CMJ day four was the day of the side projects/solo efforts. The best part about covering any festival—CMJ, SXSW, Newport Folk, whatever—is catching the debut of new projects and unprecedented endeavors helmed by your favorite artists. Between Thursday and Friday at CMJ, I caught Mac of Superchunk solo, a preview of the new album from the Friendly Fires’ Eleanor Friedberger, a piano man deluge from Wakey! Wakey’s Michael Grubbs and Poor Moon, the newly formed Seattle band featuring members of Fleet Foxes. Behold, my favorite sets from the second to last day of CMJ!
ZULU PEARLS (Berlin, GE)
Zulu Pearls are stateside for the first time in three years, touring behind No Heroes No Honeymoons and making me weak in the knees with surf rock tendencies. It was a dreary day in the Lower East Side, but these guys made the gloom dissipate right quick with solid songs that sound like that unnameable track from the radio you can’t get out of your head.
MICHAEL GRUBBS of WAKEY! WAKEY! (Brooklyn, NY)
I know it’s not cool to like a dude with a pretty voice who can play the piano and pass out cheesy jokes like party favors, but I guess that means I’m the nerdiest jerk alive, because I fell for it hook line and sinker yesterday at the Rockwood Music Hall. Wakey! Wakey!’s a fine band and all, but not necessarily my style: I think that if Michael Grubbs were to throw some grit into the milkier recesses of his balladry and get pissed off once in awhile he’d be unstoppable, but the Jason Mraz/Ben Folds etc. treatment doesn’t do it for me. That being said, he was great, he worked the crowd like a stocked cigarette girl and it was impossible to walk away from Grubbs’ set feeling anything but uplifted.
You know that episode of Mad Men from the last season, where Kinsey comes back and he’s into Hare Krishna and chanting and enlightenment and wearing a robe and stuff? Yeah, Poor Moon elicited a similar strain of euphoria from me throughout their rousing psych madrigals. I don’t know where they’re from, but I feel like these guys have to be from Vermont and that they need to make friends with Dr. Dog immediately so that they can all go on tour together and wear great knit beanies and drink kombucha together.
PORT ST. WILLOW (Brooklyn, NY)
Quite possibly the most meditative live performance I’ve ever seen. Port St. Willow, over the course of their half an hour or so on Pianos’ stage, played maybe three songs—their compositions are so expansive and layered that to compress them into a typical timeframe would squeeze the texture and warmth out of them. Nick Principe’s voice is flat-out beautiful and this auricular oasis was a welcome one amid the craziness that is Ludlow Street on the Friday night of CMJ.
AVA LUNA (Brooklyn, NY)
I made a deliberate effort not to listen to Ava Luna before seeing them live, because they’re buzzy, they come highly recommended and I didn’t want the astute words of my colleagues bouncing around in my head as I took it all in. Basically, I had no idea what to expect, but I was still floored and surprised by the mix of free-form jazz, surreal funk escape that unfurled over the course of half an hour in their stead. An additional round of applause for Carlos Hernandez, Becca Kauffman and Felicia Douglass, whose harmonies were so tight you could bounce a nickel off ‘em.
FOXYGEN (New York, NY/Olympia, WA)
At this point in the night, Pianos was a sardine can full of stoked and shitfaced 22-year-old kids who were thrilled to be at their first music festival, or freaking out about the fact that some of their friends were billed on an excellent showcase. For a sober person, this got real old real fast, and by the time Foxygen showed up (late) for their set and plowed through the crowd in a flurry of faux fur coats and bedhead, I was checked the fuck out. What brought me back in was the fact that these guys are the closest thing we’ll ever have to a human version of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. They were entertaining as hell, there songs were sharp and that drummer was one of the most frighteningly savvy players I’ve seen this whole week.
Check back throughout the week as we continue to recap CMJ 2012. For of-the-minute show updates from New York, follow Hilary Hughes on Twitter at @hilmonstah.
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Port St. Willow