CMJ: Day 6 Review
by Steven Spoerl
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.