New York — The pervasive theme throughout Day 3 of the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon seemed to be “technical difficulties.” Simple line checks that would normally be limited to 5 minutes were drawn out — sometimes to 45 or more — for even just a 30 minute set. Many bands fought poor sound mixes during their performances or simply seemed unable to hear themselves through the floor monitors time and time again. So it goes with such a fast-paced, sprawling mega-fest where you’re lucky to have a badge holder’s attention for more than three songs before their gaze returns to the glow of a smartphone — or worse — they slip out the back door.
Thursday afternoon eased into Thursday night with the usual crop of day parties on Ludlow in the Lower East Side. Alt.-Country singer-songwriter Nikki Lane played to a sizable audience at the Living Room with a cobbled together backing band that, surprisingly, got the job done. Lane’s twangy whine coupled with some velvety lap steel guitar forged a sound that recalled Neko Case and Lucinda Williams, though still maintained a hint of originality.
Down the street, Pianos played host to the day’s strongest party, with nearly a dozen bands performing on two levels. Irish electronic artist Jape played an energetic, if derivative set on the intimate loft stage in the middle of a largely indie-electro bill. Following the massive success of “knob rock” bands like MGMT, Passion Pit and LCD Soundsystem, it’s almost too easy to be an electro-pop artist where bleeps and bloops reign supreme. And while some are progressive and inventive, the far majority are anything but.
Downstairs, Reverb party headliner Caveman played its 4th or 5th show of the week (of 10) to an expectedly packed house. The Brooklyn buzz is poised for much larger things, sure, but you probably won’t hear its name again until South By Southwest in March 2012. An extended, winding, heavily-percussive version of “Old Friend” was one of the day’s single best performances.
Around the corner at the Thompson Hotel, PureVolume and Smart Water hosted the second day of one of CMJ’s more interesting events — a rooftop party with a mix of live performances and guest DJs using the Turntable.fm music streaming service. As a table of five real-life “DJs” stared into their laptops, an exact replica of the scene played out on an adjacent projection screen, where five animated avatars took turns spinning songs for a room of about a hundred virtual fans seeing/hearing the “room” from around the world. When all was said and done, it felt more like a comical scene from a Philip K. Dick novel than postmodern and trendy.
Later, San Francisco indie-rockers Geographer brought punchy beats to a modest crowd during the Windish Agency showcase at La Poisson Rouge. Over the bridge in Brooklyn, Reverb party performers Balkans played in earnest at Spike Hill in Williamsburg. Back in Manhattan, back-to-back sets by Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Trash Talk sent the cavernous Cake Shop well over capacity and turned many unlucky badge holders away at the door. (One unofficial employee said that the 74-capacity performance area was nearing 150 as of midnight.)
Luckily, the Sub Pop/Hardly Art showcase at the Mercury Lounge was just steps away, and proved to be one of the night’s strongest bills. J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame wow’ed the late night crowd with intricate guitar lines and improvisational solos atop his characteristic ’90s-style vocals. If there’s one thing that’s become clear this week, it’s that enough time has passed for alternative and college rock to take on a nostalgic feel — as personified by the white haired, seated, venerated Mascis. His brilliant set was followed by a close to an hour changeover before surprise headliners Dum Dum Girls closed out the night. The all-female quartet soundchecked every last nuance of its stage plot as Thursday night creeped well into Friday morning. The whole process seemed ironic and antithetical for a garage rock band with a sound rooted entirely in power chords, reverb and distortion — as if trying to perfect the art of “messy rock.”
Check back tomorrow for more, and if you haven’t already, RSVP for the Reverb Party @ CMJ 2011 this Saturday, Oct. 22 at Fontana’s.
Andy Beam is a New York photogrpaher and a new contributor to Reverb.