Wednesday, October 17, 2007

CMJ: Day 1

More CMJ coverage can be found in the WSN Arts Blog.

And so it begins. My destination on Tuesday night was a no brainer: the brooklynvegan showcase at the Bowery, which had a staggering lineup at a great venue, picked by one of the best blogs out there. I also had the pleasure of meeting Kyle from Café Eclectica Music (his pictures are here) and Ryan Muir, whose pictures are here.

Bon Iver

Singer Justin Vernon mentioned that Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago was crafted alone in a cabin, but it translated well in the Bowery Ballroom, which was already packed. With Mark Paulson on a second guitar and Matt McCaughn (also in the Rosebuds) on drums, Bon Iver performed songs as stark and lonely as the wilderness in Vernon's native Wisconsin. The trio was seated, and the music began quietly, with Vernon's mellow falsetto soaring amidst guitar strums and backup vocals from the rest of the band. But as the set progressed, the volume increased, oscillating until it achieved a sustained climax, which would break one of Vernon's guitar strings. On "The Wolves (Act I and II)," Vernon urged the crowd to sing, admitting "I know it can be uncomfortable," but judging from the number of voices during on the chorus ("What might've been lost"), he succeeded. Despite the intensely personal nature of the songs, Vernon remained amicable in between songs, modestly thanking the crowd for coming "before the real bands play." Self-deprecation aside, this is as real as it gets.

MP3: Bon Iver - Skinny Love
MP3: Bon Iver - Blindsided
MP3: Bon Iver - For Emma
MySpace: Bon Iver
Virb: Bon Iver

The Shaky Hands

The Shaky Hands made feet stomp and heads bob throughout a skittering whirlwind of a set. The band barely paused, mentioning briefly that they had drove from Cleveland the night before and that they were from Portland, which brought unexpected cheers. Singer Nick Delffs pranced about the stage, and while his voice was difficult to understand in the mix, his enthusiasm was infectious. His brother Nathan played a slide guitar and a dizzying array of percussion, including bongos, shakers, tambourine, at one point playing the latter with his feet. The pair demanded attention, but the rest of the band contributed to the furious pace. Although there wasn't much as far as emotional connection or songwriting depth, the set was fun, and over before you realized it.

MP3: The Shaky Hands - The Sleepless
MySpace: The Shaky Hands
Official Site: The Shaky Hands

The Most Serene Republic

The Most Serene Republic threw out the kitchen sink but kept the dishes, tapping pots and pans by way of introduction before switching to their regular instruments. The seven-member band sprawled across the stage, featuring three guitarists, a bassist, keyboardist and drummer, bringing out the trombone and violin at choice moments. Despite the volume, there was a delicacy to Adrian Jewett and Emma Ditchburn's harmonies, keeping things pretty even as the band played triumphant blasts. Thus, an orchestrated chaos emerged, and its conductor was Jewett, the only member not always burdened with an instrument. The Jarvis Cocker doppelganger would motion with his hands, as if directing the rest of his group; at other times he would spontaneously flail about or even do jumping jacks during particularly raucous segments. Throughout the cacophony, the band displayed a single-mindedness that made their performance a musical and visual spectacle.

MP3: The Most Serene Republic - Stay Ups
MySpace: The Most Serene Republic
Official Site: The Most Serene Republic

Dean & Britta

Ex-Luna duo Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips have been making dreamy pop music together for almost a decade, and their set was unsurprisingly restrained, for the most part. Wareham played guitar and Phillips played bass, and the pair was joined by a drummer and keyboardist, who also contributed subtle electronic additions. Phillips virtually whispered her lyrics, and Wareham was barely louder. There were a number of those in attendance that grew restless, but the majority of the crowd reacted with enthusiasm, despite the wispy songs. The loud parts were few, and then somewhat repetitive, but nonetheless gratifying because of their infrequency. The band’s last song was a cover of Joy Division’s “Ceremony,” perhaps a throwback to Wareham’s days as a college DJ (“Wednesday, two to six in the morning”).

Dean & Britta - Singer Sing
MySpace: Dean & Britta
Official Site: Dean & Britta

The Rosebuds

Synth-pop trio the Rosebuds were incredibly engaging and wholly irresistible. Guitarist Ivan Howard was a magnetic singer, inspiring the crowd to participate in the huge “Oohs” and “La las” that made up the band’s choruses. Keyboardist Kelly Crisp provided the bass lines or the synth hook, at other times clapping along and audience participation inevitably followed. The night’s definitive crowd-pleaser was “Get Up Get Out,” which fired up a disco ball suspended on the top of the stage. It wasn’t just the appeal of the group that made the set special, but the enthusiasm of the tired crowd. It’s no mean feat to inspire a pseudo-mosh pit up front, even if its members are too busy jumping to the music to slam into each other. On the downside, a good half of the floor left after they failed to get an encore out of the band, making the Rosebuds the unofficial headliners of the night.

MP3: The Rosebuds - Get Up Get Out
MySpace: The Rosebuds
Official Site: The Rosebuds


Austin quintet Voxtrot have ridden the hype machine. Their acclaimed Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives EP and subsequent title track created early buzz which seems to have dissipated in the wake of their more coolly received self-titled full length. The early parts live set was energetic, but did not cement a positive opinion for the uninitiated observer (yours truly). Frontman Ramesh Srivastava was acceptable but unexceptional, perking ears only during the aforementioned "Mothers." It seems unfair that the nominal headliner would have to fight the audience fatigue, but such is the nature of CMJ, and the night came to a premature end.

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