Ah, CMJ— they don’t call it a marathon for nothing. With countless venues popping up all over Manhattan and even more tiny bands traipsing around the city hoping to kickstart their careers, there’s never a shortage of shows to see and people to meet. We’re spending the week waiting in lines, drinking cheap beer and scouting out our next favorite bands so you don’t have to. Here’s what we saw on days one and two.
One local band that impressed on Tuesday night was Hippy, delivering the kind of lo-fi garage pop that would do The Clean proud. Give their self-titled album a spin here. —Bonnie Stiernberg
When we got to the Force Field PR showcase the sets were running about an hour behind, but that’s the beauty of CMJ: new music presents itself through all of the failed plans. With New York band Free Time, there were several elements I loved: the surfy instrumentals melded perfectly with the atmosphere at Ran Tea Room, and although the vocal performance felt a bit apathetic, I saw definite potential here. —Dacey Orr
Celestial Shore’s psychedelic pop was the perfect way to continue the evening, elevating the mood with the beachy guitar, blissed-out bass lines. This trio is definitely one to see if you’re in need of a dose of summer. —Dacey Orr
This set was a good time from start to finish. Remaining true to their pun-tastic band name, this Cardiff-based band impressed with a twisted pop sound and songs loaded with screaming vocals that kept me bouncing around the venue late into the night. —Dacey Orr
Photographer Charlene Chae is spending the week traveling from venue to venue with us, too—See her images in the gallery below.
James Wallace and the Naked Light caught my attention back in April with More Strange News From Another Star, not only thanks to the company he keeps (he’s co-written with Abigail Washburn and worked with Matthew E. White), but also for the complex, multi-instrumental sound. Suffice to say I didn’t really know what to expect for a solo performance from Wallace, who is charming and funny on stage and ended up performing with just an electric guitar. He did spice things up by using two different microphones, one of them constructed from an old telephone receiver. The result was a vintage, analog sound that you don’t often get live, and I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next from Wallace. —Dacey Orr
At first glance, Julia Easterlin isn’t a very commanding presence; she’s petite and alone on stage, but once she opens her mouth and starts building her songs piece by piece with just looping pedals and her voice, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. The crowd at her Rockwood set on Wednesday night was captivated, taking in her covers of the Pixies’ “Break My Body” and the traditional gospel song “Eyes on the Prize”—the latter of which had a woman in the front row weeping—as well as originals like “Eliza Jane,” written about the birth of her sister. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Nothing is more indicative of the CMJ experience than walking into a venue, realizing you’re early for the set you wanted to see and accidentally discovering you really dig a band you had never heard of or had any intentions of checking out. That was the case with Los Angeles punks Zig Zags, who caught our attention with their fun tunes and sarcastic on-stage banter (“It’s good to see this many white people gathered in one place”). Recommended if you like Metz or Diarrhea Planet. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Foxygen has developed a bit of a reputation as an inconsistent live band, but multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado delivered on Wednesday night at the Mercury Lounge, bringing to life tracks like “Seven Horses,” “Hand in Mine” and “Faces” from his recent solo debut, Law and Order, and cracking jokes in between tunes. Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming—who is set to release his own solo project under the Diane Coffee moniker on Oct. 29—was on hand as part of Rado’s live band, handling guitar and some backup vocals. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Mean Creek is great live act, and I won’t act like this is breaking news. It’s a thing. It’s been a thing for years. And finally, after hearing time and time again that their live set is one not to be missed, I got to see why: frontman Chris Keene kicked off the set by introducing the band as his “best friends in the world,” and was all energy through the set. I’ve heard this band’s studio stuff, and it’s great as well, but there is simply no substitute for catching these best friends in a sweaty, loud listening room. —Dacey Orr
Like Zig Zags, Calvin love was another happy accident at the Mercury Lounge. Sandwiched between Jonathan Rado and White Denim’s sets, the Edmonton, Canada native caught me off guard with his extremely danceable show and his melting pot of influences—from hooky ‘80s synth-pop to good ol’, timeless rock ‘n’ roll. —Bonnie Stiernberg
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it is insane to me that White Denim aren’t bigger than they already are. We live in a world where The Black Keys sell out Madison Square Garden, and there’s no reason these Austinites—who sound a little like if Dan Auerbach dropped acid—shouldn’t be equally huge. Thankfully, they played to a full house at the Mercury Lounge last night, transforming it into a giant party and capping off a surprisingly great day two at CMJ. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Photographer Charlene Chae is spending the week bouncing from venue to venue with us, too—See her images in the gallery below.