Lycanthropy

Carnies, wolves, and goblin cocks transmogrify CMJ indie-rock fest

On the backs of these worthless CMJ badges should have been a scavenger hunt checklist: Find Devendra Banhart. Clap your hands at the Clap Your Hands show. Counsel a Suicide Girl. See four bands whose names include the word "wolf." Euthanize Laura Veirs. Punch Devendra Banhart. Grand prize? A tour of the Matador mail room.

At 169 Bar on Friday, North Carolina swamp rockers Tiger Bear Wolf made tasty whine from moby grapes and voodoo chile. Think Comets on Fire, less ablaze. TBW's boy drummer turned teen wolf by song three, when his teeth fanged and his bare chest sprouted all the hair his daddy's bottle of Rogaine promised him. Still, he was no match for the lycanthropic drummer of Montreal's Wolf Parade, Sub Pop's modest, mousy answer to the Arcade Fire. Those wolfies (no, those) have quite more of a Bowie thing going on, ironic because AF famously performed with the king bitch twice in two weeks, first at Fashion Rocks, second at SummerStage. But let's cut the shit: Have Wolfmother moved past their "Black Sabbath plus nothing" formula? Are AIDS Wolf better than Peter Wolf? Is either better than Herpes Wolf, a band that doesn't even exist? To each, no, sorta.

Meanwhile in the land of onstage indie gimmickry, we're-a-project-not-a-band the Octopus Project tried to mask their melody lack with swats at a theremin, an instrument I'm now convinced nobody really knows how to use. Same bill, Philly's junk-rock beefhearts Man Man fondled their mustaches, but at least they played well, their carny piano-led ditties touching the same nodes of sympathy those misfit toys did in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In the end, though, macho disco outfit the Juan Maclean took top honors: Not only did they have a theremin onstage and a mustached drummer, but frontman John Maclean's red shirt blended in with the Northsix's velvet curtains, such that his Mr. Clean skull seemed to float in midair, occasionally looking out to the crowd and winking like the genie from Aladdin.

And if you had wished for three worthwhile CMJ hip-hop events, you might have left the fest crotchety. Sorry: C-Rayz Walz, that corny rap four-flusher, doesn't count. Nor does Screwston don Bun B, whose Southpaw gig was non-CMJ, and who, contrary to the prank text message I received early Sunday morning, did not die midset from a syrup-induced heart attack. Nor counts the talented but tedious Blueprint; his jazzy-fresh "Fat Girls Need Love Too" is 2005's "Parents Just Don't Understand," further proof that soft and hard rap have officially traded places in the increasingly pathetic hip-hop underground.

Next to these officially sanctioned rap events, the Knitting Factory's last-minute Purple Ribbon showcase felt God-sent. Sure, Killer Mike tuckered himself out by "A.D.I.D.A.S.," and Bubba Sparxxx didn't even make it onto the stage, but that just meant more Big Boi, who burned through his big hits for a crowd that had waited nearly two hours for his posse to arrive from Atlanta. At Webster Hall, London MC Lady Sovereign did her part too, sissing enough nimble-tongued sass and Union Jack butt spanks to hush even the most backpacked fuxxors. Sov's freaknasty freestyle over the Ying Yang Twins' controversial "Wait (The Whisper Song)" made good on one panelist's rumored defense of the song earlier in the week: "Not sure if this is too much information, but I played the song for my girlfriend at the time, and she said she liked it and told me I should pull her hair sometime too. Hey, I'm just saying!"

Wait till you see my Goblin Cock, bragged the Absolutely Kosher showcase, but I was too busy sniveling: Beardclash got shrifted. The one truly boss noise lineup—Nautical Almanac, Prurient, and Metalux—played out in the backwoods of Prospect Park, as it should have, perhaps, but still. In the throes of Fashion Week, Manhattan settled for designer noise—Excepter's martian drum-machine circles—while Williamsburg watched over Delia & Gavin's pleasant but room-clearing analog arpeggios. To say nothing of Delia's gum chewing; for nearly an hour, her jaw was the only thing that moved. Chomp by chomp, she destroyed time, slowing the CMJ steeplechase—she was the fest's only respite. That said, had someone suddenly wrung out bandanna sweat into Delia's mouth, as Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington did to me at his band's secret Cake Shop gig Friday, I doubt she'd have remained so serene. Maybe Harrington had a bone to pick with me; two weeks ago I did publicly announce that his band quit the punk rock game, a total falsehood. His see-through unitard and Rodin poses proved that; so too his pirate's mask and necklace made with stones "from the streets of New Orleans." Witness first post-Katrina joke, check.

 
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