WSBU’s Music Director, Kirk Windus tells us about his experience at CMJ Music Marathon.
The short version of this story would read something like: the CMJ Music Marathon played out in a haze of borough jumping, lots of music (some good, some not so good), venue crawling and overpriced drinks.
Perhaps that version of the story suffices for you. What it can’t capture, however, is the magical nature of the festival that’s so unlike the typical festival. There’s no fanny packs, no feather headdresses or “free high-five signs.” There’s still people doing too many mushrooms and taking their clothes off, but that’s just because it’s New York City. In truth, at surface level there’s nothing different about New York during CMJ, but inside the venues there’s bands from every different part of the music industry trying to break through, or playing to huge, fan-filled rooms.
Because CMJ is so different, I’ll break it down in different favorite moments. It truly is a marathon, and no one has ever wanted to read a play by play of a marathon.
COOLEST VENUE: Webster Hall My pick for favorite venue would get me a lot of slack in New York City, but that’s okay with me. Webster Hall is absolutely beautiful. It has a huge, open dance floor, but the high balcony above it compacts the space, making it just intimate enough that it doesn’t feel like a free-for-all. It may be one of the city’s few under-21 venues, but that doesn’t take away its beauty.
BEST SHOWCASE: ATO Records CMJ features showcases held by promoters and labels all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. ATO records held, in my opinion, one heck of a showcase. And there are two reasons I say that. One, Margaret Glaspy. The girl is super talented. She knows her way around a song, and her quirky but sultry, catchy voice was undeniably captivating. Second, Brittany Howard. That’s right, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes made a surprise appearance. I thought Matt was insane when he said he spotted her in the afternoon, but she was indeed present. She played the headlining spot that night with her side project, Thunderbitch. As usual she ripped on her guitar and hit notes you didn’t know you were real. She also did whiteface, which somehow wasn’t offensive. Who’d have thought?
SLEEPER SHOW: Car Seat Headrest The boys of Car Seat Headrest were very busy at CMJ’s. Their debut album on Matador records dropped on October 30th, so they were very present at CMJ. Their sound is an angsty mix between Death Cab For Cutie and Guided By Voices. Lead singer Will Toledo probably spends more time on the internet in his bedroom than any of us would care to know, but he’s a hell of a songwriter. Car Seat Headrest songs are a journey through all kinds of emotion, and their live shows are simply captivating.
BEST SHOW: Wet, Tobias Jesso Jr. Wet and Tobias Jesso Jr. played at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The two make a very interesting pairing as their sounds are completely different. Wet favors an electro-poppy sound, say a more somber Chvrches, while Jesso is the modern indie Paul McCartney. The two could hardly be more sonically different and brought completely different talents, but the contrast of a rigid, young live band (Wet) and the more flexible, wild stage antics of Jesso somehow just worked. Wet’s songs are catchy and sincere, and Jesso’s capture the essence of the blues, folk, pop, classic rock all at once. The arrangements take a new life live, filled out with full instrumentation, including a horn section.
COOLEST MOMENT: Proposal at Kate Nash Everyone searches for the perfect wedding proposal. But in the midst of a really rocking, tight set, Kate Nash took a break to make way for one of those rare, perfect proposals. She invited a homosexual couple on stage so they could tie up their engagement plans. The coolest part still, though, is that Nash herself was so flustered emotionally that she decided to play a couple songs without her backing band. She was so invested emotionally in the amazing display of love that had just occurred that she forgot lyrics, missed some chords and notes. But the raw, authentic emotion was something that you don’t often see anymore. For me, that moment was worth the whole weekend.
BIGGEST DOWNER: I racked up way too much money in parking tickets. Please donate to the Kirk Windus parking ticket fund. I’m setting up a kickstarter.