Despite trying to attend as little of CMJ as possible, I felt worn out by the time Friday rolled around. I skipped most of the SESAC showcase at Cake Shop, since I'd just heard and was unimpressed by the Depreciation Guild and wasn't that gung-ho about the other bands.
So my first stop was Little Girls at Pianos. The line-up has completely changed since I last saw them, but the band is essentially the solo project of one Josh McIntyre, who covers vocals and sometimes keys or a guitar. This new group of musicians backing him was particularly low-key, putting the entire weight - for better or worse - on McIntyre. The bassist and guitarist hunched on opposite sides, playing their parts adequately but without any show.
McIntyre, however, has a nervous energy that pulls the audience in. His behavior on stage is full of dramatics too weird and awkward to be a gimmick. No, he's sincere, and lacks any hint of the aloof disaffection of most of the talked-about DIY bands of late. It's refreshing to see someone being honest on stage.
With gothy, Joy Division-esque songs but with less polish and more fuzz, Little Girls certainly start with a tried-and-tested foundation, but from the awkward tension of the stage show, it's clear they wouldn't hesitate to break the rules. There's something extremely raw about the band, not only in that they are young and their sound rough, but also in that they seem incomplete. As with their recent album, this sense that the band has yet to come into its own can frustrate, but it also adds a special thrill to the already jittery music - potential can be more exciting to hear and watch than a final product. And this could be the early signs of true genius. Time will tell. [MySpace]
I caught part of Crystal Antlers at Cake Shop, and found the music far less abrasive than I remembered their recorded material being. It was also generally mellower than I expected - noise rock, but not without its gentle, grooving passages. The noisy parts weren't noisy enough for my tastes, but I can definitely respect the musicianship and creativity of the band. That said, it's not really my thing and since I couldn't even see the stage, I decided to cut out and return with the crowd thinned down. [MySpace]
Next up, after a quick shift from SESAC fo the FYF/Video Thing showcase, were English popsters Let's Wrestle. I've liked Let's Wrestle in the past, after hearing a few songs that ended up on my computer. Live, they were far less wussy than I expected - a raunchier, grittier guitar sound was mixed too low under even more aggressive bass and drums. The punk attitude was a pleasant surprise, but unfortunately, the quality of the songs was disappointingly inconsistent. For every great melody, there were a couple poor ones. Nothing was bad, but it wasn't outstanding either. There are plenty of bands that do the same thing at the same level. [MySpace]
Ninjasonik, jarringly, came on next, storming the stage and starting the set only minutes after Let's Wrestle's exit. Ninjasonik are a party-rap group who for unknown reasons often play with punk bands. Personally, I don't like party music of any variety - having fun is strictly against my religion. And Ninjasonik doesn't have much of an intellectual appeal. The lyrics are occasionally witty but mostly banal or needlessly obscene chants. The music is nothing to get excited about, and the rhythms are all mindnumbingly simplistic. There was no substance anywhere in the set.
However, I will say one thing for the band - they put on a hell of a live show. They got a huge mosh-pit going, and lots of call-and-response from the audience. Their abrupt start and extremely high-energy performance got nearly everyone dancing and shouting along. I can't recommend the band to any serious music fan, but partiers will be delighted. [MySpace]
Finally, the act I'd been most eager to see took the stage, the new SubPop signee Male Bonding. Though I had thoroughly enjoyed the Male Bonding songs I'd heard before the show, I didn't see what about their melodic, lo-fi punk made them stand out enough to get the attention of a label like SubPop, especially when that label is an ocean and three thousand miles of land away from the band's home.
Seeing them live at Cake Shop, it was immediately apparent that this band is something special. Gifted and competent, the three musicians played with an intense precision. These aren't youngsters who can write songs, these are musicians who know exactly what kind of music they want to make and exactly how to make it. You'd never expect a punk band to be more rhythmically complex and adept than a rap group, but Male Bonding drummer Robin Christian Silas could definitely teach Ninjasonik a thing or two.
As a whole, the band seems to follow in the tradition of SubPop greatness, with hooky guitar, solid singing and well-written songs. There was only one problem - when I heard the recording, I know I heard great tunes, but at Cake Shop, I couldn't pick out a vocal melody most of the time. Whether it was a bad night, bad sound at the venue or a lack of skill singing in live situations, it was disappointing to have none of the sunny anthems I was expecting. Still, I think it's clear SubPop made a great choice with these guys and I'll definitely be looking out for their debut. [MySpace]