A First Timer’s Field Work at CMJ: Day 2
As I watched the fourth of 10 bands that I’d catch on Day 2, the words that were imparted to me by a conference veteran echoed in my mind – “There’s a lot of bad bands at CMJ.” In the interest of keeping this recap more positive and useful, I’ll refrain from ranting about those god-awful examples of what people pass as music and just move on to the notable highlights.
While sifting through the numerous CMJ primers out on the interwebs, the name Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr seemed to appear time and time again. They’re a young band out of Detroit, Mich. and wore their hometown pride on their racing jumpsuit sleeves at the one of three Wednesday performances that I caught by playing a reworked, rocking version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit”. Strong harmonies and solid song construction are apparent on their EP recording of “Nothing But Our Love”, but the live treatment benefits from greater density of atmospheric beats and loops that give the band an extra raw edge.
CMJ is overrun with synth-pop and electro-dance bands to the point where synthesizers on stage are almost a given. It’s a sound that I love, and clearly I’m not alone, but there comes a point when I yearn for crunching guitars, thick bass lines, and simple keyboard accompaniment. You know, a live band. That’s what I found in San Antonio, Texas band Hacienda, who many people first encountered as the backup band for The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s solo album and subsequent tour. They laid down a set of visceral rock at The Canal Room that offered up all the energy of a blues-inspired band but without the cliché bar band sound. Its also refreshing that all of members excel in their individual roles, making it so there was no discernible front man.
Although many of the Brooklynites making the rounds at CMJ have seen The Drums, their “special guest” set at Santos Party House on Wednesday night was a first for me. The post-punk sound features high energy repetitive instrumentation that builds to a final screaming climax, but the slower, more spacious dynamics of “Down By The Water” really highlight the elements that make this band stand out. The performance of that particular song was reminiscent of those moments at an LCD Soundsystem show when James Murphy silences a crowd with “New York I Love You”. What that moment ushered in for me was the realization that there were still three more days of this wild goose chase through lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I needed to get some rest.