Heartbreaking Bravery

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Watch This: Vol. 100

Over the past 100 weeks, this site’s dedicated itself to a variety of pursuits but the defining one seems to be the only recurring series that operates on a regular basis: Watch This. Ever since the first installment, this series has featured the very best live performance captures. Utilizing a wealth of resources that range from band’s personal accounts to radio stations that host high-quality session captures, like KEXP in Seattle or 3voor12 in the Netherlands.

Very rarely has that gaze turned inward, despite producing over 300 live videos in the past four months. With this series now at a landmark number and all of the CMJ reviews accounted for, it seemed appropriate to bypass the outside sources to focus exclusively on the crop of videos that was taken over the past week. Approximately 50 bands, 90 videos, and 100 songs, these clips will be presented in groupings according to which day they were filmed. A few slip out of focus, some start a little late, and some cut off just before their ending, and a few bands are missing due to unfortunate and/or unforeseen circumstance (a dead battery, lighting, and a maxed out sd card were the three most prominent issues) but as a whole, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of performances the festival has to offer. So, as always, sit back, relax, ignore any worries, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. CMJ: Day 2

To make things just a touch easier, each of these introductory segments will simply be a very brief recap including a link to the respective day’s official review and the list of artists that appear in the video. Having spent the first official day of CMJ preparing for the rest of the week, the timeline’s off by a day but had this been the first official day, the festival would have kicked off with a band. Splitting time between The Cake Shop and Santos Party House, I managed to get videos of performances from the following artists: Worriers, Hooton Tennis Club, Car Seat Headrest, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Yung, Shopping, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Perfect Pussy, and Dilly Dally. The official review of the day’s events can be found here.

2. CMJ: Day 3

Things kept moving along quickly on the second day, which included a long stretch at an early show over at Rough Trade before taking a brief pause to organize that show’s footage and prepare for the late show at Aviv. Between the two venues, the lineup was characteristically stacked and led to videos of performances from Shopping, Ezra Furman, Georgia, John Grant, What Moon Things, Mumblr, Meat Wave, Painted Zeros, Turn To Crime, and Yvette. The official review of the day’s shows can be found here.

3. CMJ: Day 4 

The festival’s exhausting nature started to creeping in on the third consecutive day of showgoing, though the deliriousness will always be worth the effort in the case of celebrating things like Exploding In Sound (who themselves were celebrating their fourth anniversary), Big Ups (who were celebrating their fifth year as a band), and Double Double Whammy. Once again splitting time between two venues– Palisades and The Silent Barn– I managed to get footage of performances from Leapling, Swings, Mal Devisa (backed by Swings), Dirty Dishes, Kal Marks, Washer, Stove, Palm, Greys, The Spirit of the Beehive, Big Ups, Palehound, Downies, Eskimeaux, and LVL UP. The official review of those events can be read here.

4. CMJ: Day 5

Easily the most exhausting of the five day stretch, the fifth official day of the festival found me completely ignoring food in favor of sprinting a mile to catch one of my favorite acts four times over. While a fraction of the day was spent running to and from an official CMJ showcase and the AdHoc Carwash (which was detached from the festival completely but boasted one of the week’s strongest lineups), the effort proved to be worthwhile, as a large collection of bands delivered knockout sets and everything culminated in a triumphant moment for one of my closest friends. In all the back-and-forth, I was still able to manage to capture performances from the following artists: Protomartyr, Potty Mouth, Pity Sex, Dilly Dally, LVL UP, Porches., Perfect Pussy, Meat Wave, Mothers, and Cloud Castle Lake. The review of that day of relative mania can be read here.

5. CMJ: Day 6

Despite the festival’s posted end date being the October 17, this collaborative showcase a day later between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still billed as a part of the festival and felt like an appropriate epilogue; a summation of what’d come before and a fitting end-cap for a very strong run. Confined to just one venue, the sleep deprivation caused me to miss the first trio of acts (and quietly curse myself out for doing so in the process) but still show up in time for the final 10. On the final day of reckoning, I captured videos of performances from the following artists: i tried to run away when i was 6, Downies, Romp, Comfy, Vagabon, fern mayo, Bethlehem Steel, Diet Cig, Sports, and PWR BTTM. The official review of the festival’s final event can be read here.

CMJ: Day 6 Review

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Even though CMJ’s official schedule had been capped at October 17, the stacked collaborative showcase between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still being rightfully billed as a CMJ event. It also turned out to be the day where my schedule finally caught up to me and caused me to sleep through multiple alarms before, for the third consecutive day, realizing I was in jeopardy of missing much more than I wanted to and booking it for the nearest venue or transit option. Getting approximately 16 hours of sleep over the course of five days occasionally has that effect.

By the time I made it to Palisades, Bad Cello, Nicholas Nicholas, and Hiccup had already wrapped their sets. Fortunately, the blow of missing those acts was at least somewhat alleviated by the bill’s remaining 10 acts. A few minutes into the event and a brief look around at a gaggle of audience and band members in formal wear also managed to act as a kind reminder that the event had been constructed with a Homecoming theme. free cake for every creature‘s Katie Bennett was on hand to augment a lovely set of folk-leaning bedroom pop songs from i tried to run away when i was 6. It was a gentle introduction to what would prove to be another ridiculously stacked day, even if it was only confined to one venue this time around.

Downies upped the energy and intensity considerably, once again taking a headlong dive into a set of gritty basement pop that’d feel right at home on Dirtnap. Ripping through songs from their outstanding debut EP and their forthcoming LP with an excess of energy, their set felt like a major statement from an emerging band that’s coming charging out of the gate on sure footing.

Some of their energy bled over into a strong outing for Romp, an upstart act hailing from New Brunswick who have a penchant for smartly crafted basement pop that’s sugar rush is matched with a punk tinge. Largely sticking to new and unreleased material, the quartet seemed to be in a state of perpetual motion, underscoring their own music’s immediacy. Catchy and substantial, it was a welcome addition to a lineup of mostly familiar faces.

A few of those familiar faces belonged to Comfy, who were fairly enjoyable back during Miscreant’s Northside showcase but clearly came to CMJ ready to make an impression. Showing noticeable improvements in every conceivable facet of their live show, the quartet was endlessly entertaining and fully committed to pouring themselves into their performance. The band played out of their minds, turning all of their songs into an emphatic series of blows.

The trio of Vagabon, Fern Mayo, and Bethlehem Steel handled the next three slots with an assured confidence. Vagabon, judging by the press that’s come out since the event, made a few influential friends thanks to a dynamic set that served their songs to a quiet perfection. While the band’s fuzzed-out passages did manage to hit hard, it was their gentler moments that actually managed to leave a lasting mark. Either way, no false moves and a few unique angles at this level is always going to pique a lot of people’s interest.

Fern Mayo’s been covered here multiple times before but, while all of those shows and songs were definitely memorable, it wasn’t until this set that the band registered as truly exceptional. Having just wrapped up a short tour, the band was in finer form than ever, playing off each other with a collected attitude that eventually transmuted into a subtle bravado that suited them well. Katie Capri, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, continues to transition into an excitable live wire onstage while bassist Nicholas Cummins continues to have one of Brooklyn DIY’s more arresting stage presences. Throw it all together with the learned traits of tour and it’s easy to see how the band wound up with another one of the day’s several standout sets.

Apart from delivering on their own, Fern Mayo also set up the (at least somewhat) similarly-minded Bethlehem Steel perfectly. After releasing a batch of promising records, the band’s on track to gain some traction with their forthcoming release, which is what they mostly drew from for their set. Stealthily sliding in some lighthearted banter between the songs, the trio clicked in their darkest, most pulverizing moments. By the time their set ended, their levels of conviction were as evident as the new material was promising.

Before too long, Diet Cig’s Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman were taking the stage to their entrance music, Taylor Swift’s inescapable “Shake It Off”, flailing around and encouraging their audience to do the same in an endearing communal act. Only a few minutes into that routine, Bowman was behind the kit and Luciano was bounding around the stage, anxious to get their set off the ground. Every time Diet Cig plays, they bring an infectious joy to the proceedings, completely shedding any inhibitions to simply live in the moment and coax as much out of it as humanly possible. When the band invited up a couple intent on recreating their wonderful “Scene Sick” video, everyone was all smiles and it was hard not to think of it as a somewhat definitive moment for the band, who kept that vibrant energy alive for the remainder of their set.

Feeding off the goodwill Diet Cig had built up during a set that had balloons and streamers flying in the air (and more than a few people laughing along with them), Sports took the stage to an almost deafening scream of applause. Balancing their set list between their previous records and their forthcoming All of Something (which is easily their best collection of songs to date), the band dug their heels in and took off at a sprint without ever bothering to look back. With the audience continuing to grow in size throughout Sports’ set, Palisades was packed for the evening’s headliner: PWR BTTM.

At this point, I have seen PWR BTTM more times than any other band in New York and they continue to find ways to improve their live show, which might still be their biggest selling point (despite 2015 highlight Ugly Cherries). Making this particular night extra sweet was the fact that it was Benjamin Hopkins’ birthday, a declaration that Hopkins made more explicitly at the start of their set, which was greeted with screams of approval.

Somewhere along the line, PWR BTTM became a band that everyone unified behind, each bringing varying reasons to their dedication. Their live show, their ideology, their message, their presentation, their banter… it’s become a pick-your-poison with the duo (now sometimes trio, thanks to the assists from Fern Mayo’s Cummins) and they always deliver in full. There were times during their set where the crowd’s vocals would override those of Hopkins or Liv Bruce, who occasionally takes over on lead vocal and guitar.

Everything was going as well as it possibly could for the band, who had rallied the now fully energized crowd into a swarming mass of dancing bodies, everyone fully immersed in the band’s music. Their momentum didn’t even falter when the band got stopped towards the end of their set by Jeanette Wall and Jessi Frick (the people that run Miscreant and Father/Daughter, respectively) for the coronation ceremony.

After sashes and other assorted items had been bestowed to both members of Diet Cig, Miscreant artist Elizabeth Scafuto, and one was basically just dedicated to Fern Mayo’s Capri, Bruce and Hopkins set back to work. Whether using a balloon to mime being pregnant, talking about playing into the “Hot Mom” look, ripping off a string of solos or vocal runs, or even just commanding attention without ever losing their natural cadence, PWR BTTM kept their crowd entertained.

The band even came within a minute of making through a show without any glaring technical difficulties (Hopkins’ cable got briefly pulled out towards the end of their final song- but it’s just not a PWR BTTM show without that kind of mishap) before leaving the audience screaming for an encore that never came, all but guaranteeing a large portion of that audience will be checking their calendars to make sure they can catch the next show. Then, after a near-sleepless week, 62 sets stretched across seven venues, CMJ was over and it was time to head back home, exhausted and content.

CMJ: Day 5 Review

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Going to an afterparty running on minimal sleep was probably not the best idea and staying out until six in the morning was probably an even worse one but music festivals are a good excuse to get together with groups of friends that stretch across the country. I don’t know how I managed to only miss one band I’d planned on seeing to start my last official day of CMJ but I’m thankful I woke up in time to catch the last half of Sheer Mag’s set at AdHoc’s Carwash, which wasn’t a part of CMJ but was one of the best showcases of the week.

Of course, showing up to Sheer Mag that late meant being relegated to the back of the crowd, so I allowed myself to gain a modicum of composure and catch at least a little breath after jogging a full mile to make sure I didn’t miss their set completely. My effort was rewarded with an energetic, shambolic closing run that saw the band affirming themselves as one of DIY punk’s top-tier live acts. Protomartyr, playing on yet another bill with Perfect Pussy this year, brought their usual Very Serious stoicism to the table and handled themselves as capably as ever.

Potty Mouth, a band I’ve been trying to see for several years, took the stage after Protomartyr and immediately launched into a memorable set that showcased their infectious basement pop and surging confidence. Their latest EP, Cherry Picking, is a career highlight and enhances their more sugary sensibilities to striking effect. There’s a palpable love that the band brings to their live show, slipping through the cracks and presenting itself in an assortment of irrepressible smiles. If the crowd reaction of the crowd during an inspired cover of “No One Else” was any indication, the crowd fed off the band’s high spirits and channeled them into some of their own.

Up next was Pity Sex, who were playing new material– all of which sounded like career-best work the band– ahead of their forthcoming release. The band’s always had serviceable pop sensibilities but they’ve been expanded and maximized in thrilling new ways on their most recent material while still managing to retain their heavy, wall-of-sound shoegaze influence. As much as Pity Sex were hitting all the right notes and giving the audience a great show, I’d seen them before and after what Dilly Dally pulled off on the second night of CMJ, I made a split-second decision and sprinted a mile to catch all of Dilly Dally‘s set at Baby’s All Right as part of BrooklynVegan’s CMJ showcase.

Dilly Dally, once again, lunged fearlessly into a breathtaking set that covered both a large section of Sore, one of this year’s best albums, and their early singles. Only this time, the band had the benefit of Baby’s iconic LED backdrop, which aided the noir-ish moodiness of their grunge-leaning basement punk to a sublime perfection. Every member of Dilly Dally’s stage presence makes them come across like a loose cannon but guitarist/vocalist Katie Monks is particularly unhinged, wielding an outsize persona with a disarming amount of control in a way that marries something decidedly scrappy with a sense of spellbinding grace.

It’s an extraordinarily difficult line to walk and the band all but runs the tightrope with a disconcerting ease. The band managed to elicit several chills throughout their set but perhaps the fiercest bouts came during their jaw-dropping Drake cover, which proved to be a highlight yet again. Gnarled and unbelievably heavy, it’s a complete curveball but it fits in seamlessly with the band’s aesthetic making it a dangerous addition to the arsenal of weapons at their disposal. Once again, they closed with the gorgeous “Desire“, leaving yet another audience stunned in their wake.

As soon as I’d caught up with Monks for a quick spell, I sprinted the mile back to AdHoc’s Carwash at Hand & Detail in an effort to see all of LVL UP‘s set. Arriving just a song or two into their set, I immediately squared away on the side of the stage and settled in for another powerhouse set from one of the bands that’d helped me get settled into NYC when I moved in June. Mining their discography for a well-rounded selection of songs for their setlist, the songs from Hoodwink’d seemed particularly resonant, with a large bulk of the audience audibly singing along.

Porches., a band that’s amassed a large following over the past few years, followed LVL UP with a set of soft, ’80s-indebted rock songs. It was a set that seemed to act as a bit of a breather after the unrelenting intensity of the opening batch of acts and before the onslaught of the bill’s final two acts: Perfect Pussy and Destruction Unit. I’m not sure I would have ever had moved to New York or even started this site had it not been for the influence of the former act, so seeing them play to an exceptionally responsive crowd was a very heartening moment. Also heartening was hearing the roars of approval that met vocalist Meredith Graves‘ vitriolic attacks against Chris Ott at the start of their set and the possibility of losing funding for Planned Parenthood before another round of the band’s newest song, “The Women”.

After Perfect Pussy whipped the audience into a fervor, Destruction Unit took some time to set up, fell into a haze of feedback, called for the lights to be dimmed to their absolute minimum, and launched into what almost felt like an improvisational set of punishing noise-punk armed with a lot of hardcore influences. Cribbing heavily from their latest release, the band seemed to be pushing themselves and the crowd to the limits with bruising explorations that felt somewhat reminiscent of an exorcism. Ending with a long stretch of heightening feedback, as soon as the standby switches got flipped on their equipment, I was sprinting back to Baby’s All Right to catch another set from Meat Wave.

Arriving at Baby’s All Right as the band was setting up for the second time in 10 hours was a good feeling, even as the exhaustion of the week started to take hold. Meat Wave, as has been noted multiple times before, was a tremendously important band in the early development and direction of this site. As they went off on the Baby’s stage, their audience gradually grew in size and became increasingly vocal throughout, injecting some supplementary adrenaline into what was already a particularly charged set (which always seems to be the case with Meat Wave). “Cosmic Zoo” and a revamped “Brother” were easy highlights and saw the band locked into something that felt close to feral.

For the first time since the Worriers set that kicked the week off, I decided to take a step back and skip a set to have my second meal in 30 hours to ensure I didn’t keel over later on in the night. Two slices of a pizza, a soda, and an inNo Crying In Baseballning of baseball later, I was back at the lip of the Baby’s stage watching Mothers set up, anxious to see if they could match up with their advance buzz. The quartet met expectations and then cleanly surpassed them with a set of intricate, knotty indie pop songs that are equally unpredictable and enticing. Closing with the irresistible “No Crying In Baseball“, the band had all but convinced any skeptic that they were ready for the spotlight.

Once Mothers had unplugged, I was off to The Silent Barn for the secret Honor Press (Meredith Graves’ label) was hosting and got there just in time to catch a set from Aye Nako, who I’d been wanting to see for some time. After catching a few quick words with a delirious-but-composed (and clearly excited) Graves, I squared away in the Barn and was met with a thrilling set from the quartet. Sharp, concise, basement punk played with a snarl, it felt effectively venomous but never aggressively confrontational, making it accessible enough to pull in a fairly large audience.

Afterwards, it was time for what Graves (and, to be totally honest, myself) considered the pièce de résistance: Cloud Castle Lake. The Dublin-based band made their way over to the States for CMJ and used this showcase as their final stop. It wasn’t long before the band settled into its first groove and it was all over from that point forward. No band that week would come even remotely close to matching the layered spell Cloud Castle Lake cast on its small, awed audience.

Every member of the band flashed serious chops on their respective instrument(s) and the band conjured up towering tapestries that were extraordinarily moving, both in a physical and emotional sense. With everyone dancing, swinging their hips, and looking dazed as the band made their way through an endless stretch of intricate passages, I looked down to an overwhelmed Graves, who was seated against the wall, clutching her knees to her chest, and looking out at the band with pride and wonder. As a whole, it felt surprisingly transcendent and occasionally verged on a religious experience. No other band, save for maybe Dilly Dally, gave me as many chills in a single set.

Taking all of that into account, it probably wasn’t surprising when various members of Perfect Pussy seemed to have a little trepidation about following that kind of set. They needn’t have worried too much; the band’s third set of the week was arguably their strongest, an emotionally-fueled tour de force that saw all four present members playing out of their minds. Guitarist Ray McAndrew, for instance, broke strings on two separate guitars before finding some luck with a third. Thrashing their way through a raucous set, to what was easily one of the smallest (and most intensely invested) crowds I’d seen all week, they managed to provide an unforgettable endcap to the day’s incessant tide of truly memorable moments.