Hitting the streets for Tuesday night’s shows around nine o’clock. I tried to stop into the Knitting Factory to catch Zola Jesus—one of the CMJ lineup’s brighter stars thanks to her compelling new record, Conatus. Except that show, which is advertised on the online CMJ schedule-ma-bob, wasn’t taking any badges. Huh. Rolling with the punches is what this thing is all about. To North 6th Street!
At Public Assembly, the rooms were split between consistently interesting record labels Carpark and Mexican Summer, providing the constantly convenient change-up that makes the space such a good festival spot. Adventure kicked off Carpark’s show, with a brand of dayglo, spastic synth-crooning that seems very Baltimore 2007, and isn’t wearing all that well. It felt too canned, in a word. (The bookish romantic/glam punk character team-up might be good for some kind of mismatched buddy sitcom, though.)
Better were Boston rock band Quilt, who treated the backroom to some laid-back, riffy psych rock with occasional pop hiccups to their guy/gal vocals. Anna Rochinski played a warm Farfisa, which contributed to an added whiff of cozy Yo La Tengo drone. A nice set from these kids.
For jaded New Yorkers whose reaction to Hurricane Irene consisted mainly of annoyance that they bought unnecessary candles, one of the unmentioned bummers of the storm was the cancellation of the very well-booked Afro-Punk Festival. The organization’s showcase at Music Hall of Williamsburg may not have had have Cee-Lo, but the room did have a noticeably active sense of festivity (and a crowd make-up was every bit as diverse as the organization hopes to reach). J-Train hardcore act Cerebral Ballzy whipped the crowd into a mosh-pit frenzy, demanded the room lights killed, announced that a lot of their songs were about pizza. Look, energy level is always appreciated, but I can’t help but feel like reverent hardcore punk is some of the most boring music on Earth, no matter who’s playing it. So, it was a real thrill when early 70s proto-punk lifers Death took stage, glowing in bright light, two of the three Hackney brothers in matching vests. A Detroit band that fully integrated the dueling influences of Motown and The Stooges, their professionalism and stage presence were much appreciated. The basslines! Dear God, the basslines!
At this point an attempt was made to catch Grass Widow over at 285 Kent, which failed. Did they cover Wire again, and did it rule? Probably yes on both. Back to Public Assembly!
I know the supposed purpose of CMJ is to discover new bands, but it can also be a nice reminder to actually remember to check out the bands you already discovered. I have literally not given one second of thought to Mississippi’s Dent May in the time since I last saw him play a year ago (during CMJ, but not at CMJ. Remember this thing?). He was good then, and he was good again. This time he had a four-piece band in tow, and played danceable power-pop, with a well-executed falsetto. What’s it going to take for me to actually check out his records? I feel my will slipping again. There were a lot of “oohs”, a lot of “la-la-las”, but maybe not enough ooh-la-la-la?
It was back to the back room after that, to catch a bit of Brooklyn’s Light Asylum. Besides the extremely out-front charisma of singer Shannon Funchess, the band’s chief recommending aspect is how overwhelmingly physical their music is. Almost every component part is calculated for rhythmic effect. You see bearded folky man-mountain types wear down, lose it, start flailing at their shows. It’s unavoidable.
Class Actress, who went on around the same time in the front room, provided interesting contrast. Though they are both trafficking in slightly different takes on a classic synth-pop sound, Class Actress is primarily about how Elizabeth Harper’s voice floats above it. She’s got a real pop grace to her voice, and the performance dynamic is helped immensely by the long overdue addition of a live drummer to her svelte two-man backing crew. Being one of only a couple folks providing “Pazz and Jop” points to “Journal of Ardency” last year, I was already in the bag, but this set didn’t dissuade me from thinking that they are one of the most overlooked pop bands in Brooklyn.