The CMJ Music Marathon has never been a festival just for fans—at least not in the traditional sense, where music lovers trek to a city to camp out for days and catch all their favorite bands, hopefully discovering new ones in the process. Instead, the shows are clogged with bloggers and photogs documenting the experience in the fastest, most digestible forms they have at their disposal, scribbling and snapping and rushing to the next show before this one’s even over. I wanted to instead experience CMJ with only a few bands, CMJ-sponsored or not, and preferably ones I hadn’t seen before. Also, of course, I hoped to take advantage of the lively late-night action.
My plan was derailed as early as Wednesday. Dirty on Purpose, a Brooklyn quartet whose wistful strains of fuzzy indie pop don’t receive nearly the attention they deserve, played a benefit at Death by Audio for their cat, Hammer, who was apparently hit by a car and has some pretty serious vet bills. DoP isn’t the latest or the greatest, but they’re one of my favorites, and they don’t play all that often; I was thrilled. And then I got sick. So I missed it. But we sent a photographer anyway, and we’re running the photo here because that’s how much I wanted to see this show.
The next night, I went to the Vice Records after-party to see Jay Reatard at Cake Shop. The notebooks were out in full force, but so was this wide-eyed kid in the crowd whose mess of curly hair matched that of his garage-rock hero onstage. The kid stood rapt in front of the Memphis punk god, matching word for word Jay’s rapid-fire delivery on each tight nugget of distortion. He knew every song. It was my favorite moment of the week, and a much-needed shot of adrenaline at 1:30 a.m. on a slow Thursday night. Cake Shop’s dark, low-ceilinged basement feels dirty and also a little dangerous, and when the crush began to move along to the first few songs, I felt the if-there’s-a-fire- we’re-so-fucked sense of fight or flight. But we stuck it out (we couldn’t really move anyway) and were pummeled with an accelerated set of aggressive tunes, each separated by tiny bursts of applause and Jay’s shouts of “Let’s go!” to signal the next one. It was late, and people were wasted—like passing-out, falling-down, getting-checked-for-heartbeats wasted. It felt like, you know, a real rock show.
Until Baltimore trio Double Dagger took the stage, that is. Frontman Nolen Strals staggers about, limp wrist to chest, lurching into the crowd and sticking his fingers into the mouths of audience members—if it doesn’t bother them, it shouldn’t bother me, and of course some would argue that I’m missing the point. But I’m not sure I know what the point is, and I don’t care. That shit gets on my nerves.
On Friday, I headed to Brooklyn Vegan’s R Bar showcase to check out Yeasayer and the Black Kids for a rainy afternoon diversion. Midday shows are obviously more relaxed than their nighttime counterparts, so unless you were there solely to network, this was a good chance to actually hear the music. (Yeasayer’s full sound is worth the hype, the Black Kids’ less so—but adorable!) Around midnight, I stood in line at 205 to check out RZA, Inspectah Deck, and the Cool Kids, but the queue was too long and too slow, so we walked down the street and spent the wee hours dancing at Home Sweet Home instead—soon I had a tall stranger spinning me around to ’60s classics, so what did I care?
Saturday, Mercury Lounge hosted Tigercity’s slick-smooth ’80s pop (“unironic” seems to be the band’s buzzword), but not before a packed opening set by the Harlem Shakes. Jesus, people seem to love that band, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than how incongruous lead singer (and occasional Voice contributor) Lexy Benaim’s appearance and voice are: His thin, high vocals belie a solidness onstage that almost seems out of step with the rest of the young band’s high-energy, chin-up backing-vocal ooh‘s. His voice is far from sexy, but he’s a handsome guy. It’s kind of weird.
When Tigercity’s Bill Gillim (speaking of handsome!) and his spot-on falsetto finally took over, the audience had thinned out, which is too bad: I suspect a good crowd could have made the band much more energetic. I daydreamed instead about asking them to play my fantasy ’80s prom, where they’re all wearing suits with boutonnieres, and I have a kick-ass dress and really great hair, and my date is Baby Dayliner. Or maybe they’re playing on a yacht in late summer, and the sun is setting, and I have a kick-ass dress and really great hair. Or even in the imaginary land that Tigercity mentions on their MySpace page: “It will be the smoothest of all islands.” Same dress, same hair. And no bloggers.