22 October 2008

CMJ - Brooklyn Vegan Showcase @ The Music Hall of Williamsburg 10/21/08

Ah, it's that time of year again -CMJ. And you know what that means. The city is overrun with five days of marathon concert events, a bevy of industry people, wide-eyed college kids, and irresistible drink specials. We chose to kick our week off with the Brooklyn Vegan Showcase at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and spent the subsequent six hours drinking three-dollar beers while trying to find your next favorite band. Oh and I forgot my camera, which basically makes me the worst music blogger ever. Perhaps enjoy my words instead.

England's Emmy the Great kicked the night off and managed to even live up to their name, a hard task to do for a relatively sober seven o'clock opening slot. The British indie-folk pop collective, lead by singer-songwriter Emma-Lee Moss played a mellow set of lovely, lilting songs that ebbed and flowed with mandolin, violins and plenty of heartbreak. But it was Emmy's sweetly girlish voice that truly impressed us.

Next up was The Sammies, a rock band from North Carolina that reminded us a lot of the Strokes circa 2001 –unpretentious and fun. Except with Southern accents and facial hair. Despite their occasional tendencies to veer toward country jam-band territory, they probably would have been way buzzworthy half a decade ago. About halfway through their set I found myself getting antsy for the next band Shearwater, who were the recently announced special guest band of the night and wow, did they not disappoint. Lead singer ex-Okkervil River member Jonathon Meiburg's expressive, nearly operatic voice often strained to its falsetto heights and filled the venue to haunting effect, backed by a dramatic array of obscure percussion, woodwinds and strings. Gorgeous, gothic and baroque are really the only apt adjectives that come to mind when describing just how darkly beautiful their music is.

The much-hyped Ponytail was up next and could not have provided a more jarring and antithetical change of pace. The Baltimore four-piece play what some call experimental art-rock and what others more simply call noise. With their prickly riffage and intense drum banging, they get a lot of comparisons to Deerhoof, but the thing that really sets Ponytail apart, for better or worse is Molly Siegel's vocal stylings, which are unique to say the least. To call it singing would be a great injustice –monosyllabic grunting is probably a more accurate term, or just plain screaming –that works too. Also despite being an adult she looks about 14 years old, but then again so do all the members of this band. Also one of the guitarists kept hopping on one foot for the entire duration of the set, alternating legs while still playing the guitar. It was exhausting to watch, yet the indie kids went ape shit for it. While I kept feeling like I was missing something, one thing's for sure –Ponytail is the kind of band that'll either keep you young or make you feel old, very old.

I was happily surprised with the next band, Passion Pit. They were yet another extremely buzzworthy young group, the kind that CMJ-ers eagerly anticipate on their five day quest to hear the next-big-thing. But Passion Pit brought what none of the other acts of the night had brought –a beat! They played highly rhythmic electro-pop, the kind that allows even the most disaffected hipster to bob their head and tap their feet. Four hours into the night, it was nice to finally dance.

Endearing Swedish pop star Jens Lekman kept the dance floor going with his specially billed "Singing DJ" set. There was much speculation as to what a "singing DJ" set would actually entail. (Would he sing while DJing?) Turns out first he spun a set of crowd-pleasing party tunes –everything from Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" to hipster faves like Lykke Li's "Dance Dance Dance" (who was actually playing a set of her own at the Bowery Ballroom that night). And then once the crowd was wildly moving, he segued into spinning –and singing- a handful of his own songs karaoke style, thus singing AND dj-ing. Perhaps I would have preferred a bit more singing, but really Jens' very presence was enough to make me smile. He can do no wrong.

We didn't stick around to see the Phenomenal Handclap Band, as we were a little dizzy from all the dancing (not to mention 3 dollar drink specials) but we're guessing there were lots of handclaps involved.

1 day down, 4 to go.

Short Country Song - Emmy the Great
Glisten - The Sammies
Century Eyes - Shearwater
Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From An Angel) - Ponytail
Sleepyhead - Passion Pit
Into Eternity - Jens Lekman

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

Wow, thanks for this. Sounds like a great gig!