Friday, 23 October 2009

CMJ Report: Day 1

It finally arrived. From being only vaguely aware of the existence of the CMJ Music Marathon earlier this year when I moved to the city, the hype and anticipation had built up to a frenzy by the time Tuesday October 20th rolled around. As with any good music festival, planning a schedule and figuring out clashes is central to the cause, but here one must also factor in public transport, rush hours, venue capacity and location, and whether or not the availability of free vitamin water will really pack the people in (answer: No. Though free Miller High Life will, apparently).

The schedules had started to be posted throughout the preceding week and seemed to take on almost a life of their own, with bands popping on (and occasionally dropping off) bills left, right, and centre. One of my first picks had been clear for some time, however, which was to get down to the Cake Shop for the Pop Tarts Suck Toasted day opener. A fine example of hard-working, music-obsessed bloggery, it's an important daily read with some fine taste, exemplified by opening up the festival with Brooklyn's Dinosaur Feathers.

With a lost bassist providing the perfect delayed start - thankfully accommodating my late arrival - the band launched into an upbeat, heart-warming set. Perfect for a warm autumn early afternoon, the trio mix up acoustic-led indie rock with tropical beats and synths pulled out of an old suitcase.....quite literally, although I believe there to have been some computerification involved within. As I foolishly left my camera sitting at home, you'll have to take my word for it until someone more organised posts the pics. With a set including cuts from the new
Early Morning Risers EP (free here, folks) and established fave History Lessons, Dinosaur Feathers are the perfect start to CMJ '09.

Later in the day, Rockwood Music Hall provided its usual cosy setting for another Brooklyn act, La Strada. Stepping in for their final few songs, I catch a band with wildly varied instrumentation and a thoroughly entertaining stage presence. Crammed onto the tiny Rockwood stage, they veer between more traditional folk influences and loud, rocking passages, recalling somewhat Arcade Fire were they to stray into more gypsy territory. Very eclectic, very enjoyable.

Remaining at the same venue and the first out of state act, Vermont's Lowell Thompson & Crown Pilot are up next. Following on from such a lively band, Thompson and co do struggle somewhat to keep the crowd as engaged with their country-tinged acoustic rock. The voice is full of emotion and the music reflective, but many of the songs blend into one another and the tempo is rarely varied whilst I'm present. Fair to middling stuff and time to move onto the next venue about 3/4 of the way through the set.

The next location - and the one that will be called home for the remainder of the evening - is Ella, a happily short trot over Houston St from Rockwood. Sasha Papernik (video below) is up first, offering a low-key, relaxed pop sound with her neat piano playing at its core. Hot on Sasha's heels follow the excellent Lily & the Parlour Tricks (left). Fronted by the hypnotising Lily Claire, the sheer soul present in the vocals and seeping into the tight rhythm section is immediately arresting. Channeling influences over many decades and bringing to mind everything from 60's pop to Portishead, theirs is a tight and enthralling set.

Elephants (live at Bitter End)

Sasha Papernik | MySpace Video

Closing out the first night, The Bleeding Bombshells power the night into overdrive with some feisty rock 'n roll. Another act with a strong female personality on vocals, the dapper Jenda Wight provides the focal point for their loud, energetic and accessible rock. Although a relatively new band, songs like Down, Down are already sounding instantly memorable and much of this set bodes well for the future.

And, with that, I head on into the night enthused about the days to come and scouring the listings for the right picks for the coming days. As someone famous once sang about something completely unrelated: "We've only just begggguuuuuunnnnnn.......". Quite so.

Now playing: The Minutes - Black Keys
via FoxyTunes

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