CMJ Day 2: C S S! C S S!

Not exactly..

CMJ Day 2 Wednesday November 1, 2006

Day 2 is the day things really begin: now, when a band is on stage, you know they're not dressed like industry scum or slutty music writers or 15-year-old kids because they're in costume. They're not. So stop buying 'em drinks.

CSS + Thunderbirds Are Now Pianos, 3:30pm

Pianos is more restaurant than proper rock club, especially when hosting an eminence as grise as Mr. Brooklyn Vegan and his showcase, so for a second I thought I had sleepily wandered into a Great White reunion show, but nope. Fire trap, however--yes. Thunderbirds demanded a lot for the early afternoon, in terms of energy, and their Ted Leo via Q and Not U via Jimmy Eat World via late-period Nirvana harmonies reminded me of nothing so much as Nick Sylvester's catchily-named "More artists should make music that sorta sounds like famous music, as a win-win deal with ad guys" idea, which pretty much explains itself. Could've listened to their bassist play for days, however, if I hadn't had to do it with 500 other people in like a 17-person capacity space.

No qualms though about risking my life for CSS, the flat out best live band playing shows in the city this month (fuck it, this year). They are not served well by their debut record, which makes them sound thin and mono-thematic-- live, Lovefoxx expresses more with a single hand gesture or head nod than many manage in a full day. Early on, she had first one and then the other side of the room flex their collective muscles, then made her choice and crowd-surfed the stronger side; later, and not surprisingly, she was the first person I'd see take issue with all the corporate sponsorship subtext endemic to CMJ, holding up her complementary Smart Water and asking "is this true that this water is more wet than other ones, because I've heard that's true?" before spitting it a couple feet above her own head and laughing. As their own chant goes, C S S, C S S, C S S...

WZT Hearts + Beach House Cake Shop, 8:45pm

Two Baltimore artists here, both promising relief from the G-D-B-G-V live act setup. WZT Hearts worked their early Boredoms covering late Boredoms magic, pushing a tidal waves of power electronics towards the back of the room before letting their ace percussion score the eddying backwash back towards the stage. Full but not intrusive, their sound augured that of Beach House, who played to three times the crowd only an hour later. Their gurgle was more submerged than WZT Hearts', drenched in echo, the notes lingering around the room until they gradually dissolved. It took effort even to distinguish individual parts as they floated up from the campfire glow of a crowd-obscured stage; towards the end, both the theremin-like Hammond organ and Victoria Legrand's voice spiraled up, making solid the murky smoke the band gave off. Their gently tapped percussion made the night seem hours older almost instantly.

The Slits Knitting Factory, 12am

Would've said nothing could ruin the full-body glow leftover from Beach House, but The Slits took only ten minutes to banish it forever. The reunited, UK reggae-punks kicked off their set with their most well known song - "Man Next Door," from Wanna Buy A Bridge, probably the single strongest compilation ever made - then shredded more than thirty years of goodwill in about 45 minutes. First came the third person: "The Slits are in New York!" "That's a real Slits bass!" Then the complaints: "Why is the sound so bad? The Slits are not teenagers anymore!" "It's punk and reggae, right, that's the sound Slits created, don't you ever forget it!" They did and we haven't. But the Slits seemed to. A new record, Return of the Killer Slits, notwithstanding - third person there too, but the disc rips, the perfect electro-laced update to their 1979 dub-punk - their "punk and reggae" was actually one or the other for Ari Up's brazenly incompetent band (I know, I know - then too). Two girls, beautiful black women both, appeared on stage for no discernable reason (well, OK: they're her daughters) but to sing off-key, do birdcalls, and dance. Ari spent half the set haranguing her soundman. Very little music was played.

There's much to said about how old bands reuniting deserve low expectations: of course they're rusty and out of date; of course they valorize themselves; if we're honest with ourselves, that's what we came to see anyway. Whether the Slits are the norm or something worse is hard to tell: go ask Blue Cheer tonight, or The Fall come Saturday.

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