Friday, October 22
CMJ needs to abolish this whole badge thing. The festival has admirably justified its existence, but we still can’t understand the math behind it: Expensive as that badge is, there’s a real chance of being rejected at the door of a major show whether you’ve got that neon-green lanyard around their neck or not. And who actually sat through those panels, anyways? Not us! (Sorry, guys.) We went rogue instead, spending the near-entirety of our CMJ weekend at Pitchfork‘s #Offline festival. Kanye was there Saturday night, of course, but thanks to Zola Jesus in particular, the night before was nearly as memorable.
Friday night marked the second day of Pitchfork‘s anti-CMJ festival, and our return to the cavernous weirdness of Brooklyn Bowl. Apparently bowling is a priority even during concerts, as crashing pins and celebratory yelps occasionally overshadowed the lineup of ladies that headlined tonight’s show. Glasser was able to chuckle and move on for the most part. Flaunting a bright red get-up — some cross between a kimono and a jumpsuit — the singer rocked back and forth as she belted out beautifully smooth, drawn out, and completely incomprehensible vocals, pausing occasionally to thrash in time with the tribal drum loops that backed her. Someone from her label, True Panther, swayed along next to me, occasionally pulling at his hair in delight at all the guitar-manipulated synths. “Technology!” he exclaimed excitedly, to no one in particular. “This is the future!”
Whereas Glasser managed to overcome her bowling-lane distractions, Angel Deradoorian was less successful. Nervous and fidgety, the low-key Dirty Projectors vocalist was obviously shy, and said so: “This is the first time I’ve played alone in front of this many people” is not a statement that inspires confidence, in her or us. To be fair, sandwiching the timid r&b songstress between Glasser’s mystic drums and the overwhelming power of Zola Jesus was not the best idea. Accompanied by a notebook and an analog keyboard (we know that because she said so), Deradoorian half-heartedly pushed through tracks that often melded into each other thanks to their quietly mumbled, sleepy vocals and slow keyboard drones. This was awkwardly augmented by references to those patrons actively involved in games nearby, oblivious to her performance: “Strike!” she’d exclaim, following up with “Never underestimate the power of bowling.” We couldn’t help but feel bad for her.
Luckily, the next act engineered a quick turnaround. Cloaked mostly in black, with cut-up white leggings and a hood pulled over her face, the gloriously bizarre Zola Jesus stole the show the moment she crawled onstage. Somehow, creepily clawing her way to the spotlight like an insane zombie child in a horror movie is a natural-looking act for the goth-infused drama queen whose voice had the ability to fill the night’s 600-person venue without a microphone, if need be; the unsolicited, wild-eyed shrieks that inexplicably closed out a chorus of “I Can’t Stand” seemed both jarring and completely necessary. The singer’s dominance is all-encompassing — she quickly paced back and forth across the stage, eyes on the ground, occasionally (and somewhat magically) appearing in the crowd or on a ledge overlooking the venue. There’s something disturbing and completely mesmerizing about it all, and while it’s still kind of disconcerting to hear Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” manipulated into a dreary tune that sounds more like a revenge plot than an innocent pop song, we’re glad that Zola Jesus was the one delivering it.