The Last of CMJ: Is Everyone Accounted For?

10/26/2009 3:38 PM |

The Love Language
  • The Love Language

Good news: As of 11pm Friday, Surfer Blood is still alive. Their tedious CMJ schedule—12 shows in five days—hasn’t killed them yet; in fact, it seems to have suited them rather well. Cake Shop was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it, and people knew almost all the words to “Twin Peaks” and “Swim” by now. The elephant in the room—that these dudes sound a lot like Piebald—was kept at bay by a Nylon Guys cover-boy type banging out island rhythms on a snare drum, romping up the band’s beach vs. preppy pop elements and downplaying the hints of 90s emo that lurk in the lead singer’s voice. After their set, they were slinging $10 CDs like it was 1994. I bought one and still don’t regret it despite the fact that tracks 7 and 8 are called “Fast Jabroni” and “Slow Jabroni.”

Fifteen minutes earlier, an equally packed-in crowd was being treated to The Love Language next door at the Living Room. The Love Language, a 7-piece with Southern charm in spades, just recently signed to Merge Records. Close your eyes, and imagine how they sound: That’s pretty much exactly how they sound. Two girls on keyboards/piano, three, sometimes four, acoustic guitars, lots of tambourines, songs that are lush, yet relaxed; they swell but don’t over-dramatize. In a live setting, the recorded lo-fi, alt-rock ramshackle feel (they get Arcade-Fire-meets-Cold-War-Kids comparisons a lot) gives way to a softer sound. “Manteo”—a heartbreaking folk ballad sprinkled with lines like “now I just sleep in the dirt”—stood out with all seven members singing the intro without mics. It was pretty much what you’ve come to expect from a Merge band, and expectations from Merge bands are pretty high.

Then it was off to Brooklyn to see if the stage at Bruar Falls could fit 15 people. By the time I arrived, Still Flyin’ was towards the end of their Polyphonic Spree meets pixie-stix pop meets ska-revival set. I counted 11 people on stage at one point, including the guy drinking in the back while randomly slapping a tambourine, and then 12 another time, so who knows. It didn’t really matter. When ringleader Sean Rawls started in on the backstory of “Rope Burn”—a song specifically about an alligator eating his pet dog, but generally about “getting through the sad stuff”—it’s pretty obvious that the point of a Still Flyin’ show is to have unabashed fun. Then they made everyone kneel down in the middle of the song, something I hadn’t done since dancing to “Shout” at my cousin’s wedding in the late 80s.

Bad news: As of 2:30pm Saturday, Surfer Blood might be dead. At least, they’re not at Brooklyn Bowl, where they should be loading in for their 11th CMJ show as part of After the Jump’s closing day party. Apparently, playing 12 times during a five-day festival does mess with your mind, or at least your punctuality. But Grooms were there, and they played the type of show we’ve come to expect from the Brooklyn trio: mauled-through pop songs, this time heavy on material from their excellent, just-released album, Rejoicer. Drummer Jim Sykes broke a couple drumsticks. You know, the usual.

Over at Cameo Gallery, things were significantly more laidback for the Underwater Peoples day show seeing as they pretty much cornered the market on the soft-focus beach music trend. With a four-song slot allotted to each band, Family Portrait never did manage to play Mega Secrets” or “On the Floor,” two songs that I’ve listened to religiously since mid-summer, but instead opted for ambiance. Evan Brody’s guitar toddled between surf riffs and spaghetti Western noodling while someone coaxed ominous beats from the pedals onstage. He did manage to play “Please Be My Baby,” at which point he sounded like Elvis and looked like a Ken doll. Fluffy Lumbers, a kid by the name of Samuel Franklin who looks like a science-fair winner, followed suit. Without a backing band, he wasn’t able play “Cruisers,” but twiddled knobs on his knees, making the sort of sublimely sedated drones that would soundtrack images of a baby whale swimming with its mother on a Planet Earth segment that makes you realize how infismally small you are in this world.

Needless to say, seeing Lightspeed Champion close out the AAM day party at Music Hall of Williamsburg was a change of pace. For starters, he was dressed like a wizard (because… Halloween?), in a long purple cloak, matching hat, and a white wig-beard combo that was not so much long as it was wide—from my vantage point, his head looked like a giant marshmallow. So it might have seemed a bit weird for the giant marshmallow wizard to plow through sexy 70s guitar riffs, bombastic dance hooks, metal love ballads, and call-and-response choruses with his backing band, the equally eclectic SpaceCamp, but it shouldn’t have. Anything goes during CMJ.

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