Santos Party House, New York City
“This is all we got tonight,” sang Free Energy in raggedy, homespun harmonies. It was the sentiment, however, not the vocals, which resonated in their early set. They played an agreeable synthesis of classic, at times psychedelic, rock (two raging, and dueling, Epiphone Les Pauls) and post-punk dance music (propulsive rhythms and a skinny, dancing front man), instantly becoming the best bar band around without even playing a cover. Whether their sound could convince a dance floor is dubious, despite their tambourine and cowbell qualifications. As new additions to the DFA family, though, I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong reasonably soon.
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Bell House, Brooklyn
I hate to slap on labels like “buzz” or “bandwagon,” but when every song intro in some way replicates The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and then develops into a more Japandroids concoction, it’s hard not to. The resurgence of, often over-calculated, garage music has fully breached Brooklyn boarders, and New Zealand’s Surf City is wallowing in the flood zone. Though pleasant sounding they lacked innovation, making it harder to appreciate the soothing melodies and hints at surf rock that my ears usually welcome.
Mercury Lounge, New York City
It’s tough to perform electronic music live. The availability of reliable, touch-sensitive MIDI interfaces has made this somewhat easier, but still, if you don’t have a Daft Punk LED pyramid or a primo sound system it’s difficult to keep people interested if they’re not moving their feet. But when Javelin began setting up their day-glo boom box collection—which they use to amplify their music using an old FM radio transmitter—I thought for sure they’d have a shot a bucking this trend. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Javelin’s 45-minute set was plagued with sound problems that muddied their infectious brand of dance pop from the start. Couple that with a dead audience and Tom Van Buskirk feeling the need to rap-sing over several songs that had no lyrics to begin with and I had had enough. Javelin has a few more CMJ shows this year, but I think they need to take a mulligan on this one.
The Bodega Girls
Piano’s, New York City
The Bodega Girls know how to throw a party. Unfortunately, that’s about all they know how to do. While three out of five in the mostly-male-group take turns yelling catch phrases into a microphone, dancing, and playing drums on a computer, only two members play actual instruments. The face paint and general “we only came here to party” attitude did nothing but subvert any noticeable talent these guys had, only adding to the idea that sometimes a basement party should just stay in the basement.
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.
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.