After the non starter of the first day and heady catch up on day two, day three of the CMJ Music Marathon proved to be a healthy mix of aspiring talent, established names, and old friends of H-T-A.
As ever, one of the best places to hang around, especially for the day shows, is the upper end of Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. Finding the cosy and varied venues of Piano's, The Living Room, and Cake Shop almost side by side, the only thing slowing one down between bands is the lure of free (or dirt cheap) beverages at the various bars. And maybe those delicious looking cupcakes that give the latter venue its tasty name. Mmmmm.....wait, bands, music is why we're here. Onwards...
The cavernous basement of said venue is exactly where we start today, catching up with Brooklyn's purveyors of electronic-pop discord, Keepaway. With an extended set up that essentially consists of 'more of this in monitor...more of that in house...more more MORE!', it's already fair to assume that this trio likes to bring the noise. When they eventually kick off and the bass/synth elements reverberate through skeletons, the hypothesis bears fruit. Keepaway have a solid groove that keeps things accessible, with enough energy and chops at work behind the poppier elements to retain an edge. The songs don't hold in the memory for long enough after the set to fully convince, but the entertainment value and charisma is high enough to warrant a closer eye and attendance at one of their own shows in the near future.
After an aural assault, it's up to the more sedate setting of Rockwood Music Hall - now with additional stage goodness - to catch up with a talented gent first covered in these pages last year, Danny Ross. After catching his full on performance at Mercury Loungeover the summer, it was the rockers that caught my attention. Here, though tunes like Country Wind and the ever-pugnacious Woman receive welcome run outs, the high point of the set is a heartfelt duet on Forgive Me Love. Welcoming Joely Pittman - who also sang on the record, One Way - onstage, the two sing harmonies into the same microphone, perfectly capturing the intimacy of both the song and the venue itself. With the great effort that the talented Mr Ross puts into making every show special for those in attendance, there's always something to live in the memory from each and this is the one that, for a few minutes, quiets the hubbub of the CMJ-mania in full swing outside.
The marathon element can only be quelled so long, however, and soon the focus swings to the next move, which for me is all the way down in mid-Brooklyn. With uncertain set times and a potentially extended transit time, the lure of hanging around at Rockwood is overcome and I jump the trains. Unfortunately this means missing the manic acoustic-rock of Goodbye Picasso up next, a band I caught last year at CMJ and always have a good time watching. With a new record out called The Book of Aylene, I make a mental note to catch them on the next possible occassion and hit the grimy bricks of the L.E.S.
Part of the joy of my first CMJ last year was becoming familiar with a plethora of new venues in the city. That factor is obviously somewhat lessened in the second year but kicks in again for my next stop, The Rock Shop in Brooklyn's Park Slope. Chock full of strollers and soccer moms (or the closest New York has to such a thing) the neighbourhood is nonetheless home to many a skilled musician and has the venues to back it up...the singer-songwriter yang to Williamsburg's more hedonistic yin, if you like.
Anyhow, The Rock Shop is a relatively modern, solid space to add to said venue list, having only opened this past May. Tonight it plays host to a headline show for Brighton, England's Blood Red Shoes, which is exactly why I'm in attendance. First up we are to be entertained by Apache Beat, however, a New York indie-rock act thankfully in no way related to the Indian namesake who created Boom Shaka-Laka! Small mercies and all that. With thickly layered songs and a clear fire in their bellies, the band tear through a solid set that is underpinned by the blisteringly tight drumming. Although I struggle to cast my mind back to any specific songs, the set overall is engaging enough that I'm interested in hearing their album. With a support slot to Neon Indian later this month at Brooklyn Bowl, Apache Beat also clearly have their sights set on winning the hearts and minds of Brooklyn's indie elite.
The final action of the night is also the action I've been awaiting for nigh on three years, catching my countryman/woman duo Blood Red Shoes in a live setting. Granted, a few years back I could have ventured into Liverpool to catch up with them, but at that point it was still early days for their winding, furiously-paced blend of garage and alt rock to be taking hold of auditory canals. After a couple of years in the US, their sound has grown in my mind and I've been left to rue the missed opportunities. One more reason to dig CMJ personally is that it brings these types of rising UK act to West Atlantic shores, affording me not one but four possible chances to see the band this week.
A relatively unassuming duo visually, Steve Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter create an almighty racket once plugged in and in full musical flight. With Carter's neo-alt guitars ripping at full volume, Ansell's drums fuelling the fire, and both of them belting out vocals to give some added meaning to the ruckus, it's an impressive sight to behold two people getting all this done. The quick fire assault of songs like It's Getting Boring By The Sea, Light It Up, and Don't Ask keeps the pace high, touching on garage rock sensibilities but with a more dense quality. Although this similar pace does lack some variation - at one point Ansell quips that 'all our new songs have titles that are like insults...this next one is called Go Fuck Yourself...!' - it makes for an exhilirating overall listen for the majority of their set. The late inclusion of I Wish I Was Someone Better and its inner-voice 'Made a mistake, I made a mistake' refrain is a final highlight, reminding the crowd that some of their debut Box of Secrets material rocks just as tough as the stuff on Fire Like This.
A thoroughly enjoyable end to a varied day, it's only a short ride home to get some much needed sleep before day four swings into gear. That being the weekend and the closing couple of days, things are about to get fast and furious on Friday...
[Ed. Note: Pics, vids, and MP3's to be added in the next day or so. Netbooks do not a multimedia friendly environment create.]