Wednesday, 19 October 2011

CMJ 2011: Day 1 Report

The 'road' to Williamsburg - CMJ 2011

It being a marathon and all, the well-prepared listener on first night CMJ duty will pace themself accordingly. Thus prepared, I venture out from central to north Brooklyn for 'taster Tuesday'; a brief early dip into the CMJ 2011 pool.

Destined for Brooklyn Bowl and the Live4Ever opening night showcase, I am greeted by a band with chunky, pulsating riffs and a Union Jack draped over the lead mic stand. 

This could go one of two ways...

Pint Shot Riot

Pint Shot Riot | Brooklyn Bowl - 10/18/11
Happily, these lads from Coventry, England, err on the side of spunky, fast-paced rockers, rather than any second rate Oasis or Arctic-isms.  Despite only catching the last few songs, it's clear they're having a great time and they pass that enthusiastic energy on to a not too shabby early crowd. 

Not breaking any moulds, on this (admittedly short) showing, but not braking the momentum of the night either. Worthy of taking in a full set at the next opportunity.

The Minutes

The Minutes | Brooklyn Bowl - 10/18/11
Moving on to a band I know considerably better, having caught them at this festival's 2009 incarnation and anticipated their return earlier this week, I settle in with a lager for Dublin's The Minutes.

Raw rock blood courses through the arteries of this Irish trio, with nods to their bluesier influences not thin on the ground either.  Fat low end grooves root many of the songs, whilst singer Mark Austin delivers acerbic lyrical asides and stalks the stage with fierce intensity. Equally capable of lighter jams (the satisfying float of 'Believer') as they are balls out rockers ('Black Keys' or the guttural swirl of 'I.M.T.O.D.'), it's the latter that fire their live show the most. Should they harness a full set in an order that makes the most of their dynamic range, it's easy to see them being an unmissable live act.

At one point, Austin asks the ever-swelling crowd "Where did all the great American rock n' roll bands go?" Though it's a point that could be debated long into the night, it hardly seems to matter when his own band is tearing up the boards with such genre-affirming force. 


Decked out in shades, against a backdrop of pulsating visuals and strobing lights, New York's Figo boast a frontman who certainly looks the rock star part. And with their chest-thumping electro alt-rock attack, the odds should be stacked in their favour to make a bold first impression.

Unfortunately, for all the electronically-fuelled pulse and the attempted energy, their sound is unnervingly derivative of acts that littered the 90's and didn't make it much further. After the initial pomp and ceremony wears off - all of two minutes into the set - all that remains is recycled riffs and indistinct material, aside from one particularly grating stab at the glory days of punk. 

I'd hoped for the band to hit a new vein of inspiration as they struck into each successive song but, alas, the spirited performance being given in vain is the only development here.

The Duke Spirit 

Back to England and a band from home shores that I've been looking forward to seeing for a couple of years. From the very beginning with debut album 'Cuts Across The Land', The Duke Spirit have given me the impression that they could put on one helluva live show. As they take the stage to rip into that very track, front lass Liela Moss looking the quintessential rock diva and strutting with an attitude to match, it seems my hopes will be met.

The Duke Spirit | Brooklyn Bowl - 10/18/11
Suitably pumped and with increasing anticipation, I enthusiastically tweeted: "The captivating allure of pure rock & roll lies within this band."

I don't retract that now. At least, not entirely.

Clearly, Moss and crew have the chops to mix it on the main stages of major venues and festivals. The uncertainty lies in the depth of their material. Pure gold numbers like 'You Really Wake Up The Love In Me' and 'Everybody's Under Your Spell' easily enrapture, yet a minority of the set is filler that throws the shapes yet makes no memories.

The band has the ability and experience to deliver a near-flawless rock set. Nothing less will suffice on the next release and tour schedule, if they're to ascend to that deserved next level.

And thus concluded the opening night of CMJ 2011, with a veritable feast of rock action already under the belt from just one showcase. There's much more to come and I look forward to bringing to you the best of it that my ears can muster...

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