This post was written by LaRue Cook and Youyoung Lee.
For the 27th year, the CMJ Music Marathon descended on New York City for five days of bands, beer, and college kids scouring the Lower East Side for new rock heroes and existing indie stalwarts. It’s a week to discover the undiscovered, to emerge from seedy dives knowing (or at least hoping) you heard the next Arcade Fire (which the New York Times seems to have already found in the Black Kids).
A couple of us here at EW made the trek from Broadway to Avenue B and back again, as we tried in earnest to forget about Britney Spears’ new album and focus on something a little more, um, organic. The following is a roundup of the shows we stumbled on, and the bands we unearthed. A few names you may recognize, the rest you probably won’t. But we’re almost certain that you’ll be hearing more from them soon…
Bear Hands at Club Midway: For the past month, we’ve been telling everyone within earshot about Bear Hands,an unsigned up-and-comer out of Brooklyn that should be on the radar ofevery indie label. The foursome’s only been together about a year now, and just released a well-constructed four-track EP, Golden,which is out on iTunes, but won’t hit stores until next month. Frontedby the energetic Dylan Rau, Bear Hands thrives onrhythmic indie rock constructs and post-punk tendencies. But what atfirst sounds like recycled melodies and tired bass lines is enhancedand redefined with TJ Orscher’s incessant kick drum and Ted Feldman’sguitar-bending solos. Songs like the stutter-step “Bad Blood” andupbeat “Long Lean Queen” are ready-made earworms, but “Sickly Brunette”was our favorite live cut. There’s a point in the song when the bottomfalls out of Val Loper’s bass line, giving way to a snare drum solothat killed at Club Midway — you could almost hear the drum head beg formercy as Loper’s arms flailed in controlled chaos. A fewfans showed up at Midway for an inspired performance by New Zealand’s The Checks,but once Bear Hands hitthe stage, the hole-in-the-wall venue nearly hit its roughly 50-person maximum capacity. With a full set’s worth of intensity packed into about halfan hour, Rau wailed out the four EP tracks and sprinkled in some newsongs that will go on a full-length album — if and when the group isfinally signed.
Fader sideshow: Saturday’s Fader/CMJ sideshow featured a slew of notable acts. The Panda Band was there, hovering around the XboxGuitar Hero 3 demo and blithely shaking off any defeats — good thingtheir Sgt. Pepper-spiked music goes over much better live. Other highlightsincluded Texan boys White Denim, whose funk-grime fusion is at times playful, likewhen performing “I Can Tell,” and at other times fervent, as when talkingrapid-fire through “Dark Sided Computer.” Roots-rock group Drug Rug, on the other hand, drew mostof its energy from feisty lead singer Sarah Cronin; what thediminutive singer lacks in size, she made up for through sheerthroaty hollering on folk-inspired tunes like “Tiny People.”
And wrapping up the Fader showcase was Brooklyn’s Santogold, whoseMySpace page boasts about serious airtime in urbanAfghanistan. (Odd!) Oft compared to M.I.A., singerSanti White’s performance of the reggae-influenced “You’ll Find a Way”was closest to the punk-meets-dub sound that’s scored her opening gigs for the Klaxons and Bjork. But it was the poppy “LES Artists,” an addictive anthem for,ostensibly, the artists of the Lower East Side, that won over the audience. The song, which gives the feel of Tegan and Sara backed by anultra-loud synthesizer, whittled down to Santi chanting the chorus,“I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up/ If I could stand upmean for all the things that I believe,” and the crowd, mouthing therefrain with her, nodding enthusiastically along.
Datarock at Gramercy Theatre: In case you missed it, EW’s Nicholas Fonseca hit up the Datarock show Thursday night (you can read his PopWatch review here) and was quite impressed by the Norwegian indie duo — even though they did close out the show with the theme song from Dirty Dancing.
Spoon and the Ponys at Roseland Ballroom: Chicago-based outfit The Ponys proved an intriguing opener for Spoon,arguably the marquee act of the festival. Ponys’ frontman Jared Gummere’s guitar and vox sound like they’re coming out of a dive inBritain rather than Chi town (see “I Wanna F*** You”), and it’s hard totake your eyes off Melissa Elias, whose attitude overpowers hernonchalant bass lines.
Spoon was the sixth and final act of ourmarathon day, and we had been yearning for some of Britt Daniel’s hook-heavy,reconstructed ’60s pop. And thankfully, that’s exactly what the sold-out audiencegot. The Austin,TX-based band had a near-perfect performance infront of more than 3,000 fans at the cavernous ballroom on 52nd. Nottoo far removed from the release of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,Spoon reeled off hit after hit from its most innovative album to date,the simply constructed melodies of “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” coalescinginto backbeats you couldn’t lose on “Don’t Make Me a Target” and “TheUnderdog.” But the unexpected high point came on theless attainable, underappreciated Ga track, “TheGhost of You Lingers.” The eerie anthem played pitch-perfect inRoseland, Daniel’s reverb vocals leaving the floor vibrating, and EricHarvey’s strident piano ringing in our ears long after the show wasover.