Sunday, 25 October 2009

CMJ Report: Day 2

After a variety of acts on day 1, day 2 was more about contrasting venues. Having previously arranged tickets to see country/pop crossover hero Brad Paisley at the mammoth Madison Square Garden, it was bizarre to arrive at this legendary venue from such intimate spaces as Rockwood Music Hall and Piano's. The MSG show wasn't part of CMJ officially, but no matter, as the whole week takes on a much more extensive schedule than the official listings.

So first up I caught one of my recommendations, Pete & J, down at Rockwood. They had curated the afternoon and made a fine job of it, if the audience applause for previous acts was to be trusted. I myself would have liked to get down for the Pretty Good Dance Moves set but, alas, some of us do have to work. Next time.

Having only watched the unmistakable duo perform an acoustic set prior to this show, it was a pleasure - and something of a revelation - to witness their versatility when backed by a full band. Resplendent in what can only be described as one of the rejected costumes from that classic movie 'Hook', Jason Blynn (J, for the slow of mind) is both amusing and multi-talented, shedding the guitar at one point to take up a seat at the drums. No less impressive, Pete Harper (take a guess) switches between guitar and piano duties like it ain't no thang. Whilst doing so, they run through a set that is chiefly about beautifully melodic pop songs and sublime vocal harmonies, yet also has moments to cut loose and rock out.

Key here is the ability between the two frontmen to harmonise and play off one another as if they were separated at birth. Each brings something unique to the sound and they meld together to create something very special indeed. The softer moments somehow ring out the loudest too, no more poignant - not to mention apropos of CMJ as a whole - as when J sings "It's getting hard to sing above the noise". Comparisons to the songwriting of The Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel are lofty but well-deserved, although they also have a wide range of contempo rary influences.

With a new album brewing - reportedly due as early as next January, if they weren't yanking our chains - by all rights these lads should be blowing up by the time CMJ 2010 rolls around. They play Chicago and some West coast dates in the coming weeks. Be sure to get down to a show if possible and you'll no doubt see what the fuss is about.

Shortly before heading to dinner, I decided to be bold and pop around the corner to Piano's for a glimpse of the bands playing either the full venue downstairs or the studio flat-esque upstairs bar. The former it was, though only for a single solitary song from DC's These United States, playing to a particularly crammed room. Their rootsy rock sound was briefly imparted to my brain but there exists a far better summary (and photos) from one who witnessed the entire set here.

Indie rock closet venues dutifully covered, I headed uptown to the Garden. If country music isn't a staple in the big city, nobody told the thousands that flooded into the arena on this particular evening. With a strong, well-known dual billing of Dierks Bentley (right) and Brad Paisley, the crowd appetite for this one was palpable from the moment we took our seats. Opener Jimmy Wayne did his best to energise the audience ahead of the main acts and, to some extent, succeeded in doing so with his enthusiastic stage running and sign-waving ("How many of you have ever even remotely heard of me?", being a particularly self-deprecating and unpretentious effort).

Nonetheless, he appeared slightly dwarfed by the stage and perhaps requires stronger songs to captivate at this level. 'A' for effort though.
Dierks Bentley suffers from no such limitations, however, his set being warmly received and the singer himself looking every inch at home on the multi-pronged stage. With a number of songs having charted well in the past, the crowd is perfectly familiar with his catchy material and proves it by singing the words of said tunes right along with him.

Regardless of supports, almost everyone in attendance tonight would have turned out for Brad Paisley. Possibly one of the nicest gentleman in country, if not music altogether, he comes across as genuinely enthralled to be playing this arena and location. With songs catchier than HDN1 - or any other strain the news outlets may care to scaremonger with - his entire set is chock full of sing-alongs, which at just under 2 hours playing time is no mean feat.

Though rooted in country influence, there is a huge pop sensibility underlining Paisley's music. Yet where pop music can be vapid and written by anyone but those that perform, the singer-songwriter's musicianship can be in no doubt, be that as he squeezes accomplished solos from his signature guitar or in the emotive odes to fallen servicemen. He also has the tongue-in-cheek songs to lighten up the mood where required, with 'Online' and 'I'm Still a Guy' making an appearance tonight.

Backed by a consistently entertaining video wall and musicians more than capable of matching his prowess, Brad Paisley both fills and enraptures this cavernous space in much the same way that Pete & J did the cosy Rockwood only hours earlier, with outstanding musical ability and stage presence. A heartening look at both ends of the spectrum of musical success then, all in all. And more importantly, a ruddy good night of music to boot.

Now playing: We Are Country Mice - A Good Old Fashioned Barn Raising
via FoxyTunes


DBcongress said...

Thanks for the kind words about Dierks! He is my absolute favorite! I have seen the BP DB JW show 4 times this year alone--wish I could've seen it at MSG!

zidered said...

Thanks for reading/writing. Show was huge & Dierks is certainly a quality entertainer.