CMJ: Day 5 Review

by Steven Spoerl

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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.