Until very recently (a few days, I was told), the basement of Santos Party House was the club’s designated hang-out spot; now it has a stage, one drenched in red-orange light against a neon-orange-and-black brick pattern—one that doesn’t quite have all the kinks worked out with its sound system. Last night’s Oya Festival/Oh My Rockness showcase got dealt a pretty bad hand of sound issues with vocals either being too low or everything being waaaay too loud. If there’s dull, constant humming in my ears, should I be worried? Seriously, it can’t be good, right? AM I GOING DEAF?
Beach Fossils somehow managed to escape unscathed, which seems fitting. They appeared to not have a care in the world—the bassist rarely faced the crowd, the drummer stood (which seems to be very trendy right now, if you’re keeping track), leisurely banging a drumstick on a tom and a tambourine on a snare, and main man Dustin Payseur seriously couldn’t carry a tune. And it works for them. They’re the guys who never study and still get “As.” When he closed his eyes and wailed over the reverb, the same sense of bittersweet nostalgia that you get from listening to their recorded material, which, by the way, is pretty great, still came through, even if some of the melody was lost.
Eternal Summers came next. A boy-girl/drum-guitar duo from Virginia. They had a run of songs where not much changed other than the singer’s disposition—she’s bored, she’s slightly less bored, she’s even more bored—the drums always plodding along, the guitar always jangly. Then came a song that sounded as if Beach Fossils replaced their singer with a female, followed by something that could’ve soundtracked a really hip sock hop in the 60s, and then a song called “Running High” (I think she said) with a slab of staccato guitar work and hefty 80s influence that was good enough to make me look it up on their MySpace just now. It’s not there. But I do really like this song called “Able To” that I’m listening to right now.
Evan Voytas seems like the type of kid I would like to have as a friend: shy and sweet, dressed like a grandpa, and visibly nervous about playing in front of a New York crowd. He’s just not the type of kid I want to hear sing. Granted, it was here that the sound issues really started picking up steam—the speakers sounded ready to implode—but, yikes, his forced falsetto did not help the situation. Songs that I imagine share parallels with Passion Pit on record were drum-machine-and-keyboard mush when pitted against the volume. I feel sorry for them.
Boy, the room sure did get packed for Small Black, a viable contestant for most blog-hyped band entering CMJ. And boy they really do sound sad and romantic, with those liquidy voices floating above fuzzy downtrodden synths. Considering, they put on a fairly energetic set, even downright danceable at times, with the core duo joined by a drummer and a guitarist who doesn’t seem to be aware of much—getting his guitar tangled in a rope that hung above the stage didn’t stop his one-man dance party. Basking in the blood-orange light during Pitchfork-praised “Despicable Dogs,” the buzz really did seem justified.
Real Estate is really good. With an album slated for release on Woodsist, Brooklyn’s trendiest of labels, next month, they came to the show with the most fully formed songs and the most stage experience. It sucks, then, that they suffered most from the unstable acoustics. On opener “Fake Blues,” a song that pines and digs while still staying completely mellow, the vocals were buried. They decided to wait it out until things got fixed (leading to a bit of awkward stage banter), only they never really got fixed. They just got louder. Unbearably loud. Especially for a band whose entire catalog is chilled-out beach jams. You should see them sometime this week though, because there’s a reason that certain bands come to CMJ with coveted buzz and there’s a reason others don’t, and maybe—just maybe—we all got this one right.
My ears are still ringing, by the way.
*Hats off to the dude in the red t-shirt from Santos who seemed to spend the better part of the night manically climbing up a wall to tinker with the sound. They’ll get things worked out soon enough.
Photo courtesy The Tripwire and totally not from the show you just read about. God, cameras are expensive!