekends. Now that I have a right and proper day job, I could see three nights of shows in a row. This is unheard of people.
It would have been great to have had the CMJ pass so that I could wander from venue to venue seeing only the bands I personally chose. However, I did not and was left to spectacles that only chance would provide. Sometimes, when I go to shows, I catch the rare opening act that blows my mind, or at least provokes me to think about buying their next EP. Other times I shake my head and wonder what possessed me to show up early yet again. This year at CMJ there was plenty of both scenarios. Over-all it was a great experience. I not only saw some of my favorite bands, but I also got the opportunity to introduce them to others as well. I wasn’t the least bit afraid that I had over hyped them, and they did not disappoint. The following reviews are from my notes, diligently taken over three nights and over many, many beers.
Wednesday October 17th 2007
The Mercury Lounge
Rock and Roll
This band is as generic as their name implies. They deliver the expected. Suited in tight, tight, tight, tight jeans, open chest (un)buttoned down shirts, pointy shoes, and Asian scarves stolen from some poor schmuck off Bedford and 6th Street, these guys go straight for the fuck factor. Their sound combined grit and fashion, which can be appealing when remembering the commodified New York “indie” rock sound of 2003. In this way they sound a bit dated. There was a time when I would limit my presence at any given bar to the number of times that one Jet song was played on the juke box. That number was three, and it occurred far more often and quickly than one would suppose.
For their part, this Parisian quartet is good at what they do. Every song that passes another piece of clothing came off, perhaps under the impression that a little skin can only improve a rock show. The band occupies the nexus where mod-style meets sex-rock, not a bad place to be when you are hard up for a blow job. They are danceable and rhythmic, arrogant and out for a good time. In retrospect this was a good band to have as an early opener. I asked two of the band members who they would like to see on the evening’s line-up. One mentioned Robbers on High Street, although I don’t believe he got the chance, and the other didn’t seem to know anyone else was scheduled to play. How Rock and Roll is that? What Rock & Roll needs to understand is that beyond the manufactured New York socialite costume and the ease with which it is taken off, a rock band still has to rock.
5/9 (4/9 if you absolutely can’t stand tight pants)
The Rosewood Thieves
I’ve never quite understood how original music can harken back to anything, as is often touted for The Rosewood Thieves, much less music from the 60’s, perhaps the decade most responsible for modern music. But I’ll look past this contradiction because this bluesy, folksy, tres cool turtleneck rock band is pretty damn good.
The stage featured two performance artists, one reading on stage and the other committing his deepest thoughts to paper, or at least that is what his expressions would have you believe. The actors were a bit dramatic. I imagined their inner monologue, “Okay Peter, just remain contemplative.” The natural motor response to this motivational thinking was a shrug of the brow and tap of the pencil to the lower lip, until the actor burst into a furious fit of a creative writing exercise. This was novel for a moment, but I found myself so desperate to ignore the act that I pondered whether the lead singer’s hair was more Iron Butterfly or Carol Brady.
I got it though. The rattle and hum vibe of this band was meant to embody creativity receiving inspiration. This is from where the 60’s-early 70’s harkening is derived. The obvious influences of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed ooze from the stage as The Rosewood Thieves performed their act. I was reminded of Blond on Blonde as I listened to their set. They have what I have termed the “Dylan Phono-Aesthetic,” or DPA. I think it is a quality that Dylan popularized, but ultimately is inherently found within many artists from many generations. From this perspective I understand The Rosewood Thieves originality.
The Airborne Toxic Event
The next act casually came out wearing black outfits, unconcerned with whether they made people horny or not. Despite the captivating reverb layering their vocals, I felt that their first song fell flat and that the band was uncomfortable on stage, which is completely understandable. The stage can be an incurably frightening place. The music was not extraordinary, as they kept a safe distance form anything approaching experimental. Throughout the set, the songs would stop abruptly, seeming to sever the moody atmospherics with an unexpected and sometimes clumsy collapse of structure. After listening to four tunes, I needed more substance to keep my interest.
I must say however, that my experience with The Airborne Toxic Event would be likened to a glass half full, rather than one half empty. The signature element from this band is the vocals. You can tell he means what he sings. They have the pop-sense to authentically navigate the balance between a timid and frank melody and an intensity that accompanies aggressive sincerity. I see the severed endings as an attempt to contextualize these moments of pure intensity in the all-too-often reality of failed resolution. I can’t wait to see where these guys go. They are most certainly on my watch list.
It is hard to watch this band in any venue and not think to your self, “Could they build any bigger wall of sound?” This is a most pleasing aspect to Eagle Seagull, especially when you are all the way up front getting pounded by the speakers like a dusty carpet on a porch column. I danced like a mad man as usual, but this time I made a conscious effort to tone it down as much as possible. It is slightly frustrating to see these guys play such great songs with such ease. Carrie was always displayed in a nonchalant pose, while Eli shuttled between his roles as an emotional wreck and chic piano man, occasionally smiling as if to internalize the band’s collective brilliance as he looked above and beyond the crowd. Complimenting Carrie’s soft stance, Austin played his guitar with such a heartfelt fervor, angulating toward the ground as his body shivered to Brit’s high-hat roll.
The band ran through their set, again keeping only Your Beauty Is A Knife… from their debut. The rest of the tunes were from their upcoming record The Year of the How-To Book due out early next year. Eagle Seagull’s new songs are nearly as familiar to me as the older ones, which speaks to the infectious nature of Eagle Seagull’s melodies. I hope I can get my hands on a copy of the new record as soon as possible. It was produced with Ryan Hadlock who worked with one of my favorite bands, Blonde Redhead, on the release of Misery is a Butterfly and Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. The only real flaw of their evening at The Mercury Lounge was the length of their set. Not only did they start ten minutes early, but they finished after only 35 minutes. I know that CMJ schedules can be tight, but who couldn’t use a little more Eagle Seagull…I mean really people.
The Little Ones
Named after two little pug dogs, this ultra-annoying LA jam squad were the worst! When I think The Little Ones, I think Hootie and The Blowfish, or Big Head Todd and the Monsters. They just couldn’t bring their summer keg-party to my cold, cold heart. To be honest, and I hate to say it, they smiled too much! No one can be that happy. I was taken from the great show I paid for, was then boxed-up and shipped off to some Hawaiian luau…Yuck! Hillary, my fiancée looked to me with a flat expression and said, “These guys suck.” She may have been a little harsh. At best I can say that they just aren’t my style. That’s fair right? But I’d also say that they shouldn’t be anyone else’s style either. Everyone has their own taste, but I found myself pitying their overtly transparent happiness and manufactured good-times. Did I mention that the keyboardist looked like a Hanson brother?
Robbers on High Street
Apparently what ever crowd that had amassed during Eagle Seagull agreed with my stellar review of The Little Ones. The venue was definitely beginning to clear out as Robbers on High Street took the stage. It is a pity that there were not more people around. Not even a trace of Rock and Roll. I guess given the nature of CMJ, people had moved to see what ever show was to float their proverbial boat. These cats didn’t dance, they didn’t strut, and they didn’t even cock-walk. There was an element of sophistication in their lack of showmanship. Before I get myself into trouble, I mean to say that they put on a great show because they didn’t try too hard. They were simply a good band. Robbers on High Street have pop rock roots utilizing layered vocals and a dense rhythm section. In the most unimaginable way, they are what I might imagine the bastard child of Portishead and Voxtrot would sound like.
Unfortunately I lapsed into a social coma and am not able to report anything useful concerning this band.