CMJ MUSIC MARATHON 2004 in New York City, October 13-16. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
New York City - The CMJ Music Marathon has never been a particularly well-run event. But as the annual indie-rock-summit-that-grew continues to expand, the dire consequences of poor planning and understaffing are becoming more of a problem.
While the staging of the conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to piggyback on the Digital Life consumer technology expo - running concurrently on the main floor of the huge conference hall - may have made good business sense, the remote location of the venue ensured that many delegates steered clear of the daytime panels, which were puzzlingly split between the Javits Center and the Westin Hotel some three kilometres away.
Consequently, much of the schmoozing occurred at afternoon parties in downtown bars put on by labels, publicity firms and media outlets. These mostly ran on time and adhered to the announced lineup - unlike many official showcases.
Like Brian Wilson did
The one big Javits Center draw was the Brian Wilson Smiles On CMJ panel featuring Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks and the confused-looking Wilson himself. For most of the discussion/love-in, moderated by Beach Boys fan Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal, Wilson stared blankly as the participants tried to top each other in doling out effusive praise for Wilson's creativity and determination in completing Smile. The troubled auteur rarely uttered more than a "thank you" and deflected any question that he couldn't answer in two words or less to Parks or Smile's musical secretary, Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints . And to think that was actually a conference highlight.
A conspicuous absence of conferece reps at the 50 participating venues meant that the showcases were largely left to run themselves, with help from club management, label sponsors and/or hired door personnel. When I showed up at Irving Plaza to catch Sons and Daughters at 8:30 pm Thursday, the seated members of Adem were unfortunately presenting their kinder, gentler version of Coldplay instead. Blah! Such lineup changes happened frequently without notice or posting.
And this being New York City, a few self-motivated entrepreneurs naturally took full advantage of the lack of official CMJ oversight.
The bouncers at the Mercury Lounge were doing bang-up business Thursday night with the old side-door scam in which frustrated badge-holders were escorted into the "sold out" venue to see Holly Golightly and the Paybacks for a modest cash donation.
Judging by the enormous delegate lineup for Lou Barlow and Arcade Fire the previous night, CMJ 2004 has been very lucrative for the Mercury playas. By Friday morning, Montreal's Arcade Fire were the official buzz band of the conference, but citymates the Dears also generated loads of positive lip service. The Mozzer-approved Dears justified their NME buzz with a jam-packed Thursday night showcase at Sin-e and their stellar performance preceding the Moving Units ' punk-funk explosion at Friday afternoon's Vice party in the cavernous candlelit basement of the Delancey .
Brian Borcherdt 's Holy Fuck and the Russian Futurists each got an enthusiastic response from a good-sized crowd at the Knitting Factory , faring much better than fellow Toronto faves Controller.controller , whose rousing set was heard by 20 disinterested Jake Fairley fans at the poorly attended Paper Bag label showcase in CB's Downstairs Lounge .
Those who picked up the buzz on Arcade Fire turned up in massive numbers for the AAM Radio Promotions party Saturday afternoon at Arlene Grocery , leaving a long line of disappointed johnny-come-lately journalists and major-label flunkies outside. Even old-school A&R legend Seymour Stein , who was seen wining and dining the Arcade crew the night before, had some difficulty jumping the line. The door person at Arlene's wasn't impressed with Stein's assistant, who could be heard shouting, "Do you realize I'm with Seymour Stein!"
Stein should've been at Sin-e to catch Nashville teens Be Your Own Pet tear it up punk-rock-style for salivating booking agents and label reps. Easily the most exciting unsigned act I saw during the four-day blitz. Surly 17-year-old guitarist Jonas Stein oozed couldn't-give-a-shit attitude while the sweet-16 rhythm section of drummer Jamin Orrall and fabulously 'froed bassist Nathan Vasquez thrashed up a frenzy behind wildly charismatic singer Jemina Abegg , who had her Patti Smith and Debbie Harry moves down.
The girl has definitely got it goin' on. Every song she shouted sounded like a hit single, which is probably why Rough Trade is so hot on them and will likely put out a Be Your Own Pet single in early 2005.
Gamblers a good bet
Other than running into Chuck D. at the Bowery Poetry Club and seeing someone who looked very much like David Bowie with a fake moustache walking around SoHo on Wednesday, my ultimate New York moment was hearing a remarkably fit John Cale bow his way through an entrancing version of Venus In Furs inside a renovated Gothic-style church. Although for pure rock 'n' roll thrills it was hard to top the Riverboat Gamblers , whose off-the-hook frontman Mike Weibe put on a clinic in numbskull showmanship at Plaid Saturday night.
It made no difference to the Denton dunderheads that they'd been booked to play the painfully upscale 13th Street joint. Weibe went right to work beer-rinsing everyone in a 5-metre radius, jackknifing off fancy dinner tables, strutting across the bar and tossing couch cushions into the crowd - and that was just the first song.
No visible CMJ staff meant that the Gamblers could keep blasting until they got bored throwing shit around.
Finely furred Plaid regulars who began showing up from Jersey and Long Island around 1 am were hit by a wave of nasty noise and quickly turned and walked their lap dogs right back out the door. Turns out CMJ's hands-off policy did have an upside after all.