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Thursday, Oct 22, 2009
The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival invades New York City this week. Here's the latest from PopMatters' writers on the beat.

Suckers
Bowery Poetry Club, New York City
If there’s any way to graciously play 90’s alternative rock at this point, this would be it.  Kaleidoscopic projected visuals emulating quilts and snow-capped mountains give way to vaguely homosexual encounters between cartoon peacocks with harps for tails; meanwhile, the performers gradually move between emulating the Foo Fighters and the better aspects of Better Than Ezra (that last one is indeed meant as
praise.)  I’m as nostalgic for those days as anybody, but a contemporary glaze kept the word “retro” firmly at bay.  Good for them.



Fool’s Gold
Bowery Poetry Club, New York City
Driving this band is former soloist and current front man Luke Top—who recalls a young David Byrne in both looks and stage impact.  The proposition that a set like this is another example of indie-rock’s continuous co-opting of Afropop (also Byrne-like, actually) is perhaps a tenuous one in the wake of you-know-who, but it’s nevertheless pretty hard to resist.  The performance, that is, not the idea.  But yeah, that too.



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Wednesday, Oct 21, 2009
The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival invades New York City this week. Here's the latest from PopMatters' writers on the beat.

Kingston
Red Bull Space, New York City
The sort of indie rock band that probably has no problem labeling itself as such, Kingston is led by a shaggy-haired frontman apparently so chosen more for his love of the attention than any other obvious qualifications.  Engaging drums, but between the words “thank” and “you” during that last climactic fill I somehow forgot literally all the lyrics and riffs from the songs they’d just performed (I know because I was trying to write this down at the time).  I give this two kiwis out of a possible five, but to be fair, I was getting pretty frustrated trying to figure out what this image had to do with New Zealand, CMJ, indie rock, or, you know, anything.



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Monday, Oct 19, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

This is one duo whose music is equally as interesting as their story.  Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero began in Mexico City and traveled to Ireland to make their way in music.  From busking to officially breaking into the music scene, they garnered a following devoted enough to guarantee their success.  Selling out Chicago’s Riviera Theater was no shock for what are now accomplished musicians, but what may have been surprising is the utter joy that accompanied their obvious talent.


Like fellow musician José González, Rodrigo y Gabriela are incredibly proficient in guitar, capable of performing with daunting layers of intricacy.  Unlike González, however, you get a much fuller sense of personality with Rodrigo y Gabriela, which makes their performance richly entertaining and more complete.  Often, Gabriela seemed blissful while Rodrigo kneeled to play or went out to the lip of the stage.


What all three musicians have in common though is how thrilling it is to watch their fingers move on their guitars.  For those in the back, or in the balcony, who weren’t able to see, these motions were emphasized with large silhouetted visuals behind the pair, making for a vivid visual setting.  Needless to say, they also showed a great sense of chemistry between them, with Gabriela often looking at Rodrigo intently or with a lovely smile.  No doubt this connection helps keep their guitar rhythms so accurate.



Rodrigo y Gabriela draw from an eclectic array of songs to construct both covers and medleys of various recognizable guitar riffs.  The pair has been called by some “Flamenco Metal,” which does partially describe their sound.  Their 100-minute long set felt fluid and dynamic, each song rushing into another seamlessly and with very little banter.  The prominent riff from The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” got some applause early on.  From classical music to metal, it was also heartening to see such a diverse crowd enjoying an equally diverse set of musical references.



Overall, their set weighed most heavily on their third release, 2009’s 11:11, which was very well received by their fans.  When Rodrigo announced that they’d be focusing on playing songs from this album, he got an enthusiastic response.  The most exciting surprise of the night, however, was when they brought out Metallica’s current bass player, Robert Trujillo, to perform “Orion” with them as a trio.  He helped elevate the song to epic proportions.  Rodrigo’s use of a beer bottle for a slide also succeeded in creating a spooky sort of effect.


The sold out crowd was active throughout the night, spontaneously clapping and dancing as the group’s dexterity created a landscape of sound that often evolved from gentle musings to intense anthems.  It was easy to feel that their proficient renditions were complete even without the well known vocals that originally accompanied many of the songs.  Rewarding the crowd with an encore that included Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” they brought the night to a satisfying conclusion. 



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Monday, Oct 19, 2009
Words and Pictures by John Bohannon

Os Mutantes have carved out an odd niche for themselves in the current music world.  The initial “wow” factor of the band’s reunion is gone, and the trend-crazed fans have seemed to fall off a bit, leaving only the true disciples along for the ride.  With very few exceptions the band’s actual fans came out of the woodwork for their show at New York City’s Webster Hall, and, let me tell you, this blew the pants clear off their mediocre-at-best showing during the Pitchfork Music Festival.


Rather than being surrounded by a bunch of clueless bandwagon jumpers, this was the real deal.  Sergio Dias led his (relatively) new troop through 90 minutes of psychedelic infused samba, touching on both relics and new gems from their first album in 35 years, Haih or Amortecedor.  The most impressive element of the night came from the addition of female vocalist Bia Mendes, replacing former vocalist Zélia Duncan.  Filling the shoes of original member Rita Lee is no small task—she went on to be the most successful of the group—but Mendes has the required fervor and spunk that fits right into Mutantes quirky image.  Not only that but she is also an absolute phenom behind the mic.  Her vocal directions on the classic “Baby” were sultry, and downright convincing that she deserved this gig.  Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks so.  There is also a Facebook group entitled “I want to party with Bia Mendes.”  It’s contagious, I know.


My main complaint with their show at the Pitchfork Festival was the lack of songs in their native tongue.  English songs have never been Mutantes strong suit, but, thankfully, last night there was an extreme shortage and, instead, an overabundance of Portuguese tracks, largely due to the new album’s material and also Tom Ze’s influence, I imagine.  Speaking of Tom Ze’s influence, Os Mutantes has all of a sudden started treading the waters of dark psychedelia… and it’s extraordinary.  Ze has been cranking out some often atonal, strange beat-driven recordings over the past several years, and his influence is both appreciated and admired on the new Mutantes recordings.  This being said, it was a fantastic showing and revived faith om their recent incarnation.  A future without Mutantes is one I don’t want to live in, so bring on the strange brew.


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Sunday, Oct 18, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

The artist, songwriter, musician, and overall celebrated tortured genius Daniel Johnston performed a capricious set Wednesday night at the Highline Ballroom in New York City.  While his severe bi-polar condition and episodes have mythologized his persona and recordings they have also erected a dubious boundary within is work, one between mind and reality, good and evil.  One thing, however, remains painfully clear:  Mr. Johnston’s songs are haunting vignettes of concentrated emotion, providing mainstream fans, as well as artists, a continuous well of authentic sentimentality, often replete with humor.  Though Mr. Johnston frequently cites the humor overshadowing his music (and favorites like “Speeding Motorcycle” easily conveyed this at the Highline) many songs are hesitantly, and uncomfortably, comic, especially after seeing Mr. Johnston’s demons delineated in the acclaimed 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.  Wednesday he shared a recent dream:  “I had a dream last night this guy was sentenced to death for attempted suicide.  And that guy was me!  And I’m sitting in the back of the courtroom saying ‘No, no, no, you got the wrong guy!’”  The resounding laughter presented the obvious question if people were laughing at or with Mr. Johnston.  Either way people screamed his name and cheered wildly during his solo set, even while singing sympathetic lines like “I love you all but I hate myself.”  Opening band the Capitol Years (Weezer-harmonizing indie pop) then joined Johnston for his second set, accompanying him on both his own numbers, like “Fake Records of Rock and Roll” and “True Love Will Find You in the End” from his latest Is and Always Was, as well as some poignant Beatles covers, “I’m So Tired” and “Day in the Life.”  Often times his brother Dick played along on acoustic guitar as Mr. Johnston’s uncontrollably fidgety hands gave up on guitar and also inadvertently unplugged his mic several times, which also prompted wild cheers of encouragement (“You don’t need that thing Daniel!”)  Daniel’s own ambitions were always to be a famous artist, but what cost that imposes on his own condition is, at best, difficult to measure and unsettling to endure.  Throughout the set his hands tremored and social anxiety loomed.  Hopefully his parents and brother can successfully enshrine his body of work so that ultimately they aren’t undermined, or glorified, as a result of his accompanying condition.


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