CMJ MUSIC MARATHON 2003 New York City, Wednesday to Saturday (October 22-25). Rating: NNNNN
new york city - there's a good reason why the C ollege Music Journal (CMJ) calls its annual music and media summit a marathon, and that becomes clear when you try hailing a cab outside an East Village bar to catch another band onstage in Tribeca. The annual New York fall classic is really a long-distance club-to-club run masquerading as a four-day showcase of breaking indie rock and backpack hiphop artists. Of course, like most music festivals, there's also a panel discussion component that no one really cares about. With such provocative topics as Internet Law Today, The Many Hats Of Management and Is Your Radio Station Having An Identity Crisis?, it's little wonder that many delegates prefer spending the daylight hours guzzling free drinks with industry colleagues at non-sanctioned parties in galleries, bars and record stores, typically hosted by indie labels and magazines.
Dutch punks Oil tearing it up with drone rock threesome Vietnam at the InSound/Sup Magazine party in the dark and smoky basement of Lit, and the Shins ' jangle-tastic in-store in Virgin Megastore's well-stuffed lounge were two of the more exciting events of the festival.
And unlike the CMJ showcase events, the majority of the afternoon parties started on time and the bands played in their scheduled slots. There were no capacity problems and no televisions showing the Yankees losing the World Series.
Having a badge and even being on a guest list is never a guarantee of getting to see a band with any kind of buzz at CMJ. Just about everyone I spoke to during the conference had run into the "we've reached our badge limit" ruse that clubs use to force delegates to pay the cover charge. You wanna check out the Bronx at CBGBs? Fuggetaboudit!
The underlying theme of this year's Music Marathon was that the 80s are back with a vengeance - both onstage and in the audience.
Scary 80s flashbacks
hotly tipped psychedelic furs throwbacks Elefant were among the worst offenders. Led by pompously posing frontman Diego Garcia - equal parts Raine Maida and Eddie Money, with a mock English accent that would make Mark Holmes cringe - Elefant knew all the rock star moves but had great difficulty with execution. Garcia suavely tried swinging his microphone like Roger Daltrey but wound up clunking himself in the head, and the bit where he anoints his worshippers with water also backfired. Evidently, suburban new-wavers aren't keen on having their pink pumps and striped shirts doused with anybody's backwash, and someone in the balcony let Garcia know it by soaking him with full glass of ice water.
As horribly contrived as Elefant's shtick was, their comically horrible performance provided an entertaining warm-up for Radio 4 's rousing disco-punk getdown. The Gang of Four inspiration was obvious in their angular guitar slashing, throbbing bass lines and shouted slogans in place of song lyrics. But Radio 4's enthusiasm for the 80s sound was contagious and got the crowd contorting themselves in a jerking frenzy.
It was back to the 80s again at the Knitting Factory Friday night with the first show in 20 years by long lost no-wave hiphop posse Death Comet Crew , and who could pass up a chance to see MC Rammellzee (of Beat Bop notoriety) on the microphone?
The years haven't been kind to the godfather of the abstract rhyme, who appeared to have just crawled out of a dumpster. No matter what he started rapping about, everything eventually came back around to urging women in successively creepy ways to take off their clothes. A few hours later, Ol' Dirty Bastard , aka Dirt McGirt , appeared at the Knit in no better shape, standing catatonic while his 15-member posse got busy around him.
Booth rings true
also resurfacing at cmj was tim Booth , of near-forgotten 80s faves James, who turned up at the Fez rail thin with a shaved head, looking like Michael Stipe's sickly older brother. Happily, though, Booth was in supremely fine voice and delivered his beautifully crafted new songs with genuine passion to a tiny but appreciative crowd recovering from the tormented histrionics of piano-bar vixen Charlotte Martin .
regrettably, i had to leave Booth's show early and dash back to the East Village to catch Austin garage thrashers Canoe and awe-inspiring San Francisco psych-pop threat Oranger tear up Arlene Grocery. Then, just when I thought I was finally free of the 80s rerun loop, Pavement's Spiral Stairs hit the switch on a smoke machine to begin a song-by-song homage to Echo and the Bunnymen's Crocodiles album featuring singer/songwriter pal Kelley Stoltz in full Liverpudlian burr.
Knowing that Ian McCulloch and company were in town for a show of their own, I chuckled to the person next to me, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if Ian walked in right now?"
"Not a chance," replied the mop-haired dude. "We're lucky if he shows up for the tour bus!" Grinning back at me was Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant , who'd been tipped to the Spiral Stairs tribute by a crew member.
"To be honest, I'm surprised there's anyone here at all for this," added the self-deprecating Sergeant. "But I'm chuffed. It's a bit weird... but good weird."