CMJ 2009: Warpaint, My Jerusalem, John Forté and More

Music Features My Jerusalem
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CMJ’s annual Music Marathon is upon us. Unlike Austin, New York is always crowded and filled with idiots wearing orange lanyards, so the city barely lifts an eyebrow when overrun with however many thousand bands with names (Surfer Blood, Best Coast, Holiday Shores, etc.) that sound like they were yanked straight out of a Dick Dale tribute night.

This post mostly deals with the events on or about Tuesday afternoon when Paste and the prestigious ASCAP began its stranglehold on the Living Room, an artfully intimate venue in the Lower East Side, for a week of heart-pounding showcases. New York singer-songwriter Julia Haltigan and her backing band the Hooligans spurred the crowd to participate in some call-and-response for “Knocking At The Door,” and indie supergroup My Jerusalem, featuring past and present members of Twilight Singers, Great Northern, Bishop Allen and the Polyphonic Spree, had their suitcases packed with the Big Easy’s off-kilter charm for their boisterous stomp-rawk set.

Former Fugees songwriter and producer John Forté, another New Yorker, was easily the biggest name on the bill. Toward the end of his performance, the dreadlock-crowned rapper-singer, dressed casually in a sweater and jeans, told the audience about his seven-plus years in jail following a drug-related arrest in 2000. Hearing this man blessed with scratchier, but no less sweet, John Legend-level pipes, it’s no wonder that Dubya gave him a pardon. Snark aside, the sadness all over Forté’s face blanketed the entire room as he sang about how his life had now just begun. And don’t forget that this guy can also spit rhymes with only an acoustic guitar as his hype man.

The Rocketboys, who played before Forté, had several moments during their set that felt like they would burst through the Living Room’s walls. The scruffy, Austin-based sextet with a penchant for flannel and pretty melodies on vintage gear are doing their best work with the latter. A few bars from Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” snuck into keyboardist Justin Wiseman’s warmup notes, and elements of the recent Kings of Leon’s material colored what followed. Singer Brandon Kinder, who alternated between guitar and keys, has an amazing mouth to watch. He opened it wide, and let it fly when delivering the chorus from the epic “Heartbeat.” “I’d sell you out in a heartbeat, ‘cause you can defend yourself,” he crooned. The onslaught even got John Forté nodding in appreciation, and earned the Rocketboys an additional gig on the same stage later in the evening.

Taking a cue from the Living Room, I’ll pass my tip jar from a singular performance I witnessed later on Tuesday night at the Mercury Lounge. If Lilith Fair 2010 wants to be edgy as opposed to sentimental, they’ll be covered in Warpaint. The three gals (and a mystery drummer) are well-versed in jagged rhythms and scathing guitars, but still have a little deference to Edie Brickell lurking. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg had little red hearts ironed onto her black sweatshirt (a couple on the sleeve, even), which matched their melodies. “Billie Holiday” was beautiful, self-aware and moody.

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