For last year’s CMJ Music Marathon, we sent our New York-based writer Simone Jung into the smoke, the music, and the experience that is the four day event. Here is what she brought back from the four nights we sent her out. Check back over the next few days as we’ll be bringing you a new part each update day.
October 13th: Sonic Youth
New York City’s largest population of underground/indie rock music puts on a series of shows for four days. Although there were also a series of lectures and guest speakers throughout the days, it was the nightlife that intrigued me the most. Instead of jumping from one show to another to listen to one band, I decided to stay at Irving Plaza for the CMJ opening party featuring a few DJs, experimental bands and of course, Sonic Youth. For those special badge holders who slaved for months to have enough money to buy one, the advantages are not the same as those who pay twenty bucks to go to the one show. No special backstage pass, no special guest pass, not even a chance to get into the show earlier than the rest of the crowd. It pretty much was an expensive badge that gets you into shows for free (free of course, for the press).
When I started my journey downtown to Union Square, I was expecting a long line of people in front of the door; this was Sonic Youth. Turned out that it didn’t matter as much- when I arrived at Irving Plaza, I was greeted by the gushing wind and rolling tumbleweed across the front door. It was a ghost town. A line of maybe ten people crowed more than lined-up in front of the venue. A disappointing turnout for half an hour before the doors opened. Surprised and upset, I stood outside for the half hour in the early Fall cold and entered the club after undergoing a vigorous bag and body search.
The bands played. One by one, they entered the stage, played their set and cleaned up their equipment. Small groups of mid-50’s men and women stood in the middle of the shameful crowd like misplaced pieces of a glass menagerie. But what upset me most from the whole night was the crowd’s rude appreciation for the other bands playing that night. So what if Moving Units were the strangest group of men or that Saul Williams rhymes a little crazy, it is no excuse to completely discourage the band on stage. Besides Moving Units and Saul Williams, another strange yet entrancing band of the night were Brooklyn-based Gang Gang Dance. With the use of a guitar, drums, drum machine, and distorted vocals, Gang Gang Dance evolves and grows out from the lies of Bjork and Sigur Ros. None of their songs had any lyrics (at least that is what I choose to believe), but lead singer Liz Bougatsos grabs the attention of every man with her siren-like voice. As I turned my attention away from the stage and toward the crowd, the expression of every man’s face was priceless. They stood with eyes and mouths wide open, hands in pockets, and a glare so far away. If I were to tap one of them, I would have had some man drop dead in front of me.
Soon after Gang Gang Dance cleared the stage and the room nearly at full capacity, the time consuming slide show stopped and the screen rose to reveal a new set of musical instruments on the stage. Next, a short old man wearing a cardigan appeared on stage and picked up the guitar. By the sound of the crowd’s raging emotions, it seemed that the waiting was over and Sonic Youth had entered the stage. I was impressed by them. As their first song came to a close, the silent smell of marijuana filled my lungs. I stopped thinking about the music and started looking for the source of this timely drug.
October 14th: Sondre Lerche / Hot Rod Circuit
Another day, another show, another part of town. The day was perfect and the weather was a reminder that there are still beautiful fall days in New York City. I had my heart set on Sondre Lerche at the Bowery Ballroom on the lower, lower, lower East side, but after a change of heart, I dashed over to the west side to a small bar called SOB where the music was loud and the aroma of calamari from the restaurant next door was intoxicating. This was a night for change. It was a change of pace and a change of tastes. Instead of listening to the warming tunes of Lerche, I decided for some good ol’ Hot Rod Circuit and Alabama-based Northstar instead.
I arrived an hour late, but it was good travel time for three subway changes and moving East to West. As the expected bag and ticket check completed, I entered the bar with good intentions. No matter how good my intentions war, there was no way of escaping the amount of girls over boys. For an eighteen and older show, there was a lot of fourteen year old looking girls. It was as if the bands playing had a sign for free sex. The main attraction at this show was Saves the Day, but the larger outcome of Hot Rod Circuit fans baffled me as the band entered the stage. Like any band before them, they played their songs, but this band had someone special in the crowd. Just a few feet away from the stage was a tall young boy. He sang and danced along to every song Hot Rod Circuit threw out at him. Unfortunately, his dancing looked like convulsions and I was afraid he was going to throw himself on stage and submit his body for a more holy purpose.
In the end, the mixture of upbeat guitars and sad lyrics made my eyes roll into the back of my head- drool, snore. What would you do if you listened to emo music all night?
October 15th: The Faint / The Good Life
The time was 4.30pm, the place was Webster Hall. It was a rainy Friday afternoon in Union Square as I waited for the doors to open. Once again, the crowd outside the venue was miniscule and the rain didn’t help anyone. Once they opened, I walked up the steps into the main stage of Webster Hall and the bass from the large speakers rang in the ears of every person waiting for the first band to arrive. It was bad enough the music will be loud, but to curse the crowd with heavy bass and techno before is torturous. By the time the first band Broken Spindles entered the stage my heart was beating twice as fast. And my eyes opened at the sight of the elaborate on-stage presence; as if they did not want to be seen, Broken Spindlesdisplayed video that corresponded perfectly with the set list provided. I looked behind me to see the myriad of faces staring blankly into the void of a white screen. No movements on the faces and no uttered gasps of breath from the direction of the crowd as images of the church are emerged onto the screen. Barely audible words rose from the voice of lead singer Joel Petersen as he played. He is out of the ordinary with his lyrical skew of words and his mystical multiple instrument understanding. There is no underestimating the future success of Broken Spindles.
Soon after the bustling of the stage Son, Ambulance arrived. Sporting a bright green Sgt. Pepper shirt, Joe Knapp began his not-so-melodic interlude. As he exclaimed to the crowd “this is our release party,” screams of “play Katie” and “play Brown Park” were heard from the little voices in the crowd. Unfortunately, there were no little emo songs tonight. Instead, Son, Ambulance raveled into the songs from their newest album Key. Already established as a great songwriter on the same level as Bright Eyes, Knapp dominates the stage with hard-hitting solos and mass amounts of spit. Way to go.
Once the stage is mopped, Beep Beep made their way on the stage with singers Eric Bemberger and Chris Hughes (donning old skool marching band pants and glasses attached to faces with elastic bands). This is no ordinary geek band. They do not take on the same likings as Devo, but display unheard of experimental craziness. On the likes of Q And Not U and Moving Units, Beep Beep did not cease to amaze.
The stage parts and The Good Life entered. The crowd is not enthused and walked silently towards the bar in the back. With disregard for the feelings of the band, they chattered louder than Tim Kasher could sing. Without the knowledge of objective journalism in my mind, I believe The Good Life performed a perfect set with glowing neon lights. Their enthusiasm and stage performance cannot describe the passion inside Kasher’s voice and lyrics. They were the highlight of the show … until The Faint arrived.
Twenty minutes after The Good Life appeared, the Faint arrived on stage. The room went dark, the crowd was squished towards the front and the stench of drunken fat men gave aroma to the air. “FAINT! FAINT!” came screaming from one as he swayed the crowd. With every other word being “sex,” the Faint has accumulated a large crowd of dancing fiends from punk rockers to rap rockers. The stage is yet again set with large screens corresponding with the songs they played in their set list. The crowd sang along and danced with every effort to avoid the fat man pushing everyone out of his way. It was the end to a perfect evening.
October 16, 2004: Underoath / Further Seems Forever
Just one more day of music to go before the CMJ season ends for another year. I had packed away all my needs: notebook, pen, metro card, and headed towards the Knitting Factory in downtown New York. Almost shy, I entered the dark night club to a bombardment of black clothing. Not a single person (besides myself) wore a shirt any lighter than black. I thought I might have entered the wrong club or the wrong room, but I was right. It was just the mood of the night.
I stationed myself by a pole in the far right hand side of the club. I assumed if I stood here I wouldn’t get badly bruised or hurt by the later coming rush. The bands, Project 86, Me Without You, and Underoath, seemed to bring the crowd into terrible rants. They sang, they kicked and they punched each other’s lights out. I had never seen so many little hoodie-clad Asian boys kicking and screaming.
Mae and Further Seems Forever were huge disappointments. It was upsetting for Mae to be on the stage with such acts as Underoath, and the crowd didn’t show much interest in their set. Finally, Further Seems Forever entered the stage. In an unfortunate event that the band would be able to sing, Further Seems Forever attracted the smallest of crowds. A group of maybe fifty people surrounded the stage as the remaining members of a band Chris Carrabba left mustered up their courage to play new songs and old favorites. Not a very lovely sight to watch a band fall from its crowning presence as good underground hardcore to second rate pop.In the end, CMJ Music Marathon was an event that I would never forget; the people, the bands, and most importantly, the music that left a permanent scar in my brain. It was like going to see the Seven Wonders of the World; a moment you will never forget. Not only was this experience fun and exciting for me, but equally so for the bands and the fans. From subway rides to constant groping by security guards, I think that CMJ does something good for the community. It gives back a piece of life not many people have come to appreciate.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.