CMJ 2009

Day 5 - Imaad Wasif + Violens + Sharon von Etten

by Stephen Stirling

25 October 2009

The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival invades New York City this week. Here's the latest from PopMatters' writers on the beat. Words and Pictures by Stephen Stirling

Imaad Wasif
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
Imaad Wasif is chock full of two things: Hair and love. In case you weren’t certain of the latter half of that combo, Wasif took the time to remind the crowd at Bowery Ballroom… after every song: “I love the city. I love being insane. I love being insanely in love.” Though Wasif was somewhat awkward while trying to make conversation with the crowd between songs, he was at home while performing his brand of classic rock. All of his songs, all of which he was quick to point out were “love songs,” were well-crafted and well-performed. Wasif was the star of the show, but would have been helped if he had a more animated supporting cast—his bassist and drummer seemed disinterested no matter how much Wasif thrashed about the stage. I’m not certain I really felt the love like Wasif, but perhaps if I find the man he awkwardly hugged at the end of his set, he could shed some light.

Bowery Ballroom, New York City
I think perhaps the worst thing that can befall a band at CMJ is to be average. Over the years, the extremes of CMJ are what are cemented in my mind—the misery of the worst and the joy of the best. I don’t think I’ll remember Violens show a few years down the road. They weren’t bad. But when they went through their set of ethereal pop-rock fairly seamlessly, it just didn’t leave an impression. When all you’ve got is 45 minutes in a sea of hundreds of bands, you better make some waves. Violens just went through the motions, and in doing so stepped back into a large crowd instead of out in front of it.

Sharon von Etton
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
“I hope you guys weren’t expecting a metal band,” Sharon von Etten said meekly after performing her first song. “It’s not going to get much louder than this.” That was just fine, because for the 45 minutes she took the stage, the Bowery Ballroom stood in captivated silence. As a small woman standing along on stage with a hulking red hollow-body guitar, von Etten isn’t exactly the most powerful figure. But her voice is so penetrating, and her delivery so effortless that her southern ballads soared easily over the rest of the evening’s lineup.  As von Etten cooed, a survey of the crowd showed many—including TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone—weren’t watching.  Rather, they stood with their eyes closed, necks gently cocked back, swaying slightly as they let von Etten’s silky voice take them away.

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