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It doesn’t matter if you drop psych-tinged electro-metal, Bo Diddley bravado, or a homage to your hip-hop heroes—all you need to make it at CMJ are guts and a few good gimmicks. As we crest the hill and start down the other side, bad bands begin to blend, and the Belles are the ones who find new ways to shake the crowd from its sleepy stupor. It doesn’t take much: a righteous solo, a robo-teen arm gesture, a bit of unexpected a capella. It can be anything really. Except spoken-word poetry over flute fills (we’re looking at you, Devendra). That, we simply cannot abide.


BELLES OF THE BALL
An Albatross, Lavender Diamond, Parts & Labor


HONORABLE MENTION
Apples in Stereo, Death Vessel, Deerhoof, Dirty Faces, Erase Errata, Findlay Brown, Heavy Trash, Ladyhawk, Loney Dear, Madlib, Oakley Hall, Percee P, Jai Alai Savant, Skeletons & the Girl-Faced Boys, Wildchild


NICE TRY, GUY
American Princes, Archie Bronson Outfit, Sam Bisbee, Blue Cheer, Alex Delivery, The Diableros, Fink, Guilty Simpson, Home, J-Rocc, Med, Peanut Butter WolfMary Timony 


BATHROOM BREAKS
Exceptor, Mod Wheel Mood, Moon and Moon feat. Devendra Banhart, Starlite Desperation


Belles of the Ball

AN ALBATROSS @ Knitting Factory
When An Albatross singer Edward B. Gieda III introduces his set saying, “We are here to blow your face,” you better drop your jacket and clench your fists—things are about to get fucking hairy. The band’s psych-tinged electro-metal thrashes like none other, and its lead singer is an honest-to-God masochist, throwing his body against any surface that will have him (this includes the floor, the ceiling, the crowd, the mic stand, and possibly, you). Guitarist Jake Lisowski and bassist Jason Hudak don’t drop melodies as much as solo non-stop, flashing through crazy, complex riffs with the ease of dumb punks playing power chords. Don’t get me wrong: the band’s records aren’t that good, noise-metal’s not my thing, and these kids scare the hell out of me. Still, when the craziest live band alive asks you who you are, you’ve got no choice but to stand up and scream: “I AM A LAZER VIKING!” (AP)


LAVENDER DIAMOND @ Northsix
A pink princess costume, a prom corsage, a tiara—Lavender Diamond’s Becky Sharp is clearly the star of her own internal fairy tale. With a delivery that falls somewhere between Marilyn Monroe and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, she intersperses rambling stories about Tibetan burial parties with radiant ‘40s pop, creating freak-folk songs like none other. Her band shuffles along engagingly, an abbreviated drum set, keyboards, and guitar putting rhythm and timbre behind her. But it’s Sharp’s show, really; she glows as she sings, embellishing her words with grade-school theatrical gestures. “I love this world,” she says finally. “This is the best planet.”  (JK)


PARTS & LABOR @ Tonic
As the band sets up—BJ Warshaw in Adam West’s batman suit (no way did he get it from Keaton), drummer Chris Weinstock in a white bedsheet, noise-knobber/singer Dan Friel in, um, regular clothes—volunteers circulate ear plugs, a sure warning that this one’s going to be loud. Just back from Europe, Friel blows through his travel-damaged amp in the first song, then the band blows through everything else—sound systems, ears, minds—in the noise-damaged, drum-rampaged, anthem-hooked tunes that follow. The set breaks out two new songs and closes triumphantly with ass-kickers “Stay Afraid” and “The Great Divide.” With or without ear plugs, this, my friends, is something to hear. (JK)


Honorable Mention

APPLES IN STEREO @ Pianos
Elephant Six’s fuzz-pop existentialists have been off the map for five years, but songs from a new album slated for early 2007 seem just as smart and fizzily exuberant as anything from the band’s back catalog. Today, they’re breaking in a new drummer (John Dufilo from Deathray Davies, who replaces Hilarie Sidney), hawking a ringtone, and trying out a bunch of new material. “Oh the world it’s made of energy/ Oh the world it’s synchronicity,” sings Scheider above a haze of strums and tambourine jangles (that’s Bill Doss in the back on keyboard and tambourine). A perfect cocktail of rock and pop. (JK)


FINDLAY BROWN @ Northsix
Stiffed by Sub Pop’s way oversubscribed Bowery Show, I find myself in Brooklyn’s Northsix, where British psych-folk guitarist Findlay Brown is a late addition to an already promising bill. Brown—gangly in skinny jeans and leather jacket—draws luminous, timeless tunes from his guitar, picking under his cool, ‘60s-folk voice. “I Will” is particularly wonderful, full of hanging overtones and subtle guitar flourishes.  Minimally presented—it’s just Brown on a stool with a guitar—the songs are nonetheless minor-key stunners. (JK)


DEATH VESSEL @ Northsix
Eerily high, antique-finished, darkly moody, and beautiful, Death Vessel’s eccentric debut was one of last year’s best and least-appreciated records. Though the CD incorporates about a dozen players, tonight Thibodeau is solo, crouched over his guitar, long black hair falling across his face and shoulders. His guitar playing—a combination of long, low droning notes with more delicate minor-key picking—is good, especially on closer “Blowing Cave.” Still it’s the voice that you remember, androgynous and spiritual as it crests the upper registers. (JK)


DEERHOOF @ Hiro Ballroom
Exuberant avant-pop, ahoy! Deerhoof are equal parts pokerfaced singer-bassist, insane guitarist, and insaner drummer; and the chemistry between the three is spot on. The band pulls out song after song of seamless disjoint, punctuating ferocious instrumental passages with self-consciously light, campy lyrics as bassist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki vamps deadpan with robo-teen-bop arm gestures and head tilts. E.g.: Two minutes of total fucking noise riot followed by “la la!”—as if it were so easy. (MM)


DIRTY FACES @ Tonic
This sludge-encrusted, blues-infected outfit from Pittsburgh puts on one of the best shows of the night, evoking (but not precisely copying) the monster riffs and thunderous basslines of MC5. The band hits highlights from its latest, Get Right with God, all murderous raunch and vamp, as well as older songs like “Superamerican” and “Motorcycle Crashing.” Frontman T Glitter is an electrifying presence in his Pittsburgh cap, howling, doubling over the mic, and rampaging through the crowd. (JK)


ERASE ERRATA @ Hiro Ballroom
I saw Erase Errata open for the Gossip a month and a half ago, but this set showed a much smoother version of the band, with Jenny Hoyston talk-singing more extemporaneously to offset the fiercely regimented undercarriage of the band’s sound. Nightlife ruled the evening: Ellie Erickson’s omnivorous bass playing coupled with drummer Bianca Sparta’s militant, fill-crazy flood created an apocalyptic mood, one underscored by Hoyston’s political nuance and commanding jazz-club delivery. A dark reflection of the current cultural climate and the disaffectedness that pervades so much of America? Yes, but also post-punk at its finest. (MM)


HEAVY TRASH @ Pianos
“Do you love country mu-uu-uu-uu-sic?” Jon Spencer asks, leaning way out over the stage and fixing us with his mad-preacher stare. Heavy Trash, his rockabilly project with Matt Verta-Ray, has very little to do with mainstream country – it’s more the place where Bo Diddley beats meet Elvis bravado, where rhythms are carried by lightning-fast stand-up bass and broken-down drums. We hear the raucous “Justine Alright” and “Lover Street,” a menacing “Dark Haired Rider,” the almost delicate “Gatorade” (“This is an old country song…it’s about eating pussy,” says Spencer). The show ends in a tent-revival frenzy, Spencer exhorting us all to love one another. Amen. (JK)


LADYHAWK @  Tonic
A large crowd suddenly materializes for Ladyhawk, the latest in a long line of guitar heroes from the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, in this case). Grimy, grungy, and downbeat, the band is not without a certain black humor. Duffy Driediger announces the first four songs with Foreigner titles, and I’ve idiotically written down “Urgent,” “Cold As Ice” and “(I’ve Been Waiting) For a Girl Like You” before I catch on. Ladyhawk’s debut has two truly great songs—“Dugout” and “Jackknife”—and audience members headbang along to both, mouths working the words. (JK)


LONEY DEAR @ Arlene’s Grocery
More pop-friendly, hand-clapped tunes, fragile, folk-ish revelations intercut with bubbly, Elephant Six-ish choruses. Loney Dear’s Emil Svanangen (who has collaborated with the geography-challenged Swedes in I’m From Barcelona) sings in a high, delicate voice, often breaking out a capella from the percolating nine-person exuberance of the chorus. “The City The Airport” is maybe the happiest song ever about unhappiness, breaking observations that “The City is killing me” with breezy, tambourine-paced chants. (JK)


MADLIB @ B.B. King’s
This genius of modern music strolls out with a P.S.A.: you don’t need weed to enjoy Madlib; but Madlib’ll sure make you appreciate mota that much more. Multiple personalities, conversations with conversational records, and negative space—these are just a few of Madlib’s favorite things. Of course, brother Otis sniffs in search of the zooted. Perhaps he’s forgotten that his record label is not the only one celebrating a ten-year anniversary—the city’s been on the wagon for about the same amount of time. Still, he perseveres, stops and drops Quasimoto, Madvillain, and Jaylib cuts before rolling out. He ends the set abruptly by running off-stage, reminding the audience of the long strange trip Stone’s Throw has taken. Here’s to ten and many score more. (DN)


OAKLEY HALL @ Tonic
I get into an argument with the guy next to me about whether drone-and-twangers Oakley Hall are alt.country or not. He says yes. I say, okay, but only about 25 percent of the time, and mostly in the tracks with female vocals. What about when all four of the singers lock into those tight old-timey harmonies? Or when the lead guitarist breaks into an electric solo that would sound bluegrass on an acoustic? Well, maybe, but there’s a vast psychedelic space to cuts like “Volume Rambler” that will never be country, no matter how hard it twangs. (JK)


PERCEE P @ B.B. King’s
“You heard of Percee P / Your whole crew versus me? / That’ll be mass murder.” How does one own a line like that? 1. Stay humble. 2. Keep your family close (even if it means having your older brother as a hype man and your cousin as director of photography). 3. Practice, practice, practice. Percee is merciless with the verses, quick to spit a cappella better than any man, woman, or thing, regardless of the weather. Yet, he also spends much of his set thanking the forefathers of hip-hop, which seems odd because he’s one of their peers. As hip-hop moves deeper into middle age, Percee is showing us all how to maintain: don’t stop the rock, y’all. (DN)


JAI ALAI SAVANT @ Lit Lounge
As Ali G would say, “‘Nuff respek!” to the local hustle. Sure, the group is too rusty for the radio. And they barely rework the Sublime devolution of the Slits’ punky reggae. But, this Philadelphia group is diligent enough with the beat to make a hotbox of sweaty hipsters sway. Light-hearted gems like “Scarlett Johansson, Why Don’t You Love Me?” may buoy the group’s depth, but they perform with an unflagging energy that explains their estimable association with the Afro Punk movement. (DN)


SKELETONS & THE GIRL-FACED BOYS @ Knitting Factory Tap Bar
Avant-jazz noise-niks Skeletons & the Girl-Faced Boys don’t need to start their set—they just segue in from soundcheck. The band’s skronky sax freak-outs aren’t everyone’s cup of coffee, but for the few jazz nerds in the room, this stuff is Taster’s Choice. A double-sax assault hammers hard over the deep, dirty growl of trombone as the band’s bassist and drummer do their darndest to keep a steady rhythm (they’re the only thing keeping this thing from spiraling out of control). Intermittent vocals are an inoffensive adornment—no more, no less—but the real fun is watching these boys rattle their bones. (AP)


WILDCHILD @ B.B. King’s
“Say ‘real hip-hop!’” And a packed B.B. King’s responds. While Prince Paul struggled to keep the same venue’s dance floor packed two nights earlier, Wildchild gets the entire club jumping with just a few words. What is this image worth? $20 at the door. Dallas Penn reminds us of the paucity of polysyllabic words in today’s hip-pop. Yet this crowd recites lines to an album called Secondary Protocol. How much do you think these kids paid for their edumacation? $0, $10 or $20, depending on whether it was download, CD, or LP. And, through it all, an entire roster of artists (who could easily headline on their own) back Wildchild and his guests, cutting his beats, fixing microphones, and so on. A responsible friend? Priceless. (DN)


Nice Try, Guy

AMERICAN PRINCES @ Pianos
American Princes’ jittery rock sounds bipolar on their record Less and Less, with hair-on-fire anxiety melting abruptly into falsetto harmonies and jagged strumming breaking for seductive melodies. Live, it’s all one sweaty, headlong romp, guitarists David Slade and Colins Kilgore trading off stinging riffs and buoyant “do-do-dos.” The set continues to flog the band’s slept-on third album, out since April, but Kilgore says they’re planning a little recording while they’re in town.  (JK)


ARCHIE BRONSON OUTFIT (KEXP taping) @ Gigantic Studios
In a fourth-floor Tribeca recording studio, England’s blues-rock primitivists are taping a segment for Seattle’s KEXP. Maybe a dozen listeners sit outside the booth, perched on chairs or crouched on the floor, the power of their slashing, sexually-charged songs muffled through the glass. “Dead Funny” and “Dart for My Sweetheart” are especially frustrating: you can’t see through the crowd or hear through the partition. Love the band, love the station, but this is no way to see ABO. (JK)


SAM BISBEE @ Living Room
The local “alternative” rock station began staging annual “almost-acoustic” concerts when I was in junior high school. The concerts were Lollapalooza-style affairs with the year’s hot new radio stars. As much as the shows stank of corporate favoritism, the acts that kept to the event’s theme and reworked their repertoire often made the shows an oddball highlight (acoustic Primus turning into a Zappa tribute band, anyone?). I don’t think Bisbee intentionally went this route, but it sure sounded like it. Maybe with a shade more fuss and fanfare, his music would spring to life? (DN)


BLUE CHEER @ Knitting Factory Main Space
An obscurest delight, Blue Cheer were early-‘60s proto-metal princes, rocking hard blues and nasty psych like few (if any) before. Since disbanding in 1972, their legacy has grown to myth-like proportions as people have realized that they were the definitive link between hard rock and metal. Unfortunately their licks (for all their ingenuity) can’t quite match their legacy. To their credit, the reunited group rocks to high heaven, dropping blues riffs over gloriously gruff psychedelic screams. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong—they really are remarkable. The problem is that the band’s transitional style is stilted and slow compared to the sounds it inspired. (AP)


ALEX DELIVERY @ Tonic
Halloween gets a full-moon extension when NYC’s Alex Delivery takes the stage in a tin woodman (woodgirl?) suit, fright wig, and gorilla mask. Not technically a Brah band yet—the group only has one self-released full-length—but you can nonetheless see how their long, hallucinogenic grooves, electronically altered sounds (there’s a guy on the floor doing nothing but knobs), and powerful drumming could soon make them such. Best cut comes last as samba-style drummed samples are laced with horns in a lysergic Latin groove. (JK)


THE DIABLEROS @ Sin-É
When the Minutemen implored a generation to fly the flannel, little did they know their rallying cry would be co-opted in such a literal way. The mountie-casual look has taken on a life of its own. Not grunge, but modern MOR—call them “KCRW/KEXP subscribers.” An appropriate uniform, considering both flannel and the outlook of those stations share the same principal values: comfort, functionality, and a homely appearance. So, imagine the Diableros wrapping you in their rock and cradling you into a middle-aged slumber. Memories of banana peel experimentation, dire fan letters, and endless mixtapes abound, until you scarcely realize how mediocre your taste in music has become. (DN)


FINK @ Northsix
Fink is the only folk singer on hip-hop powerhouse Ninjatune—he got the deal after working as a beat crafter for the label’s artists. The only trace, tonight, of his hip-hop past is the rhythm he pounds out with his hand on the guitar, giving spine and tension to his clever soul-folk songs. He plays a song about the pink wristband that may (or may not, ahem, Sub Pop) get you places you want to be at music festivals, alongside sharp and plaintive ballads like “All Cried Out,” “Distance and Time,” and “Pills in My Pocket.”  (JK)


GUILTY SIMPSON @ B.B. King’s
Though he’s the winner of my favorite emcee name, Guilty Simpson has a ways to go before he’ll be more than a clever moniker. Simpson runs through his budding discography, buttressed by some notable J. Dilla (the quasi-patron saint presiding over this evening, as every artist paid tribute to the late producer-emcee numerous times) production. His weeded baritone and emphatic enunciation is an easy listen, but his persona is still in search of direction. Stay tuned, because there’s more than just a punchline rapper in that hulking body. (DN)


HOME @ Tonic
All rock records are about sex one way or another, but Home’s last album, Sexteen, was remarkably unsublimated (one song was essentially a recorded call with a sex-line operator musing about hand jobs). Their set tonight is rough and fuzzy, a mix of grinding rock and psychedelic distortion, loud and passionate but only intermittently transcendent. (JK)


J-ROCC @ B.B. King’s
Beat Junkie and D.J. virtuoso J-Rocc can do his famed James Brown juggling routines in his sleep. And he looks sleepy as he runs through the requisite “Unwind Yourself” and “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat.” Yet, he’s still so far ahead of the pack, you can’t help but marvel. And, after all, tonight is not meant to be his night: he’s serving as house DJ for the bulk of the performers, running through the start, stop, kill, scratch routines on auto-pilot. (DN)


MED @ B.B. King’s
So crisp and so clean! Rare is the rapcat who is consistent on all fronts: timing, lyrical turns, and temperament. No wonder he can score beat sponsorship from M.F. Doom, Just Blaze, Madlib, and J. Dilla. Even more impressive is his beat selection; he finds commonalities between collaborations and makes them sound coherent. But, try understanding what he’s talking about half the time—that there’s a problem. End sum? Pleasantly memorable, and another one to keep an eye on. (DN)


PEANUT BUTTER WOLF @ B.B. King’s
Loosely overseeing the proceedings, Stone’s Throw label honcho and producer Peanut Butter Wolf brings more jokes than tricks to tonight’s function. He still uses his share of the time to shine with his newest toy: DVD DJ-ing. The result: a mix of Music Box/Yo! MTV Raps familiars. Funny, maybe the crowd really is a complete West Coast transplant—haven’t any of these kids seen The Bridge? Well, the crowd still bugs and I wonder, “Who needed Lupe anyway?” Here’s the Golden Age party hip-hop’s G.O.P. has been searching for all along. (DN)


MARY TIMONY @ Hiro Ballroom
Mary Timony is smart to prioritize her methodical staircase fingerings and antipop song structures over nightingale vocals, which, while distinctive, are best in moderation. Playing with bassist Chad Molter and drummer Devin Ocampo (Medications) and pulling mostly from Ex Hex, Timony’s set is by all accounts superb, though the performance is hampered by her modesty. Yeah, we all get tired of rock-star posturing, but Timony can afford to curb the humility. Her music deserves better. (MM)


Bathroom Breaks

EXCEPTOR @ Hiro Ballroom
The stalls in the women’s bathroom are dark and creepy, and there’s a woman by the sinks squirting soap and hoping I’ll tip her. I can still hear the bland platitudes of a singer who is trying to be Thurston Moore over a confused backdrop of bass-clarinet moans and random metallic thumping. But at least I can’t see him trying to dance to this arrhythmic, stupid music. Instead, I’m looking at the array of snacks and hygiene products available for fees on the counter and wishing I had cash for a Twix bar. I could use some chocolate. And caramel. The wafer part is good too. The most exciting thing about this bathroom break is that when I turn to my right, I notice Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof two sinks away, brushing her teeth vigorously. (MM)


MOD WHEEL MOOD @ Mo Pitkins


“Nine Inch Nails meets the Postal Service?” That sounds flattering. “Member of NIN likes Death Cab’s beats?” Warmer, but still implies a congenial impression. “Guy discovers personal voice while accompanying himself with a sampler and moog?” The tech talk suggests a degree of novelty or skill. “Burnt hipster felches electronic gadgets and moans about the emptiness of (his) life?” Disco. (DN)

MOON AND MOON FEAT. DEVENDRA BANHART @ Knitting Factory Tap Bar
Freak folk is already in a precarious position, hovering tenuously on the edge of overindulgence. The last thing the scene needs (and the world for that matter) is Devendra Banhart intoning trite spoken-word poetry over flute fills and campfire drums (did I mention there was a bellydancer clapping finger bells!?!). Banhart—dressed in a shirt out of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and bedecked in a series of faux-sacred talismans—levels incantations like an angry wizard, but my guess is magic cards are more this band’s style. +1 for going all out. -100 for killing the scene you helped create. (AP)


STARLITE DESPERATION @ Lit Lounge
Not long ago, I caught myself describing Picasso’s takes on cubism as “two-dimensional.” Somehow, I forgot the depth he evokes from his fragmented, Escher-like terrains. The apparent simplicity of individual shapes in fact clash and collide with each other to push the composition back and forth, here and there. This trick of the mind turned out to be a refreshing reminder of how a genius can express so much with such apparent simplicity. On the other hand, some artists are indeed two-dimensional. Or simply one. (DN)


 


 

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