Last night, being knocked around in the crowded main room of Santos Party House, I overhead a guy tell another guy, “I have a demo to give you.” It felt good, knowing that some things about CMJ will never change. There will always be good things, and there will always be bad things about the five-day whirlwind. Let's break down how it went last night:
The bad: Perhaps an homage to their slacker-pop brethren playing in another, larger venue uptown last night, sound check seemed to take unnecessarily long for a troupe whose entire ethos is built around not caring. The set was cut short, presumably to make up for time, without them ever playing “Living in America.” How punk rock.
The good: DOM's main man looks like a red-headed Kurt Cobain?
The bad: The sound at Santos, though historically not the best in the city, really put a damper on Stern’s set (at least what I saw of it).
The good: If there’s anyone you want to see plagued with sound problems, it’s probably apple-cheeked, foul-mouthed Marnie Stern. Not because you want her guitar tapping or giddy vocal squeals to be completely drowned out, or because the screeching feedback in the mic wasn’t unbearable, but because, in response, she says things like, “Hear that? That’s the sound of energy rising up into my vagine, and it’s going to explode onto the crowd like Ghostbusters!!!” throwing her arms in the air. Triumph.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
The bad: When you’re running 40-minutes late and playing a stage located in a basement, and “Can I get more in the monitor?” elicits boos from a crowd tired of waiting, then you shouldn’t probably shouldn’t leave the stage to re-appear in grand entrance style.
The good: …They re-appeared in Lysol and Cheerios-branded NASCAR suits, which, say what you will, was playful and fun, and the crowd ate it up. A set shifting through everything from honky-tonk to bluesy Detroit rock to They Might Be Giants-indebted pop (mixed in with a little My Morning Jacket) climaxed with a cover of “God Only Knows.” It began breezy and stripped down, gradually building into something lush and— with flashing lights. (see pictures below)
The bad: They sound so much like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and all the dreamy, fuzzed-out 80s bands that influenced them, that it’s hard to detect anything that makes them stand out, so I thought.
The good: The surprise of the night might have been how much better they sound live than the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, letting up on the fuzz-tones and hankering down on the dancey melodies. “Summer Holiday” fared especially well.
The bad: The Drums, even after all this time on a world tour, are still playing with a backing track on bass. Why they don't just hire a bassist, if only so music writers can stop writing about why they don't just hire a bassist, is beyond me. Also, their lead singer's dance moves are eccentric, and make him look like he's skiing down a mountain. Maybe this should fall into the "The good" category, I can't tell.
The good: "Make You Mine," a song that they've clearly played more than a few times since it first appeared on their debut EP, got gussied up, turning into a huge, convulsing rock opera with the thudding beat from "Monster Mash." A strong candidate for best, weirdest moment of the night.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Photos by Nadia Chaudbury