The night launched with Hospitality, a Brooklyn band est. 2007 and new Merge sign-ons as of this past September. What they played was indie pop, no doubt about it, but it was indie pop with some of the strongest, most engaging and tightly moving melodies I’ve heard in a very long time. Singer Amber Papini crafts her words with the best of them—watching her, I could only think of what James Mercer might be like if he were a girl. Papini's three bandmates backed her up with ear-clenchingly sweet and sour guitars, disco shuffles and a sort of Arctic Monkeys mix of funk and general, indie rock cuteness. Takeaway: Here are some people I now trust to make good shit. Their album comes out in January, and it probably means I will get it.
Eleanor Friedberger came on next, with Patti Smith hair, high-waisted cords and a puffy, stars of the American flag jacket. She opened the set solo, just one woman and a teal blue electric Stratocaster. Immediately, it became apparent that Friedberger’s confidence and conviction included a sort of swagger and showmanship (show-womanship?) rarely seen since the days of classic rock and roll yore. The beginning also rendered the audience dumbstruck, after which Friedberger and her band ripped through a set of what sounded like spoken word, at times power pop, at times Fleetwood Mac or The Who moments of guitar majesty. Being the dominant half of The Fiery Furnaces for a decade with her brother has crafted a uniquely talented performer, and a probably seriously underrated one at that. Her EP, Last Summer, came out this past summer and, dammit, it’s special.
Moving on. By now, given their sort of unanimous popularity, it feels like maybe Wild Flag should have been informally disqualified from CMJ. The album: lauded. But, the live show is where what can feel piecemeal at times on the record comes together for a supreme, cohesive, heavily psychedelic, hyperventilating-because-it’s-so-good experience. In other words: Take note, lesser CMJ bands. This is how it’s done. Highlights were Mary Timony bunny-hopping around the stage, eyes rolling into the back of her head and effortlessly delivering guitar solos (some of which she tapped) over her head, on the floor, or by scraping the neck of the guitar on one of the monitors. Carrie Brownstein spit and raged and kicked her way through the Wild Flag jams, but also put down her bright green Gibson SG, grasping the mic with both hands for a cover of Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels,” which stood out from the rest of the set in the best way. What the album also doesn’t include are the epic breaks in the middle of songs like “Glass Tambourine” where Brownstein, Timony, Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss transcend to a place of radiant sensuality, then somehow bring it back to earth in order to play what comes next. On the way out, someone behind me said, “Yeah, that chick band was actually pretty good.” I didn’t say it then, but I will say it now: Understatement of the year, dill hole. Wild Flag’s a band to see live before you die.