The amicable, eccentric, and U.K.-hyped neo-folkster Devendra Banhart has an excellent new CD out, but his schizophrenic and disjointed set probably didn't send folks rushing to the record store. Love Life delivered a strong, heady, dark, and drugged-out set, only shackled by the lanky bassist's insistent hair combing (try a stronger pomade!) and Don Knotts-ian nosedive off the stage. But, damn, the guy didn't miss a note!

High magistrate of the NYC underground Michael Gira's powerful solo set featured forthcoming Angels of Light tunes and classic Swans songs—"New Mind" on acoustic! Chris Brokaw (currently of Pullman and the New Year, ex-Come and Codeine) recited several nimble, six-string haikus from Red Cities and a version of Come's "Recidivist" to an elated Boston contingent. And Lou Barlow resurfaced with new songs (played solo-acoustic) before plugging in for a Sebadoh reunion of sorts (minus Loewenstein)—the kids freaked out over "License to Confuse" and "Rebound."

Coming up from a generation—or two—below are the Paper Lions, who drew an impressive crowd, with nearly everyone in the audience singing along to their driving, D.C.-influenced, post-punk songs. Boston's (not Britain's) the Beatings blew everyone's hair back with their Pixies-inspired, raw-rawk sound. And Canyon kept up the intensity of their psychotropic-countrified tunes despite the impatient and boisterous World Inferno/Friendship Society fans.

Drum roll, please: Quix*o*tic questing at CMJ Marathon
photo: Laura Sinagra
Drum roll, please: Quix*o*tic questing at CMJ Marathon

The Boxes (Soundgarden meet the Runaways) and Glass Candy & the Shattered Theater (goth-punk-disco circa L.A. '82) may be cute, endearing, and fashionable, but they've got a long way to go before their chops catch up to their struts. Unita's got the chops, but the jealously of frontman John Garcia came seeping through during his confusing diatribe about the success of former Kyuss bandmate Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age. But that's no surprise—their second-rate, retreaded Kyuss riffs (often played while sitting down) are simply Soundtracks for the Bored.

Hopefully the rest of CMJ's panels weren't as useless and disheartening as Music Marketing, Publicity, Promotion, led by Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby. Sivers cheerfully blathered on about "test markets," comparing band promotion to Zima and Coors Lite, and encouraged "putting yourself in a niche." He did offer some practical publicity tips, but for the most part, this guy was just a total cheeseball.

Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar enveloped the crowd with their perfect hybrid of Miles-Hendrix-Bootsy-'70s prog-electronica-soul. Floating in similar embryonic fluids were the torpid and dreamy Calla, though their new numbers are way more up-tempo and rockin' then their usual anti-gravity campfire lullabies. Aspera had four tubes of trippy candescent lights, strobes, and a smoke machine to necromance the eager and willing children of the unicorn. Calexico's day of the dead getups and noirish spaghetti-western tunes were perfect for Halloween—evoking images of rotting carcasses on moonlit desert highways and scarecrow silhouettes.

Overheard: A middle-aged Russian man to a long-haired alterna-rock kid in the bathroom of the Hilton: "Why are you all here, the New York City Marathon?" A man with two antennae sticking out of his head and football war paint smeared under his eyes: "We're just here to play a show with our peers. . . . It's not like any of us think we're gonna get some record deal or something." —D. Shawn Bosler & Ken Switzer

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