An amazing evening of music from a group of female-fronted acts kicks CMJ off with enormous, life-affirming fanfare. Wild Flag, Eleanor Friedberger and Hospitality at the Bowery Ballroom on 10/18.
Hospitality should be doing quite well for itself by this time next year. No longer a more stripped-down affair, the band now plays a winning brand of warm, Americana-inflected rock, with just a touch of twee. Vocalist Amber Papini proved herself a natural charmer, leading her group with a disarming sort of speak-singing, while her male bandmates provided airy falsetto harmonies in a higher register. The guitar work here usually stayed in solidly melodic, Wilco-toward-Belle-&-Sebastian territory, creating quietly resonant waves of gentle melancholy; however, occasional -- and very fleeting -- bursts of dissonance brought a welcome St. Vincent-esque sense of adventure to a few tunes. Though Papini often seemed to be singing about loss (more than one track alluded to a lover leaving for Japan), she and Hospitality do what classic American pop-rock does best: they make sadness sound pretty happy. It’s difficult to imagine not feeling better with Papini’s songs on your soundtrack.
Eleanor Friedberger, one half of much-loved art-rock duo Fiery Furnaces, recently released her solo debut, Last Summer. To many Furnaces fans, the record must have sounded like something of a surprise: where that band trades in self-consciously difficult and forward-thinking arrangements, Friedberger’s solo material harks back to simple, radio-friendly ‘70’s rock. She began the evening’s set with a quick solo number, the unrecorded “Stare at the Sun”, wowing the crowd with her confidence and natural stage presence (she looks to be roughly nine feet tall) before her band entered. Friedberger dressed the part of a rock star, clad in an arena-ready ensemble of yellow Oxford, orange cords, loose paisley jacket, and ankle boots, but she brings an air of camaraderie to the stage, all contagious earnestness and no aloof posturing. She manages to do so while conjuring up the titans of the ‘70s-to-early-‘80s golden age of female singer-songwriters: Patti Smith, Joan Jett, The Pretenders, Joni Mitchell -- all of these disparate artists show their mark on Friedberger’s material. With her rapid-fire and vivid lyrics, her clear mastery of the guitar as emotional tool, and her steady, unpretentious delivery, Friedberger could soon prove herself a worthy heir to those classic artists, too.
By the time Wild Flag finished their scorching set, every band labeled as “chillwave” had burst into flames, forever. You’re welcome. The return of Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (not to mention Helium's Mary Timony) to making music saw critics and fans alike swoon like schoolchildren. And for good reason -- these women are some of the most talented musicians of the past several decades. We need them around. Wild Flag’s set at the Bowery Ballroom had the feel of a Greatest Hits show, even though the band has only recently released its first album. The crowd devoured every chord and cymbal crash, proving that tracks like pogo-friendly “Romance” and the searing “Racehorse” are already on their way to becoming classics. Brownstein is a rock goddess, bounding around the stage with a swagger that would make even Kanye West doubt himself; she ran through an arsenal of high kicks and power windmills and bass-drum-jumping all while handling her Gibson SG like a fifth limb. Mary Timony provided a nice contrast to Brownstein’s aggression, projecting a slightly stoned, slightly silly, completely endearing attitude as she tapped out knotty solos (sometimes with her guitar atop her head). Imagine what a Wild Flag show will sound like in a few years, when the band has three records of insta-classics under their belts.