CMJ - Days Five and Six - October 21-22, 2011 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Purity Ring at CMJ 2011

CMJ - Day Four - October 21, 2011 - Part One, CMJ - Day Five - October 22, 2011, CMJ, CMJ 2011, Kid Savant, Radiation City, Purity Ring

CMJ - Days Four and Five - October 21-22, 2011,

Oct 25, 2011 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern
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While I was only able to attend the last two days of this year's CMJ Marathon in New York City, it's fair to say that the east coast event is a very different kind of beast in comparison to the whirlwind of its much bigger brother in Austin's South by Southwest. It may seem a little unfair in some respects to immediately compare the two but given that both are largely formatted the same, featuring various day and nighttime showcases of up-and-coming musical artists spread out over multiple small venue locations, the two seem well suited for the hypothetical venn diagram treatment.

The biggest difference is in the geography. With the exception of a few outlying venues, Austin manages to corral almost all of its participating venues into a fantastically convenient multi-block radius. If you walk into a venue and don't like what you're listening to, you can step right back out the door and go to the very next building or across the street. CMJ can't function in such a way. New York City is massive, and aside from venturing out to Williamsburg in Brooklyn or wandering along Delancey or Houston in Manhattan, places to go are not close at all, which means you better know exactly who you want to go see before committing to a location. Otherwise you'll have wasted serious time and money getting around town.

Taking such limitations into account, when I arrived in the city on Friday morning the first thing I did was look up a band that I knew I would like, found out where they were going to be playing, and bee-line straight there with the hopes that whoever else was there would worth sticking around for. I wound up getting lucky with the first place I headed, which was Public Assembly, a cool multi-stage live bar situated right next to Williamsburg Hall of Music. Up first on the front room stage was Los Angeles band Races. Lead by frontman Wade Ryff with great harmonizing accompaniment by female vocalist Devon Lee, these recent signees to Frenchkiss delivered some tunes that would go perfectly on a bill with Local Natives (who also happen to be their new label mates). With just an excellent single 7-inch is available for download for free, the band is slated to release an EP later this fall, their debut album Year of the Witch scheduled for release next March. Definitely a band that caught my attention.

Next up came a set by one of my favorite new artists, Ben Schneider, aka Lord Huron. With just two EPs to his namethe wonderful Mighty and Into the SunSchneider is like listening to a cool Carribbean breeze. Playing standout tracks such as "When Will I See You Again," as well as a few new tunes that are expected to be included on his upcoming full-length debut set for release sometime in early 2012, it became apparent Schneider made an impression on the crowd when a number of audience members asked me who he was.

I decided I'd had my fill of Brooklyn for the day and headed back to Manhattan and a stretch of venues off Delancey in downtown. The first place I walked into was a venue called The Living Room. With its back venue separated by a heavy stage curtain, the place was more coffee shop than bar, but I figured it was a good sign that they were playing The Dodos entire No Color for the house music in between sets. Eventually a band called The Lighthouse and The Whaler came on, a Cleveland-based band that definitely has the chops for good things if they don't get too many bad cross-comparisons to Ra Ra Riot and Fleet Foxes.

Perhaps it was the fact that it was the latter half of the festival week, but for some reason I was not a huge fan of the event's nighttime showcases. I guess I should just chalk it up to timing (I was really bummed Wild Flag was only there on Tuesday), because both evenings I spent most of the time just outside the stage room of wherever I was to discuss with other attendees the level of awfulness we had just subjected ourselves to.

The next day, everyone's last, I decided to head back to Public Assembly, hoping the good luck from the day before was still lingering. Why I left the day before I'll never know, because when I arrived I got there just in time to catch the last few songs of Toronto dream-pop duo Memoryhouse, who are still riding high off the success of Sub Pop reissuing their standout EP The Years. The Canadian revue continued with an amazingly packed set by Purity Ring. Prepared for a production, duo Corin Roddick and Megan James brought their own colored curtains as a backdrop, minimal stage lighting (lit by a dim lamp), and an contraption made up of twisting, copper brass tubes with lights on their end. Connected to a computer, Roddick would strike the tubes like a percussion instrument to obtain a desired sound effect. He explained afterwards that he still didn't have a name for it yet. I'm not really sure he ever will.

Once again heading to the venue's back room I found a spot in yet another crowded audience to watch The Stepkids. Dressed in all white well after Labor Day (shirts, pants, belts, shoes) with a projection of images and colors changing the blank canvas of their clothes into something more psychedelic, this Connecticut group brought everyone in their wayback machine to deliver some seriously modern disco and funk, with flourishes of classic rock jamming. This amazingly unique group showed the difference between a great songwriter who is a good musician, and a great songwriter who is also a great musician. These guys were musicians through and through, fully capable of breaking a song down with incredible bass runs and squealing guitar solos, only to land right back where they need to be when the melody needed to get kicked back in. Very impressive indeed.

Staying in the vicinity of Williamsburg I headed into a little spot called Spike Hill off Bedford and 7th. There I witnessed a pleasing set by a band called Radiation City, whose Portland-based girl-girl doo-wop bodes well for their debut, The Hands That Take You. Follow-up act Kid Savant was a little less enjoyable, mostly because they wound up using the same all white dress code/projector setup as The Stepkids with less professionalism and finesse. It didn't help their cause that their synth driven tunes sounded way too much like The Killers on a really off day.

Deciding I wasn't going to finish my first CMJ experience with something I'd more than likely be disappointed by, after dinner I made my way to the Knitting Factory to see another set by Races. Despite their apparent exhaustion playing more shows than there were days to perform, the group pushed through to deliver another stellar set, made even better by the improved sound quality of the venue.

Heading home that night it was pretty clear to me that CMJ was not SXSW. There's a higher ratio of unknown risk and reward wherever you wind up going, but I would never once say I didn't have a good time. When else can you have an excuse to walk around one of the greatest cities in the world (in the chill of fall) and find your new favorite band? That point goes to CMJ.




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