“This is the 4th performance we’ve had in three days, here at this venue, on this stage,” Women’s lead singer muttered into the microphone as the four-piece began their set. Really, I probably could have left then. The hype and subsequent overbooking that has surrounded Women at this year’s CMJ Marathon seems to have taken its toll. Throughout their performance, Women seemed tired and disinterested, and likely with good reason. Justified or not, their performance fell flat, sounding and looking more like a lethargic Interpol clad in thermals than the taut pysch/industrial rock they have come to be known for.
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Adept may have the least literal band name of any of the groups I caught at the Subbacultcha! showcase. Throughout their 30 minute set, these fuzzed-out new wavers were the picture of inconsistency and at times gave the impression there was more than one band performing on the basement corner stage. Combining noise’s complex musical texture and new wave’s steadfast simplicity is a difficult balancing act. When they got it right, Adept were both intriguing and enthralling. But more often than not, the wall of caustic distortion created by the guitarist and vocalist broke free from driving drum beats and dissonant keys, creating a separation that pulled apart Adept’s delicate tailoring at the seams.
In her 45-minute long set at the Living Room, Theresa Anderson captured the most illusive and sought after element of a CMJ performance—complete captivation. There was a distinct buzz about Anderson on the Lower East Side tonight, but admittedly I had never heard of her. Yet, from the moment her bare feet stepped onto an off-white shag rug crowded with pedals and looping devices, it was clear she would deliver something special. Without a glance at the petite songstress, you would swear Anderson was operating with a full band complete with a slew of backup singers. She effortlessly looped drums, violin, guitar, and her own vocals over one another—patching together complete soundscapes that either glided over the audience with a subtle delicacy or bowled them over with the guttural power of a New Orleans soul singer. By the end of her performance, several photographers had put down their cameras, journalists had dropped their pens, and many in the packed house smiled sheepishly, their eyes all fixated on the powerful set Anderson was delivering.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of Bonne Aparte’s performance at the Cake Shop was what happened afterwards. Through a doorway that leads into the venue’s crowded backstage area, the band’s bodies draped themselves over cluttered shelves, panting as they poured water over their sweat drenched heads—as if they had just brought themselves to the brink of death and pulled back at the last minute. Technical excellence was not their forte, but it almost didn’t seem as if there was room for it. The four-piece roared through the Cake Shop’s basement with unabashed gusto, fueled by machine gun drums and belching distortion as they passed. What was left was a shell of a band, seemingly waiting for everybody else to catch up.
Romweber’s approximately rockabilly set alternated through solo drunken-songwriter segments—nonchalantly strummed on a retro black guitar, quite possibly modeled after one of Dali’s melting clocks—and duo performances with a drummer. Unaccompanied, he had a vaguely Elvisian swagger which was tolerable, if a little long winded—and in any case, that’s arguably a necessary evil; how else does one learn how to write good roots-rock tunes? This may seem unlikely being that he’s the titular figurehead, but things only took off once his slight elder sister Sara took to the skins. Romweber likes real distortion, the kind that comes from a complaining amp instead of a piddling little orange pedal, but even that can be trumped by the chaotic glitter of manic cymbals reflecting every which way. It’s like Meg White syndrome, but more competent. Is that an oxymoron?