CMJ Day 3: Give The People What They Want

Too old for CMJ

No official panel on this subject, obviously, but I heard a bunch of people speak about it yesterday and last night:

A CMJ badge is priced at $295 for a college student, $495 for New Yorkers and everybody else not in school. At five days, some quick math will tell you that for a regular, non-college student to get anything approximating their money's worth, they'd have to attend 50 shows at $10 a pop or 20 shows at $25. Not 50 bands--50 shows. Doesn't take a genius to see the economics here are way out of whack.

Now, add the fact that a badge gets you into, at best, 75% of what you're actually trying to see. It won't get you into last night's Sub Pop showcase; probably won't get you into today's Kill Rock Stars showcase; they were more or less laughing at folks who showed up at the Knife with only a badge in hand; and so on. In other words, virtually all of the big-ticket shows this week are at least partially closed to badges.

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Who's getting in? Mostly, venues act like it's any other week and force people who came halfway across the country to attend CMJ to pay full ticket price--badge, press, or otherwise. Strip away the fancy Marathon title and you're looking at just another price-gouging week in New York -- five shows or so at $20 or $25 bucks per, a $100 dollars or so out for the week and twice that on drinks plus cabs, etc. Triple that if you're trying to see more than one thing a night.

So do the math: who exactly is CMJ for? Not for the casual fans who buy badges because of the embarrassment of riches CMJ claims to bring to the city--those are the kids getting turned away for the shows they bought that badge for in the first place. My college radio station, up in Boston, stopped sending representatives years ago when it became clear that CMJ could give a fuck about college radio DJs, charging them $300 bucks to travel way out of the way only to be denied access to half the events.

Press might be a better answer, except plenty of writers get turned away like everybody else at doors all across the city. If you're not on the list, which negates the badge anyway (no matter what affiliation it's got on it), you're not getting in either.

Bands could conceivably be the winners here, with the hype ramping up attendance and guaranteeing tons of press coverage, but unless they're seeing a percentage of the badge sales, which rumor says they're not, most bands are taking a pay cut to play shows that have more cross-town competition and less attentive audiences than usual.

Try the venues then, which get to open up their bars at three in the afternoon to big crowds and are apparently allowed to stop admitting badges whenever they feel like it--over and over, you see venues turn away badges and demand people pay full price or go home. Or look to the sponsors (of whom the Voice is one), who get banners and flyers and advertising all over the city. Also in the mix are PR firms and the bigger blogs, both of whom act as middle men for all kinds of transactions going down throughout the week, thus profiting via more attention than normal and, presumably, by taking in more cash as well.

Hey- this is speculation. The paths of economics and access underlying this whole week are so well obscured behind the visible spectrum of badges, crowds outside of shows, free daytime showcases, late night super-secret afterparties, etc, that who knows who's benefiting. But one thing's clear: those who just showed up, as fans, to see bands play, are not coming out ahead. Neither are the bands who play the showcases and shows around town, as far as I can tell. Ask yourself who's left?

And on that cheery note, on to Day 3:

All Smiles + Peter Walker Pianos

I thought these guys, an LA indie-rock trio (influences: Neil Young, Meat Puppets, Led Zeppelin, King Tubby) were gonna be this guy, the 60's Cambridge folk guru and Timothy Leary buddy (influences: Sandy Bull, Hamza El Din, Buffy St. Marie). In retrospect, this was a terrible assumption to make. Let's just move on.

Panthers + Black Lips Sin-e

Skeptics of Panthers need to pay more attention to the needle-exchange program this band is currently running between the political theory and the Nation of Ulysses/Born Against thought-chaos stuff that fascinates singer Jay Green and the barely rehabbed, 12-bar band-practice riffs that fascinate the rest of his band. The unapologetic big hits and cheap-shot chords they now break out onstage are finally justifying five years of MC5 comparisons; at this point, nobody's more aware than these guys that the medium is, in their line of work, always the best kind of message.

Black Lips, on the other hand, pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of playing an original song, which I had supposedly never heard, to which I nevertheless knew all the words - "Do You Really Want To Hold My Dirty Hand?" Your guess is as good as mine.

Gang Gang Dance Webster Hall

Liz Bougatsos was practically glowing at Webster, Ghostface T belted into a dress on top, pajamas and boots on bottom, beguiling as she warmed her band up. A shockwave bass note slipped out before they started, and the grinning crowd erupted in cheers. The band coaxed out their grooves, interrupted them, built them again--it was club music distorted beyond all recognition, beats on top for those moving, icebergs of low frequency for those who preferred to just stand and take it. Lush Timberlake/Timberland/Rapture synth tones wounnd their way up the mix-- all things for all people, the best surprise I had all week. In their sound you could hear anything you were looking for: Bhangra and club bass, Boredoms drum-surfing alongside Blow commercial rap pastiche, the percussive breaks we already knew they had, a giant ape shirt on the guy stage left. It'll be the one show I don't forget by Monday.

Califone Tonic

New Am-Priv guys confirm what I'd feared: listening to their music makes you ancient. Famed Chicago scene-poet Thax Sunshine jumped up onstage beforehand to read a poem about our guys Califone: three guys, bad sweaters, maybe Airwalks for shoes (my poem, not his). Their songs are uncomfortable for being totally comfortable, music my parents might happily play while cooking dinner and drinking wine, plus music I might play while doing the same, for which reason I keep eyeing the door and hitting the bar and generally feeling bad about feeling good about sinking into what were a more-than-just-good set of songs. A friend tells me in Chicago it makes more sense, that you can just lay back and enjoy it without the Oedipal tug-o-war, and I believe it, then get the hell out of there.

Blue Cheer Knitting Factory

Back to the Knit for the second big reunion in as many days. Blue Cheer immediately augur good things: the bassist's hair was white and blown-back, as if he'd been standing in front of his massive rig for the last forty years (he had) and my teeth chatter not from the post-midnight, windswept cold outside but from the incredible volume the two guys up front squeeze out of twin full-stacks. It's a rumbling, screaming mess. No let downs here. Their only vanity is a psychedelic bass drum. They announce their songs quick - "this song's off one of them old albums" - and get back to their wah-soaked, primordial crash. The verdict is in: Slits, you let us down.

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