The entire state of Texas
A 7pm set time can make for a scant crowd waiting for the afterwork commuters to catch up, but Midtown club Rebel was comfortably filled by the time Shakey Graves took the stage at the Texas Takeover Party, hosted by BrooklynVegan's Austin branch. These cowboys seemed to know something the rest of us didn't. Under the alias, Alejandro Rose-Garcia plays the sort of dusty fingerpicking folk that references gold diggers and "damn city boys." When he raises his voice to croon "King of Brooklyn" in an otherwise low-slung ramble, you get the sense it's not because he wants to be one. Opting for an electric guitar cleaned off some of the antiqued feel and gave the set an extra boost of swagger, driven by a constant thump and rattle of a kick drum and tambourine fashioned into a vintage suitcase. It's a little Strange Boys, a little Dylan, and a bit of lone cowboy, all wrapped up in a charismatic one-man operation. The Texans are right about him.
The black sheep of Glen Rock, New Jersey
Playing foil to Shakey Graves rollick across the river was Andrew Cedermark's country-tinged sprawl at Glasslands. Growing up in the New Jersey indie-rock hot pocket of Glen Rock (birthplace of Cedermark's former band Titus Andronicus) near the other hot pocket of Ridgewood (former home of Real Estate and at least one Vivian Girl), Cedermark broke from the close-knit clan and headed to Virginia. He's seemed to have soaked up the pastoral easiness of what I like to think life is like there, with he and his band soaring and seesawing through a mash of garage, country and hazy Elephant 6 psych last night. It was dynamic and rocking while still being totally chill, bro.
I've been singing this song—the glowing single from Generationals' full-length debut Actor-Caster—in my head for a solid year now. I'm happy to report it lost none of its super-sticky bounce in its live incarnation at Force Field's party last night. With the New Orleans duo doubling up on touring band members, it instead gained a chugging underbelly to match the upbeats. Boasting one the slickest hooks to come out of 2011, it's destined to sell millions of phones, cars and/or Snickers bars through our unconscious binds to well-sountracked commercials. Just ask the couple who were grinding to it in the back of Glasslands. They were definitely digging it.
The back pew at Glasslands
I don't know how I would make it through CMJ without that church pew, repurposed in the back of the venue (right around where the couple was grinding) as a refuge for aching backs and blistered feet. To sit is to be saved. And the Glasslands people were so smart to position it on a raised platform, so, get this, you can still see the stage.
"Let me take a sip of this very manly cranberry vodka. The drink of cowboys and homeless people." — Shakey Graves, during his set at the Texas Takeover (sponsored by Tito's handmade vodka)
Oboes and recorders
A like oboes and recorders. I used to consider them the common denominators of musical instruments, thanks to vivid memories of elementary school music class, but then Sufjan came around and made them key in orchestral jamborees and sort of screwed over anyone just casually blowing for quirky appeal. So when Florida band Levek busted out the woodwinds that joined their picnic spread of synths and guitars, I got excited for some glowing, sweeping pop. Instead, they meandered through a set of spacey, bass-heavy, jams that, at their best, sounded like a theme to a 90s family sitcom. There was a lot happening onstage with six members, but it didn't manifest in the music or in the expressions of those performing it, each one plagued by boredom, save for an occasionally bouncy bassist. If you're going to pull out the oboes and recorders, you've gotta live up to the hype.
Venues in Midtown
"Just a few minutes from Penn Station" is not an ideal place for an indie-rock show, unless, I guess, the place in question is Madison Square Garden. Let's make a pact to never have to travel to that part of town again during CMJ... Looking at you Rebel NYC, with your disorienting smoke machine and cages for what I assume to be dancers or, as in the case of the aforementioned Texas Takeover party, videographers. Never trust a place with more than three chandeliers.
Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter at @heylaurenbeck. She promises to not complain about how much her back hurts.