Saturday, October 24, 2009

CMJ Music Marathon 2009: Surfer Blood; Grooms; Savoir Adore @ Brooklyn Bowl

Surfer Blood; Grooms; Savoir Adore
@ Brooklyn Bowl
Brooklyn, NY - October 24, 2009

The classiest bowling joint in all the world is also a venue (ala Asbury Lanes) and it played host to After The Jump's CMJ day party. The first band went on an hour and a half after advertised, the second played a good 40 after that, and the third band played an hour after the second band and all played for about 20 minutes. Uh huh.

Surfer Blood do "Swim to Reach the End", a rollicking good song that reflects their penchant for afro and carib sounds. Yeah yeah Vampire Weekend I know. Well more than one band can do it you know. Too bad they showed up an hour late, and the guitar player busted his guitar 2 chords into the song and it took them forever to play again.

The gloomy outfit known as Grooms play their instruments well but not well together. Sorry guys. The drummer has chops though.

Savoir Adore look and sound like the excellent Montreal band Stars. They were pleasant almost to a fault. I would like to see them again.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

CMJ Music Marathon 2009: I Was A King; Evan Voytas; Eternal Summers; Free Energy; Beach Fossils @ Santos Party House

I Was A King; Evan Voytas; Eternal Summers; Free Energy; Beach Fossils
@ Santos Party House
New York, NY - October 21, 2009

The Oh My Rockness 5th Anniversary Party for CMJ should have been a celebration of the best concert calendar/song podcast in the Indie Rock universe, what with a booking of bands who have produced some of the best songs of the year. But the piss poor sound guys at Santos Party House somewhat ruined things as they tried to deafen the audience with murderous high volume for music that didn't need it. They tested the amps and speakers but good as whines and blow-outs occurred through the night and the wrong monitors were turned up or turned down at the wrong times. And all the bands suffered for it. But we persevere:

Norway's I Was A King are the possessors of "Norman Bielk", a power pop number of good stock and station. Some of the other songs matched the quality of that one but the loss of guitar on the speakers at certain moments coupled with horrid feedback knocked out the charm. I don't think the band could hear themselves either.

Evan Voytas happens to be the guy behind the most tasteful romantic song to come around in a long time, "We'd Be Good Together", a song which - like the others specifically mentioned in this piece - Oh My Rockness put on its mp3 podcast earlier this year. Yet Evan didn't play it. In fact, the material he played sounded somewhat removed from the style of "We'd Be Good Together" and his vocals, modulated as they were, didn't even sound like the same guy. The idea was entertained that Oh My Rockness had booked Evan Voytas on the strength of a song that was erroneously misidentified as being his. Well, later investigation has proved that "We'd Be Good Together" is indeed an Evan Voytas song but it's from a year or two ago, and not part of his new Peter Gabriel/Duran Duran style sound. What he did play was worthy in great swaths but the audio guys sabotaged the set with all the aforementioned problems.

Eternal Summers are a girl on guitar and a guy on drums with garage grime/dark pop flavor. Not bad but they seemed purposely disinterested which was a turn-off. It is also entirely possible they were just naturally shy.

Free Energy, the band who rose from the ashes of Hockey Night, was the one band I caught that had the sound guys on their side. What would pass for shtick if they were from Hipsterville, NY instead comes off as down-to-earth Philadelphian love of classic rock, no more, no less. A slight hint of hippiedom to their 70's shine (their banner "Dream City" kicks off with a borrow of "Spirit in the Sky") is more of a plus than a negative, at least the way they pull it off. Great solos.

Beach Fossils had way too much reverb for their outright awful lead singer but the rhythm section was tight and the guitar player was sublimely talented, doing more with less in this project that merges surf rock with the Cure.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CMJ Music Marathon 2009: Clare & The Reasons @ Mercury Lounge

Clare & The Reasons; Josh Mease; Warpaint
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - October 20, 2009

A very Indie-pop 2009 CMJ Music Marathon for Sonic Parthenon kicked off with the always very Indie-pop Clare & The Reasons though technically it kicked off with Warpaint and really, Clare and co. aren't really Indie-pop anymore by conventional definitions. The new Reasons record, Arrow, is something of a departure from the catchy and whimsical first LP, The Movie. It's a little more dense, relying more on instrumentation and Clare's vocals than the melodies and chimes of the prior record. In an interesting live-wise development, the band has been cut seemingly in half with the whole string section of charmers gone, and a laptop has been brought in for some minor backing track. The effervescent red scheme is gone too replaced with various casual displays of - surprise, surprise - singular arrows on each band member, and some fake woods-type display. But the spirit and mission of Clare & The Reasons are unchanged, and the band makes it work as it explores new ways and sounds.

Josh Mease is still the folkie-looking but Jazz-inspired artist he was back in January and the songs still have zip in all the right places. He'd be quite at home in Newport.

Warpaint are a California group that sort of tear it up at points but then take it low. Their drawn-out cover of the old classic "My Guy" was cute for the first couple minutes but wore thin for the remaining few minutes.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Andy Mac @ The Living Room

Andy Mac
@ The Living Room
New York, NY - October 16, 2009

Andy Mac's strong, graceful pop songs were finally given their due with a Living Room debut and a CD release party that culminated a long road of work. The kind of artist who lives, breathes, and eats his music but always with a sense of humility and sincerity, Andy Mac is part of a cabal of New York-based pop musicians who are keeping the form clear and pure, grounded in a sense of earnestness and devotion, not just to the objects and contents of their songs, but to the songs themselves. Pop music is alive and well in the city of New York.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Giants Stadium

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
@ Giants Stadium
East Rutherford, NJ - October 9, 2009

"Wrecking Ball" is such a cheap sop, his rhyming of "balls" with "ball" proving how his songwriting has rapidly declined this decade. The filler cuts from the recent records sprinkled throughout the set, emphatically set in place by his church-like revelry, stink. And what is up with that...wait...wait...HOLY CRAP I'M AT THE BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN CONCERT.

The Boss and the most famous backing band in the history of Rock n Roll sent (and set) Giants Stadium off with the exact kind of show this unit has been known for well over 2 decades now, even 3. And Springsteen sought to signify this farewell with the performance of the record that ushered in the era of BIG in the Springsteen liturgy - Born in the USA. When Michael Jackson died, I immediately thought of how "Beat It" was arguably the first song I remember knowing and singing along to. "Born in the USA" was number 2. As these things go, the King of Pop quickly faded in my musical life, but Springsteen kept coming back. The anthems from his older works, the legendary stuff from Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River all took a foot hold. In college, I appreciated all of Born in the USA, even with the 80's synth (a sound I've eventually come around to). For reasons even I don't understand, "I'm Going Down" is my favorite Bruce Springsteen song of all time and when it was performed before the insane crowd at Giants Stadium, I died a little. And even the music from this decade, in which his stature is almost impervious, considering records that by and large blow the big one are cherished, there are individual tracks that are not only the finest on those records but the finest songs of our time (and that included the churchy one "The Rising" that the band did play this night).

But let's strip it down a bit. This is the man who made Nebraska. And played the Bottom Line in the dank heyday of New York City. This is the man who wrote a song intended for the Ramones. He's also the man that can turn his glossy, too-perfect-for-their-own-good emporioum of musicians back into the greasy bar band they used to be and into a prime soul-rhythym and blues-and-blues machine. The Boss' guitar chops are underrated and he can stand toe-to-toe with the insanely good Nils Lofgren. And look over there - isn't that the dude I know from CBGB's and Mercury Lounge gigs back in the garage days of the mid 2000's? You know the guy with that radio show that sort of saved rock n' roll this decade? Oh right that's Little Steven Van Zandt who before the Undergound Garage and before he was on The Sopranos was kind of the heart-and-soul of the E Street Band (what? Clarence Clemmons isn't the heart-and-soul of the E Street Band? How can you say that? Because Clarence Clemmons isn't the heart-and-soul of the E Street Band. Clarence Clemmons is the heart-and-soul of Bruce Springsteen).

All these thoughts dancing through my head as this spectacle unfurled before me. Eventually, I just let go and took it in. For one night - and only one - I was from New Jersey. But if Bon Jovi had shown up, I was out of there.

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