CMJ 2011 photos and review: Crocodiles, We Are Augustines, Grimes, more - Reverb

CMJ 2011: Photos and review of Days 4 and 5 featuring Crocodiles, We Are Augustines, Grimes, Royal Baths, EMA, Gauntlet Hair, more

The final two days of the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon saw an expected increase in crowds, long lines outside venue doors, higher cover charges and a general shift in atmosphere. While Days 1 through 3 (Tuesday through Thursday) are comprised almost entirely of industry-related attendees, Days 4 and 5 introduce simple music-lovers and nightlife seekers into the mix.

Larger crowds are generally a good thing for any performance. It means more buzz in the room, more energy from the tired artists. Though it also means more talking and texting during quiet parts of songs, more impatience, more preoccupation with who’s getting the next round of drinks rather than who’s on stage. It’s these factors that separate the annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Tex. from CMJ — where a once-industry conference has evolved into a sprawling zoo of parties, celebrities and enough unofficial events to make the coveted badges relatively obsolete. As CMJ continues to grow in both size and popularity, it will undoubtedly come to a head with this quote-un-quote “fatal flaw.”

Friday night was punctuated by one of the festival’s single best performances, a 40-minute juggernaut of rock from San Diego’s Crocodiles. During a week where experimentalism is so pervasive it almost becomes trite, Crocodiles rocked a packed Bowery Ballroom with simple garage rock progressions, hook-laden bass lines and catchy choruses. And it was enough — more than enough. Front man Brandon Welchez engaged the 800-person room with strong vocals and sly dance moves through such songs as “Mirrors,” “Sleep Forever” and “Neon Jesus.”

Earlier that day, We Are Augustines played a unique acoustic set during the third of Paste Magazine’s three day parties at the Living Room. Augustines’ performance stood out during a series of affable, though hardly groundbreaking folk rock at the venue. Such was the case with the Lighthouse and the Whaler, a young Cleveland band that relied heavily on “whoa-ohhh-whoaaa” choruses and other indie tropes.

Grimes played a moody set of electro pop at the Fader Fort (before ASAP Rocky started a quasi-riot) that sat well in the posh warehouse space across town in the Meatpacking District. Free Budweiser and Bushmills undoubtedly drove thousands to the seven-hour Fader Fort party, though a solid lineup of rising talent was just as essential.

There was no lack of drone-y, pedal-heavy, dour rock this week, highlighted by EMA and Royal Baths. The latter’s opening set for Crocodiles at the Bowery Ballroom set the tone for the still-filling crowd, and the former played one of the week’s strongest on-air performances during KEXP’s daytime sessions at the Ace Hotel. Denver’s Gauntlet Hair played several high-profile sets throughout the week, and powered through a broken guitar string (and missing guitarist) during a Saturday night set at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn.

With all biases aside, Saturday’s Reverb Party at Fontana’s saw memorable performances from HANDS, Balkans and Caveman, in particular. All found critical and more mass appeal as the week progressed, though Caveman, especially, seems poised for much larger things in 2012.

Click here for a full recap and photo gallery of Day 3, Day 2 and Day 1.

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John Hendrickson is the managing editor of Reverb and a multimedia journalist for The Denver Post. Follow his rants on music and more on Twitter.

Andy Beam is a New York photogrpaher and a new contributor to Reverb.

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