Brief CMJ 2010 Impressions
When we at Buzz Rant & Rave World HQ realized that CMJ was coming up again, the response was distinctly unenthusiastic. While it's great to have the festival atmosphere along with all of the opportunities for afternoon drinking, as a festival, it's never been the reason for many interesting and unique collaborations or bills that wouldn't otherwise exist. Generally, the promoters and venues book acts who they would normally host on a typical bill (or would like to.) As we've gotten further from college age, the presence of all of the college radio programmers makes us feel old at the festival. And it encourages the annoying music blogger groupthink that's turned us off from reading too many music blogs. Despite all of these drawbacks, it's still an important presence in the NYC music scene and perhaps the best indie music festival after SXSW.
In years past, we've spent more time plotting out a schedule with a detailed timeline to hit as many showcases as possible. Unlike the last couple of years, when we analyzed trends in band names, we barely glanced through the roster this year (see Music Snobbery's review of some of the weird, strange and usual of this year.) But the CMJ experience this year involved much more random sampling of bands playing in venues we like at convenient times, especially scheduled to fit around other non-CMJ social plans. But we still had the opportunity to catch some highlights.
The single best act I saw during the festival was Australia's Philadelphia Grand Jury. They played a LOT during the week, but I caught them at the I Rock I Roll day party at The Delancey on Saturday afternoon. If Flight of the Conchords self-aware, funny and humble pop music represents New Zealand, Philadelphia Grand Jury (or the Philly J's) are the embodiment of Flight of the Conchords' TV show take on Australians: raucous, loud and brash-- unchecked id. Unlike many of the bands to play NYC in general and CMJ specifically, Philadelphia Grand Jury wasn't afraid to have fun. They announced every song as "[their] favorite song and the best song." The band members all jumped out on stage, into the crowd and had fun, despite some issues with the mic stands unable to stand up to the frenzy. They're a do-not-miss act the next time they're back in NYC.
Earlier that afternoon, Ted Leo played a solo set at Public Assembly. He's one of the few artists who can play a solo set that's sufficiently rocking to be fun and engaging. The Brutalist Bricks has grown tremendously on me to become not only one of my favorite Ted Leo albums, but one of my favorites of the year. Catchy, diverse, incisive and rocking.
Earlier in the week, just down the block from Public Assembly on North 6th Street in Williamsburg, Screaming Females put on an impressive set at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Although the band's name is both descriptive and misleading: there's only a single screaming female in Screaming Females, they're still great. A classic power trio with dynamic and virtuostic guitar playing. Punk rock and lyrical, epic guitar soloing usually exist in opposite corners of the rock and roll universe, but Marissa Paternoster brings it together in a fresh and exciting way.