The boys can't help it

Now that posters touting next month's VH1-sponsored Eurythmics reunion concert at Madison Square Garden have been plastered all over LIRR stations, the writing is literally on the wall: Alternative music is the classic rock of the '90s, making great fodder for balding DJs at high-school reunions, but having little other relevance.

While this might be news to those of you whose car stereos got stuck on WLIR back when it seemed Clinton would restore dignity to the presidency, the fact that Britney Spears, not Björk, is the current music-biz babe is not exactly shocking. On the other hand, the fact that there are record-industry types out there who are still whining about the decline and fall of alternative music is.

This cultish group of die-hards, who still believe in the gospel according to Perry Farrell, came together last week at the 19th annual CMJ music festival, a downtown Manhattan trade show for those in the music industry who define "alternative" as owning a Sonic Youth T-shirt. Hosted by the Great Neck publishing company College Media Inc., the get-together (panel discussions during daylight hours and club concerts at night) has always acted as a mirror for participants. Sort of like a dysfunctional family reunion at which you can step back, look objectively at your relatives and realize just how fucked you all are.

This year continued that tradition. But while there were just as many ridiculous haircuts, poorly-drawn tattoos and snotty attitudes as before, this time around the vibe of the whole shebang was noticeably different. The buzz wasn't about the next big breakthrough band; it was about the utter lack of a next big breakthrough band.

Sure, the crowd (comprised of college-radio types, indie-label execs, rock journalists and other "professionals") tried its best to talk up the lackluster lineups at the nightly CMJ gigs. But when two of the big shows being promoted are Cheap Trick and Willie Nelson, there can be no denying that the times, to quote another musical geezer, they are a-changin'.

Simply put, alternative music (or college rock, or new music, or whatever label you want to slap on it) is never going to relive its glory days of a decade ago, when Smashing Pumpkins, REM and Nirvana moved millions of units. Still, even taking this into consideration, all the angst at CMJ seems somewhat silly. Despite the reality that no one's gonna get rich jumping on Beck's bandwagon these days, the raison d'être behind the CMJ convention remains much the same as ever: To provide kids working at college stations and interning at two-bit record companies across the nation with an excuse to hang out in the East Village for an extended weekend and use expense accounts to hone their binge drinking.

That said, most yet-to-be-discovered bands still find it worthwhile to participate in the proceedings. In fact, while it's debatable whether an appearance at CMJ amounts to anything more than fond memories for most acts, the competition to capture a performance slot is fierce. For Long Island bands, the prospect of CMJ success is especially alluring. Coming from a place a little too close to New York City to easily declare itself as musically distinct, but a little too far away to bask in the reflected glory of the rock mecca, Nassau and Suffolk musicians can use a spot at a CMJ show to bring a little respect back to the 'hood.

This year, the home team included Handsome Boy Modeling School (led by Amityville's own hip-hop genius Prince Paul), cult hero Mike "Sport" Murphy and punk posterboys Error Type:11 (who garnered the much coveted title of "CMJ Featured Band"). Judging from the caliber of groups they shared various stages with, who ranged from truly shitty to moderately talented, these Island outfits made a strong showing. Thanks to them, at next year's convention it may just be possible to introduce yourself as being from Long Island without catching hell about Debbie Gibson. —Valerie Acklin


MAKE NO MISTAKE—ET: 11 ROCKS LIKES NOBODY'S BUSINESS

Somewhere near the top of the CMJ-fest sewage stream this Saturday night, deftly navigating the debris of buzz-bands, badges and guest lists like a speeding car in a school zone on Route 25A, comes Error Type:11.

Teamed with Hot Water Music at the Some Records showcase at Westbeth, ET:11, comprised of New York's new favorite sons (from Douglaston, Amityville and other environs), comes to play the game. They just aren't delusional about it. There's no false humility or feigned minimalism involved. Very uncool. Every step of the way is unabashedly calculated.

It's simply not acceptable to be so full of yourself these days. Artie Shepherd, ET:11's notorious frontman, couldn't care less. He leads the charge at this show, a textbook example of how to fit arena-sized rock attitude in front of a few hundred friends and fans at a sold-out club on the West Side of Manhattan.

As the four-man band files onstage to the tune of "The Firebird Suite" (the same music that Yes used in the '70s as its walk-on theme), the shrieking welcome of young girls is almost overpowering. Each member is uniformly clad in black, an effective contrast to the upbeat and melodic anthems in store.

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