CMJ #Offline Fest Day Two (Friday): The Good, The Bad, and The Things We Barely Remember

10/24/2010 7:49 AM |

Deradoorian: Photo by Alexander Stein, Courtesy Pitchfork

  • Deradoorian: Photo by Alexander Stein, Courtesy Pitchfork

#Offline Festival, Day 2
Brooklyn Bowl, Williamsburg
Friday, 10.22.2010

OK, Day Two of my internment at the Brooklyn Bowl: Taking a lesson from yesterday’s endurance test, I showed up slightly later, which was then balanced out by the universe in the form of longer between-act waits and sets pushed further into the evening. Also, and especially once the nighttime bowling portion of the evening kicks in and bowling-deck standing room is restricted by mountainous bouncers, those spots where the couches usually are that are now taken up by cameras? It’d be awesome if there were couches there. That’s all. Sweet couches. But enough old-man grousing! The music was better! More people were there, so it felt less awkward! The tonnage of Pitchfork branding on a constant flat-screen loop was exactly the same amount!

Below, in lieu of an epic narrative re-telling, is a list of the wheat separated from the chaff, separated from the stuff that was both sort of wheat-y and sort of chaff-y. (I caved and overpaid for some fish tacos today, but they were good. So that’s one…)

The Good:

Marnie Stern: Her bawdy mouth has gotten predictable to the point that one crowd member just yelled out “Vagina!” at her, and instead of seeming kinda hate-crime-y, she just happily nodded and thumbs-upped the kid as if he had called out “Washington High, Class of ’99, Go Bears!” Like, yes, I am affiliated with vaginas. Thanks for coming out. Her guitar playing is always the most obvious point of interest, but in the moment I was maybe even more struck by the strength and versatility of her singing, which matched every tortured guitar note, and soared cleanly out over the noise. In her always-compelling guitar playing she might have also have stumbled upon the new quiet-loud-quiet. It was ALL loud, but the swings from choppy-fluid-choppy were fun to track.

Sun Airway: The first band I caught, Philadelphia’s Sun Airway really knew how to fill an empty plane-hanger-sized bowling alley with sound (as well as cascading, projected lights). The band’s Animal Collective influence is impossible to ignore, but they handle it well, building their burbling synth noises to big, impressive crescendos. The vocals they match to the music are smoother than AC, almost confident classic rock harmonies. This shit is going to catch on, like, for sure.

Angel Deradoorian: Why has no one really praised the voices of the Dirty Projectors’ female singers? (I’m sure this is true, hold on, waiting for the results of a Google search, bear with me…) Just super pretty singing, no bullshit. She sweetly, nervously bantered over bowling noises (“Steeeeee-rike”) and at one point when switching out her acoustic guitar for a keyboard, brought out its manual to brush up, as if she wasn’t going to be able to play it, but then she did! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone do that. Given her assured performance, it was awfully charming.

Baths: With yesterday’s Gold Panda debacle fresh in mind, seeing another lone dude setting up a laptop was cause for jitters. Young Los Angeleno Will Wiesenfeld was kind of a hero up there, though. Chubby, mutton-chopped, and giggly, sure (at one point he said he was there to meet some “gay dads”?) but also an assured showman with a good voice for dopey love songs. Watching him excitedly trigger various beats and effects was kind of engaging, even, just due to his physicality. Twist that knob, pound that button, BOING!

The Bad:

Tan Lines: Half measures in electronic pop are particularly annoying. If you are going to have, like zero edge, then you need to be confident and catchy. The end of Tan Lines’ set, as they fumbled towards bigger Cut Copy-ish populist hooks, suggested they sort of got this. There was a lot of ball-less whatever before that, and a lot of goofy drum pad pounding to go with it.

Cloud Nothings: Did mall punk ever leave? I’m conflicted over whether or not I should say it’s back if it never left. It’s definitely back, but maybe it’s just been in hiding long enough that it’s cool again? Never forget! Anyway, Cloud Nothings were perfectly tight and hooky, synched-up in their two-dude hollering, and also totally on-the-nose. Pretty boring outside pure pogo functionality.

Glasser: You can bring all the kimonos and strange future ponchos you want, folks, but you need to bring hooks also. Tasteful, glacial synth atmosphere ain’t enough in this kind of big-room, live setting.

How to Dress Well: This performance was odd and memorable enough that I almost want to nudge it down to the third category, but to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much at all. After a very long set-up, the stage was left pitch black except for a spooky video loop, and tall, awkward drink of water Tom Krell crooned his heart out in front of it. It was so archly diva-eque that Antony was the first thing to spring to mind, but instead of carrying the tragic drama of all the world’s great opera heroines, like Antony does, he put forth all the tragic drama of that one Toni Braxton video that you remember. The one with the motorcycle crash. He didn’t do nearly enough to art-up those 90s R&B tropes, and totally wrecked a great Ariel Pink song that he covered.

The Nebulous In-Between

Zola Jesus: So, the gothest part of the evening, by a mile, was when Mr. How To Dress Well asked “Can somebody turn off the fucking baseball game!” from black stage. (I mean, we were in a bowling alley, right?) I’m not sure Zola Jesus even merited the second or third gothest. Her headlining set was very confident and pretty crowd-thrilling, what with its intitial Lady Gaga-ish black hoodie/burka reveal, over-crowd jaunts to belt songs out on top of the bowling barriers, and caged animal intensity stalking the stage. But I mean, for all the dark buzz and the goth trappings, it doesn’t seem very tortured to me? Like, this girl’s voice, so clear and maybe a little brassy even, might be better made for commercial country? I swear I’m not just being jerky, I think it might suit her better! Star quality, sure, but the message is muddled.

Candy Claws: There seemed to be some weird, interesting pop dynamics hidden inside this sound, but it was such a loud smear of blown-out noise that I really must check out the album to even know. You kind of want at least one of those baffling moments out of a fest, though, so, I feel pretty warmly towards these dudes.

So that was Day Two. Be here again later when I file my report from the hole I have dug myself to just lie down and die in!