And so I get home and all is calming. And clammy. There is no band to see across town at 1pm. Or 1am. There are no more Yellow Cabs and sleek black Car Service glides from Brooklyn into the pit of Manhattan, no more subway rides overground in the glistening morning sun. No more beards (I shaved off mine own on arrival at home) and probably less beer, weed and pizza than has been the norm this last week. Certainly not for breakfast anyway.
So, was it all hard work? Well, yes. And no. Don’t get me wrong: 15 hour days of bands and beer are great. I have to admit is a little daunting when you stack 5 of them back to back. Especially rolling straight on from two days on the road with new Swedes, Air France. But I have skills and methods and coping strategies.
1.) Do not agree to see every damn show people tell you about. In fact tell them you can’t make it. Then if you do, people are pleased to see you.
2.) Eat. Seems obvious but unlike marketing conferences in leisure complexes, there are no breaks for lunch or anything. So eat. Little and often. Keep feeding the meter.
3.) Prepare. Work out where the shows you want to see are. Make a plan and check that it is all possible.
4.) Fuck everyone else’s plan. What they hell do they know anyway?
5.) Hide when you can. Just totally hide. Could be in a basement. In bed. Bars are especially good for this. Yet more so if they have a pool table.
6.) Never. Stop. Drinking.
I get into town a day late and go straight to The Royale to catch Lissy Trullie. She rocks a great show with her 4 piece Velvets-y band and has some really big, catchy, dirty rock tunes and is drop dead, I said goddam, gorgeous to boot. One. To. Watch. Then on to see The Gay Blades who play the first of about 8 CMJ shows. Newly signed to Warners and working a punishing schedule, the band seems set to blow up. CMJ is just 5 days out of their national tour and they squeezed in two shows a day, a 14 hour video night shoot and a Daytrotter session, as well as being Blender magazine’s roving reporters, clocking up hours of interview footage from CMJ. A two piece that sound like a full band, they have a glammy White Stripes sound colliding with freewheeling Bright Eyes lyrical undertow. Singer James Wells is pretty damn funny too.
I hook up with some friends and stop in a random tiny dive bar to refuel and bump into Emmy The Great and Lightspeed Champion, who are also hiding from the CMJ beast. Emmy is a bit of a buzz this week too and playing a bazillion times. I head out to catch Gentleman Auction House but have screwed up my chances of this somehow and they seem not to be in the bill at Rehab, guttingly. Alas it is their only show this week. Gah! Indeed. There then follows some shouting and drinking and discussion of politics. I cop out at 3am, which adjusted for UK time is 8am. Boing.
Wow. How dizzy and sick am I feeling. Back to bed. I try again at 10am and again at lunchtime before I successfully exit my bed. I head out to meet Lukestar, Norwegian skyscraping rock dudes, reviewed elsewhere on this site. They look like they are having a fun time and we make some plans. I then go hide and talk to the guys who book Pianos. A small venue that seems to be increasingly the dark epicentre of CMJ. Folks are drawn in there and packed tight. If you ever get lonely at CMJ, stand outside Pianos. It will only be 5 seconds before a friendly face arrives. They speak highly of Twi the Humble Feather, and Sharon Van Etten and Emmy and then rant on about how NME is destroying music for the world. Being British, I am partly to blame, apparently.
I head upstairs at Pianos to witness the black hole of CMJ explode and expel about 436 people from a Friendly Fires show in a room that usually struggles to holds 100. They are a hot band. The crowd is hot too. I have nothing against their chirpy pop but can’t see why they are being taken very seriously here. CMJ buzz ahoy. You can tell who’s hot cos they play the most shows. Everyone wants a piece. You can probably achieve hotness through ubiquity at CMJ. Just put on 5 parties. Include your own band on the bill. Voila: hotness.
While we are at it, way I saw it, this year’s CMJ hotlist. Little Boots, Friendly Fires, Marnie Stern, Crystal Antlers, Crystal Stilts, Ponytail, Women, Vivian Girls, School Of Seven Bells, Amazing Baby, Gay Blades, Passion Pit, Pattern Is Movement.
And the 4th annual “VHS or BETA Award” for old band that becomes hot is Gang Gang Dance.
Anyway I head over to the Gothamist Party in the uber sexy new Bell House in Brooklyn, which holds about 300. This fact made poignant by the fact they there are about 25 souls in. My associates The Silent League are due on at 8. It is 6 now, and the venue is a bit off the beaten track. ie not in Williamsburg or the L.E.S. Damn. Two more bands first. Bad Veins. Baaaaaad name. They are a duo with a reel-to-reel tape machine and sundry machines and noises. I hate them. They start playing. I still hate them. Singing like Joy Division thru megaphones is so 2004/1996/1981. Then, halfway through the first song, I realise I love them. They are in fact OMD circa 81. This is, of course, a good thing. There are weird slow hooks and ticks and they are amazing. Then, they seem to go a bit, I dunno, competent, and move into some ballad-y territory and I lose interest. I head backstage. I don’t see the next band. But I hear them. And they hear me, it seems. They play some sort of Tortoisey instrumental noodle. Then another identical one. Then another. Then another. I vow never to find out who they are*. I decide this gentle peaceful music is actually quite provocative and quietly confrontational. Cos it annoys me after 15 minutes and enrages me after half an hour. Just fucking quit it, wouldja. I realise I am shouting louder than the band.
The Silent League are on next and playing some new songs and some old songs and they are now an 8 piece. Luckily, 150 folks have shown up so the place feels full-ish. It is truly beautiful and lush and the sound is great despite the standard no soundcheck “rule” of CMJ. New single ‘Your Truly’ is a standout. As is ‘Kings and Queens’. The Bellhouse looks a bit like the bar in The Shining. A very dark ball room with very dim chandeliers. Behind the stage the red drapes and the red and white lighting on the band spin this visual look into something a bit Twin Peaksy. Spooky. We stay and watch someone I have now forgotten and then Jealous Girlfriends do their U Mass 94 thing and they are kind of fun.
I glance at my schedule. It is somehow 12.30pm. I have 4 more bands on it to see today. My bed is 4 blocks from here. I go home and watch chat shows.
I have a brunch meeting with a band (sooooooo American, now am I) and then have a few meetings during the day and catch 5 mins of AU droning uninvolvingly, and marvel at Pattern Is Movement. You know the singer from Les Savy Fav? OK, two of them; on keys and drums, wailing and droning and thrashing and moaning and being endearing but quite mental and it is not my idea of fun. They are hot apparently. Hmmmm. Awful. I was gonna make a joke about the kind of dudes who normally only get jobs as Santas. Instead I split and spend some time with Team Weed and my mood elevates. We try to see School Of Seven Bells, another buzz band and a Secret Machines spin off; but three songs into their crapola “fun” indie set, they announce “Hello CMJ, we are The Seabellies”. Bugger.
Schedule dictates that I catch the many-headed, multi-instrumental, semi-improv, increasingly hot, Stars Like Fleas at Union Pool. The drummer is wearing a nappy. The singer is hiding in the crowd, inconspicuously. There are some serious beards here. Like knee length. The harpist is hot. The dude swinging the lasoo-esque tube instrument is less so. I have never heard anything quite like it and find it hard to describe. Like two people arguing chorally over the way to sing over two diffferently tempoed minimalist pieces all at the same time. With satanic elves on percussion. Pitchfork and New York Times love them apparently.
I split off and catch The Gay Blades again. Damn they are fun. It is a shorter set and extra punchy and I love it. I confess, I can’t remember what happened after this but I did eat some fish in a restaurant that had a beach in it and I did get a cab ride with an eye wateringly racist driver, who was only slightly less hammered than me. He offered me his big bottle of beer. I declined. In the kingdom of the one eyed man, the less drunk people drive the more drunk people home, I suppose.
Well, I did kinda take it easy today. Shopping was fun. More so was getting a little blasted and watching Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanemo Bay, which was a bone-raw satire on US policy, wrapped in the stupidest film I have ever seen, with some truly horrible uncontrollable belly laughs and and some particularly vile sex. And an even more psychotic Dougie Houser. And unicorns. I loved it. I did venture out to catch Hello Saferide, who despite being appealing on record, didn’t do it for me live, rocking, if that is the word, and I am prettty sure it isn’t, a sort of happy clappy Christian family band look. A couple of the tunes had me going though. I guess I am against smiling, miserable sod that I am. Last band of the trip was Blackstrap, whose records talk a cool black leather jackety JAMC/BRMC/MBV type talk, but whose live show was less reliant on the drone rock tropes and was walking in dirtier jeans and rocking out in fine style. Lusty fun guitar solos and a lusty fun keyboard player took over and I’m reminded a little of The Cult, whom I have a big soft spot for. Mebbe they are headed into QOTSA’s desert rock arena. Who knows. Lukestar are now on in 2 minutes and I’m an hour away. Fuck. I was looking forward to that.
No bands. I whiled a way some time in Barnes and Noble, and rummaged a little in the very rummagable Other Music shop and Kim’s, which are two of the last record stores in Manhattan; and then allowed my hosts to introduce me to a very funny TV show. This time it was “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. Hard to describe convincingly. Four guys run a shitty bar and have many hilarious small time adventures. It is kind of like The Simpsons but real. A lot of people get run over. Funny as hell. Get thee to Youtube. A nice come down Sunday, except I sleep to much and will not sleep on the plane home now.
I think I saw or heard a lot more bands. I certainly poked my head round a lot of doors to find sensitive souls strumming idly on guitars, only to unpoke my head a moment later.
*Funny story, I just checked who it was. Only Twi the Humble Feather. Ha. Brilliant. See rule 4 above.