A play in one act, taken from actual events
The setting: Pianos bar, lower east side of Manhattan (cheapest beer: nothing below $5 for bottles, whether it's Bud or Red Stripe). Bands' gear takes up half of the music room, and the more-than-capacity crowd crams in to watch Swords, a sextet whose ludicrous amount of equipment (two guitarists, two drum kits, an organ, violin, three other keyboards, and bassist) is surely straining the weight capacity of the small stage. After spending half an hour loading their never-ending cavalcade of gear on stage, they start playing.
Mr. Music Industry: Tall, lanky, mid- to late 40s. Glasses. Brown shaggy hair is a cross between Rolling Stone personality David Fricke and every other bad '70s cut. Works for a major label. He's recently moved from LA to NYC, where he fancies himself an important player in the music industry. Maybe he is. The writer never got his name.
His Date: Petite, pretty, stylishly dressed, clearly out of her element. Takes the entire scene in with a "Hey isn't this crazy I'm watching live music?" attitude. Flips her hair constantly. Has apparently washed her hair with some kind of super-shampoo, as it's all anyone within a 7-foot radius can smell.
ACT I, SCENE I
They stand five feet from the stage, continually shouting to each other over the music (to the consternation of the people crammed next to them) as Swords plays their lush, intense rock.
Mr. Music Industry: Tell me if this is too much for you! I don't want it to be too overwhelming!
His Date: (Unintelligible chirping, apparently assuring him she can handle it.)
[His Date flips her hair.]
Mr. Music Industry: Well, you know what they say! If it's too old, you're too loud!
Mr. Music Industry: Wait, no. If it's too loud, you're too old!
[His Date laughs heartily, as if it's the first time she's truly understood the comic veracity of that statement.]
[A few moments pass.]
Mr. Music Industry: What is that shampoo you're wearing? It's unbelievable!
His Date: (Laughs, says something unintelligible, flips hair.)
Mr. Music Industry: It kind of goes with the music!
His Date: (Laughs, flips hair.)
Shortly after, some latecomers push their way through the crowd and stand in front of Mr. Music Industry and His Date. Frustrated by such the latecomers' lack of etiquette, they leave.
Behold, the Arena Rock Records showcase in the bustling Lower East Side, which has been overtaken by Band Dudes. If they had worn one of The Onion's "I Am In A Promising Local Band" t-shirts, they couldn't have been more obviously musicians. Twelve CMJ venues fit between Stanton and Chrystie streets, just below Houston.
At Pianos, indie-rock-looking people populate the downstairs area (and would later be replaced by young urban professionals), while the upstairs bar has a DJ and a distinctly hip-hop feel. Tonight, Pianos has apparently continued its habit of double booking shows, as two bands are supposed to play after the Arena Rock showcase concludes at 1 a.m.
When we arrive, Icelandic band Worm Is Green is playing their quietly dreary or drearily quiet electronica to a relatively small audience. When they begin a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" so drab that it makes the original sound like Amy Grant, we retire to the bar.
The laptop theme continued when Talkdemonic took the stage afterward, playing vocal-less "folktronic" using drums, viola, organ, and lots of backing tracks from a laptop. The feel of the set is again subdued and not terribly interesting, to be honest. They have to stop midsong when technical difficulties wrecks everything. Again, we retire to the bar.
Swords played after Talkdemonic. Even if they didn't have a ludicrous amount of equipment, it would have taken a while to load it on stage, as they had to maneuver through the audience to bring everything on stage. With all their gear, Swords' sound was commensurately big, though a bit repetitious after a while. The epic songs never seemed shorter than roughly four minutes, though maybe they just felt that way. But Swords did inject a nice dose rock into the evening, which had been almost completely lacking before that.
Melodic post-punkers Pilot To Gunner understood that going into the showcase, and they quickly blew the doors off the place once they took the stage, racing against time to play before the next show began. Although their set drew several tracks from last year's fantastic Get Saved (produced by J. Robbins from Channels), they also debuted new material from their yet-to-be-recorded third album. They had neither a keyboard nor a laptop on stage, and their setup of two guitars, bass, and drums was positively retro in comparison to the other bands'. But they were also head and shoulders above anyone who played before them. Few bands play this style as well as Pilot To Gunner–Channels, Criteria, The Life And Times, maybe Retisonic–and their new material has a even bigger rock sound than their already solid set.
Speaking of Criteria, they played the nearby Bowery Ballroom for the Saddle Creek showcase, which sold out seemingly instantly and had reached its CMJ badge limit just as quickly. That has a lot to do with an unannounced but not-so-secret set by Omaha indie powerhouse Cursive. Over at the Knitting Factory, bluesy garage rockers The Gossip took the stage around 1 a.m.
Saturday–the last day of CMJ–looks slow, as usual.