During the expansive five-day CMJ music marathon, I had a myriad of amazing opportunities to see some grade-A performances. Earlier this week I recounted a few of the most memorable shows I saw, and today I’m offering up a second dose of performances that caught my eye.
While it’s impossible to catch all of the unbelievable talent that descends upon New York City during this festival of rising bands and artists, it is also extremely difficult to not discover at least a few new favorite acts, and one of these stellar new acts that I discovered was GEMS.
Earlier this month I heard the D.C. dream-pop duo’s single “Medusa“ and got hooked on their catchy and majestic music, which carried over to their performance at Williamsburg’s funky Brooklyn Bowl venue — yes, it’s a bowling alley/music venue hybrid. During their beautiful set, the group would burst into coordinated dips and dances. At one point the two longhaired members threw their heads up and down, their manes waving through the air in harmony, adding to the swaying nature of their music. GEMS’ atmospheric take on pop highlights group member Lindsay Pitts’ ethereal vocals and calming synth beats, which create a vast and spatial sound. Combined with complementary dramatic lighting, this made for a magical experience.
After GEMS I caught the sets of electro-pop artist Porcelain Raft and indie rockers Eagulls at the smaller DIY space Glasslands in Brooklyn. Porcelain Raft, or London-based Italy-born Mauro Remiddi, creates a spatial, indie rock-infused, shoegazey pop sound. Joined by his touring members, Remiddi’s performance featured an eclectic mix of instruments, including harmonica, tambourine, maraca, keyboard, drums, and guitar. This helped recreate Remiddi’s amalgamation of sound while Glassland’s glass lighting fixture enhanced the woozy musical experience by projecting a lovely array of ever-changing light.
Next came the British grunge rock outfit Eagulls. The group is both moody and heavy hitting with post-punk elements melded together with hardcore rock, and the DIY-centric noise band delivered an intense, high-energy performance that had the audience rocking out right alongside them.
One of my top acts of CMJ was British noise rock group Hookworms, who performed at the Lower East Side venue Bowery Ballroom. The band’s performance was a complete assault on the senses. Their shoegaze-inspired sound created an unrelenting drawl that filled the entire venue and captivated the crowd. Their psychedelic sound was performed with such dramatics and pure power that it was hard to look away.
Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado also took the stage at Bowery Ballroom with his side project Jonathan Rado & the Gentleman Jets. The ’60s-inspired psych-rock conglomerate, whose music is normally presented as Rado’s solo work, delivered an utterly ridiculous, fun-loving thrill ride of a set. The moment the band members stepped onstage, the audience knew it was in for an experience. The group brought out a multi-colored defunct disco ball, a Tyco kid’s voice recorder that had its own mic stand, a guy with giant bug-eye sunglasses, and a guitarist with stars painted on each of his cheeks. Although it was entertaining, the ridiculous spectacle of it all definitely took away from the music experience and bordered on shtick. However, their lo-fi slacker sound played out well. For better or worse, the performance was definitely something to write home about.
One of the few exceptions to CMJ’s small band formula was a show by the rather established indie rock band Real Estate. The acclaimed group showed off their knack for well-executed performances, and the trio’s soothing surf-rock aesthetic captivated the house as they performed both new material and old favorites. The New Jersey band sure knew how to bring out their own — the venue was filled with young suburban Jersey kids who obviously worshipped Real Estate, but that’s not surprising given how talented the band is in general. Their dreamlike lo-fi sound was utterly lovely.
Although the music marathon was interrupted by two “surprise” performances by the buzz band-turned-international sensation Arcade Fire, the rising CMJ artists held their own for the remainder of the weekend. While crowds were drawn away from these smaller groups, it’s hard not to take a step back and look at the talent in front of you, wondering who will rise to be the next big thing. Who will follow in the CMJ-founded Arcade Fire’s footsteps? I believe that many of these bands will find success — if they haven’t already — and that is the goal of CMJ in general: to bring out music-hungry crowds and serve them up a plate of amazing performances and hints of what’s to come.
For more information, check out CMJ’s official website.