Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Day 2

CMJ: Day 2 Review

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To get this straight, right off the bat: CMJ’s second day of festivities was the first day I participated in the proceedings so the title from this point forward will be reflective of the official festival dates and, due to the timely nature of the visual edits that something of this magnitude necessitates, there will be additional supplementary material to this post (and all of the forthcoming review posts) in the near-future.

The very first band I saw at CMJ wasn’t actually a band that I saw play; The Midwestern Charm were in town from Milwaukee, WI and deserve another mention in this space because, despite my best efforts, there level of press/exposure is still lacking (though their recent deal with Texas Is Funny is helping make some amends). After a brief hangout stint in the Artist’s Lounge and at a pizza place, I hopped a train to The Cake Shop where I’d hoped to catch the final two acts. Unfortunately, site favorites Diet Cig had just wrapped when I arrived. Balancing that misfortune out was the fact that I still arrived in time to catch all of Worriers’ set, a band I’ve attempted (and subsequently failed) to see at least five times over the past few months.

Worriers packed in a lot of material from their recent effort for Don Giovanni, Imaginary Life, including their career highlight “They/Them/Theirs“, which was an easy set highlight as well. Immediately after their set, which packed enough power to be memorable, I made the walk over to Santos Party House for NME’s unbelievably stacked showcase. As soon as I managed to sneak past security and into the venue before doors were opened, I linked up with Perfect Pussy, who have meant an extraordinary amount to both myself and this site (they can be at least partially credited for its existence).

I’d initially planned on attempting to catch every act on the bill but the prospect of a trip out to Chinatown with Perfect Pussy and a photographer from The Village Voice (who was dutifully shooting the evening’s events for the publication) proved too tantalizing. After sipping tea and watching everyone devour some dim sum, everyone made the trek back to the venue. The rest of the evening was spent running up and down a flight of steps separating two rooms that were hosting alternating sets.

Hooton Tennis Club were first up on the upstairs stage and managed to make a strong impression by virtue of stage presence and some genuinely catchy songs that skew heavily towards powerpop but have enough punk bite to avoid being pigeonholed into the genre. Car Seat Headrest were the next featured band and, riding a massive swell of buzz on the back of their deal with Matador, had a lot of expectations to meet and surpass. They mostly succeeded but were hampered early on by some strange sound issues. Everything had been resolved by the end of their set, which harbored enough heat to justify the intimidating amount of hype.

Well before Car Seat Headrest had wrapped their set, Seratones had kicked off what seemed to be a powerhouse set on the upstairs stage. Infusing blues, soul, and a healthy portion of straight rock n’ roll, the band came off as a towering force. Comparisons to Alabama Shakes seem inevitable but most will likely seem a little misguided. In any case, as soon as this band’s name starts circulating on a larger scale, they’ll be coveted by festivals and a frighteningly large army of people. As soon as the band closed their set, it was back down to watch Nico Yaryan take a considerable amount of time to set up before riding a few overwhelmingly pleasant songs into the territory of an oddly disjointed sleepiness.

Yaryan’s indie-folk outlier set warranted a return visit to the upstairs stage, where Yung kept my attention rapt by pouring everything they had into a ferocious set of hardcore-leaning basement punk numbers that was at least somewhat reminiscent of NE-HI, albeit a version of NE-HI that was a lot more pissed off. It was the perfect antidote to the preceding proceedings and acted a desperately-needed shot of adrenaline. Shopping (UK) kept that energy going downstairs with a set of minimal post-punk that had a lot of people dancing (myself included). Every song in the band’s catalog is deceptively complex but the band delivers everything with ease (and occasionally throw in a wink or a smile for good measure).

Protomartyr has been picking up all kinds of acclaim for their latest release and a hint of furthered confidence could be evidenced in the band’s characteristically deadpan presence. All of the new songs immediately stood out as highlights and kept a growing audience incredibly engaged (of the three times I’ve seen Protomartyr, this crowd was the most appreciative by far). Before their set ended, it was back to the stairwell for the umpteenth trip down the same flight of stairs to (finally) catch Downtown Boys.

While I’m still lukewarm on their recorded material, the band’s a juggernaut live. Vocalist Victoria Ruiz comes off like a vigilante dictator, espousing rousing political speeches about broken systems between songs (speeches that often serve as extended introductions to the song) before the very talented band finally joins her explosion. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy only a few songs in, which was my cue to run upstairs to catch Perfect Pussy.

As mentioned above, this site has a long history with the band (it was built primarily as an outlet for me to have a place to interview the band’s vocalist, Meredith Graves, who quickly became the patron saint of this place by featuring it in any way she could whenever she was given the opportunity). Even with that history running deep, I’d never seen the band play without their synth player, Shaun Sutkus. Sutkus was away on business (he’s still very much a part of the band, so rest easy, concerned parties) but everyone else was present and ready to go.

The band delivered a typically blistering set that included a new song entitled “The Women” that was written as a sort of pro-Planned Parenthood war cry. It was one of the first glimpses at the band’s new material, which they’re justifiably excited about releasing. Seemingly nothing but left turns, stop/start dynamics, and a variety of other compelling tricks, “The Women” is one of the most fascinating things that Perfect Pussy have ever played to an audience. While it didn’t quite get the roaring reception of “Interference Fits“, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s well on its way.

As soon as Perfect Pussy started winding down, I made a beeline for the basement to see a band I’ve waited nearly two years to see: site favorites Dilly Dally. Playing to a crowd at around one in the morning can be a difficult prospect, especially when you’re already dealing with the pressures that accompany having one of the most celebrated records of the moment. Throw in my own personal feelings about the band and the anxiety levels were high; could they live up? Dilly Dally responded by throwing down a monstrous set that exceeded the confines of the festival and quickly registered as one of the best sets of the year.

Every conceivable aspect of a live show was covered: the banter was entertaining, the band’s four members all fully committed to their stage presence, they conjured up a wall of sound that was enough to send shockwaves through my torso without ever having any sound issues, and at one point Katie Monks– the band’s vocalist/guitarist– got intense enough to break a string. Monks’ voice on its own is an incredibly powerful thing and she can wield it like a loaded weapon but when it’s supported the way it is by her bandmates, it becomes unforgettable.

By the end of Dilly Dally’s set, they’d played a handful of tracks from 2015 highlight Sore, “Candy Mountain“, and covered Drake with a surprising level of menace. It was a jaw-dropping set and provided the perfect note to end an opening day of showgoing. Unforgiving in its raw power and weirdly poetic nature, Dilly Dally’s performance set an unbelievably high bar and the rest of this week will be given an added element of intrigue: will anyone be able to top what they pulled off? It’ll be exciting to find out.

Pitchfork Festival: Day 2 (Review)

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Days 2 and 3 of the Pitchfork Festival were spent seeing the festival shows themselves, rather than the after shows. Who needed after shows when the lineups for both days were so unbelievably stacked? Day 2 started with Cloud Nothings laying into a very frantic set that recalled their recent High Noon Saloon appearance. Drawing entirely from Attack on Memory and Here and Nowhere Else, their set translated well to an outdoor festival setting. With the additional benefit of good weather, the day was off on the right foot. Before their set ended, it was off to catch Mas Ysa ending his, an impressive display of eclecticism and eccentric electronic work. It was a decided change of pace from Cloud Nothings’ assault just moments before- but it kept the audience just as engaged.

Pusha T was forced to play a shortened set after a late arrival but no one seemed to mind; there were more than a few people on the verge of losing their minds during his short time onstage. My Name Is My Name, one of last year’s stronger highlights, was well represented (predictably, “Nosetalgia” received the biggest reception- no surprise Kendrick appearance, though) as was his back catalog. Pusha handled the lion’s share of the performing himself and showcased the dazzling skill and charisma anyone that’s been paying attention to him since Clipse knows that he’s capable of. It was a standout set, even if it didn’t take up the full time slot. tUnE-yArDs played to another very packed crowd that proved to be just as entranced and receptive as Pusha T’s. Merrill Garbus and company played  off of each other expertly, offering up enviable displays of both percussive and vocal prowess. It felt appropriate in the setting and completely of the moment. Their last two songs drew two of the loudest cheers of the festival.

Next up on the schedule was Danny Brown, green-tipped hair and all, who absolutely invigorated what was starting to feel like a lull in the day’s actions. Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves was also on hand to watch this set and talked about punk, energy, unpredictably, danger, catharsis, and how Brown’s set embodied just about all of it. Brown’s last two records (XXX and Old, respectively) are two of the finest entries in hip-hop for the decade-so-far and his live show lived up to- and possibly surpassed- that recorded output. At this point he’s no longer a star in the making- he’s a bona fide star. Look out for whatever comes out of his camp next (fingers crossed on what seems to be a possibly impending collaboration with The Avalanches) because it’ll be more than worth paying attention to.

After Brown’s rousing set, it was back across the grounds for St. Vincent, still riding his on this year’s outstanding self-titled record. Annie Clark led her band through a set that leaned heavily on that record while occasionally glancing back (“Cheerleader“, in particular, was awe-inducing), always leaving at least one foot planted in her increasing fondness for futurist aesthetics. When she broke from that mold, though, the effects became staggeringly visceral. One of the most unexpected (and aggressive) moments of the festival, for instance, came when Clark led her band down into a free-for-all noise jam that bordered on chaos as it became increasingly heavier. Towards the end of this, Clark threw her guitar to the stage and started abusing it before crawling over to the bass drum, headbutting it repeatedly, rhythmically, before retreating and staying down, holding her head, clearly in some anguish. She would stay in that position for some time before a stagehand came and draped another guitar over her after receiving assurance that she was okay. It was a moment driven by pure, total feeling– and it was spectacular.

Neutral Milk Hotel put on some extraordinary shows after their surprise reunion last year (their Covington, KY show was particularly memorable) and they haven’t really stopped since. True to their wishes, the display screens for the festival were temporarily killed for their set. No cameras, no footage, just music and a shared experience. And what an experience it was. Literally thousands of people sang along in unison to personal favorites off of the band’s landmark achievement, In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea, and several jaws dropped when they went for their relatively deep cuts (“Ruby Bulbs” was as emotional as ever and “Ferris Wheel on Fire” remains transcendent in a live setting). It was mixed well, the band played with as much force as they did meaning and everyone in the audience was smiling, enjoying a moment that would have seemed impossible just a year and a half ago. It was the obvious choice to end the evening and felt akin to magic. Day 3 would have a lot to live up to.

Below watch a video of Cloud Nothings playing “I’m Not Part of Me” that was recently posted by the hosts of the festival themselves.

NXNE: Day 2 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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After Day 1 of NXNE got the festival off to a strong start, Day 2 is when the madness kicked into high gear. From late afternoon to well past midnight, there were sets from Caddywhompus, Speedy Ortiz, PS I Love You, Pissed Jeans, The Pizza Underground (although it’s still unclear if that could actually be called a set), Shannon & the Clams, Odonis Odonis, The Yips, and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs. These were spread out across four venues and, at the bottom of these writings, there’s visual documentation of all of them.

Day 2 started off at the gorgeous (and gorgeously lit) Mod Club Theatre, which boasted a stacked bill that was headlined by Pissed Jeans- who delivered what would be one of the most memorable single sets of the festival. Before that, there were several standout moments from each of the three bands preceding Pissed Jeans. Caddywhompus set the wheels in motion with their enticing combination of traditional math elements and post-punk. From their surprisingly sweet vocal melodies to the power drumming and guitar fireworks that drove the momentum of their set, it’s easy to see why people are starting to latch onto this band. Proving even more impressive was their use of noise-prone ambient transitions to seamlessly segue between many of their songs. Somewhere between their terrifyingly precise tempo shifts and their soaring choruses, they’ve carved out something even more impressive; a wide-open future.

Site favorites Speedy Ortiz were next to take the stage and delivered a set laced with great moments from Major Arcana as well as a song they’re currently prepping to release as a single for an Adult Swim series that’s entitled “Bigger Party”, which is the band at their most definitive. Grass is Green‘s Devin McKnight has taken up the space recently vacated by guitarist Matt Robidux and managed to come off as an integral (and more importantly, incredibly dynamic) part of the band. By the end of Speedy Ortiz’s set, they’d made the most of their penchant for irreverence by keeping the between-song moments lively with genuinely funny banter and a great rapport. There were no lulls or dull moments; the evening had hit its stride early with what would ultimately become one of the night’s most engaging sets.

Canadian favorites PS I Love You were the next ones up and have the benefit of a great new album on deck that they seemed eager to tease. Immediately apparent was their fondness for blistering volumes, which in lesser hands may have distracted from their musicality- not here. Add in a generous layer of fuzz and the jaw-dropping guitar heroics of Paul Saulnier (who also controlled blasts of bass-driven organ chords through wired presets on a pedalboard- and had sweat dripping off his fingers less than three songs into their set) and it wound up being a fairly staggering showcase for both Saulnier and the relentless drumming of Benjamin Nelson. While their set did drop its momentum after the ecstatic highs brought on by a genuinely impassioned performance of “Facelove“, things were restored by the very end of their set thanks to the strength of the songs on their outstanding upcoming full-length, For Those Who Stay.

After PS I Love You called it night, one thing suddenly became very clear: everything was about to become all about sludge-indebted hardcore titans Pissed Jeans. They didn’t disappoint. All but storming the stage, vocalist Matt Korvette started their set by immediately declaring that the band had a very important announcement to make: “We are no longer Pissed Jeans. We are now Virgin Mobile Pissed Jeans”- a possible dig at the festival’s increased incorporation of corporate sponsorship. Following that subtly-tinged bit of possible vitriol, their levels all quickly rocketed to seething. With Korvette absolutely owning the Mod Club Theatre stage (both Nick Cave and Iggy Pop frequently came to mind- and that’s saying quite a bit), his band exploded around him and consistently matched his energy level. Between songs, he would faux-berate the audience for not trying hard enough or for not being more into the performance- and at one point he even paused to conduct a music lecture on guitar composition (extended fives, sweeping fours, and triple sevens were all covered).

Never letting the energy levels drop even a fraction, Pissed Jeans annihilated just about every expectation and ended with what’s undoubtedly one of the strangest encores to ever be performed at NXNE. Here’s what happened: after a small but meaningful attempt from the audience to get the band back on stage for one more song, Korvette reappeared and took the reigns on bass and began playing a tribal-sounding bassline over and over, occasionally walking from the stage to the wings before disappearing completely (while still playing the bass). At one point, the guitarist became the drummer for a strange misdirect- and didn’t play a single note before getting off the throne and exiting the stage. Finally, after Korvette hadn’t appeared for about two minutes, he suddenly slid the bass out quite a ways onto the stage floor from his spot in the wings and the show was officially over. All of it caused one audience member to scream out “What did that even mean?!” which was shortly followed by his still-very-confused “…like, technically?!”. If only anyone knew.

Going from what was arguably the festival’s highlight to Lee’s Palace for what was inarguably the most uncomfortable set (courtesy of The Pizza Underground) was a little jarring. As mentioned up above, it’s difficult to know whether or not this could even be called a set-  it was more of a comedy variety hour. At any rate, Maculay Culkin’s Velvet Underground-aping Pizza project had a hard time finding or developing any sort of noticeable rhythm and it kept tripping over itself to bring in new ideas or guests- among them: Plop Dylan (Bob Dylan songs with the lyrics altered so that they were about feces), a karaoke section from #PUSSYJOEL (Billy Joel songs about cats- the only thing the internet loves more than pizza), and a bizarre Tony Danza-impersonating stand-up comedian. The most clever of these wound up being the least tactful; Kurt Cobain’d- a man dressed up as Kurt Cobain (who was arguably the best musician to be featured throughout their set) doing Nirvana songs where all of the present tense verbs were switched to the past tense. By the end of their set, they were barely doing any of their original (a term used very loosely, all things considered) material. At least they bought Pizza for everyone.

An additional benefit of The Pizza Underground’s set? Culkin’s celebrity draw prompted one of the biggest non-Yonge Dundas Square turnouts and several of them stuck around- and were subsequently blown away- by an incendiary set from Shannon & the Clams. The band had previously caused a lot of people to fall pretty hard for them with an extraordinary track record of releases through Burger Records and Hardly Art. Live, the band more than lived up to the promise of their studio releases and quickly filled the spots in Lee’s Palace that had been abandoned after The Pizza Underground left a bad taste in much of the audience’s respective mouths. Not too long into their set, the entire standing section was full of people grinning widely and dancing their hearts out to Shannon & the Clams’ throwback rock n’ soul basement pop. All things considered, that lasting image was one of the best takeaway moments of NXNE.

After Shannon & the Clams had left everyone smiling, the plan was to go to Smiling Buddha to settle in for The Yips and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs- fortunately, after running into Speedy Ortiz- we were redirected to Odonis Odonis’ set at The Garrison. Arriving mid-set meant the audience was already packed. The members of Speedy Ortiz, looking a touch exhausted, snagged a spot at the adjacent bar and advised us to go in to catch the band. Already being anxious to catch Odonis Odonis (who appeared on Heartbreaking Bravery’s First Quarter Finish mixtape), caused no hesitation in a move for the venue doors. Only a few songs were caught but it didn’t take long for Odonis Odonis to establish their connection to METZ: both bands have the same intense careening-all-over-the-place stage presence and love of ear-shattering volume levels. Their spastic synth-driven noise-punk freakouts managed to re-establish a new energy precedent for the evening and wound up being the best surprise set of the festival.

The Garrison was then left behind for the second consecutive night at Smiling Buddha (which would be visited again on nights 4 and 5) for late shows from The Yips and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs. Both bands made the best use of a very small stage that they didn’t quite seem to fit on. All five members of The Yips kept grinning and bouncing off each other as if they were having the time of their lives- a trend that was continued by the six member lineup of Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs. Where The Yips played surf-friendly basement pop that hinted at some art-friendly trappings, Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs went the full blue-collar basement punk route. Both bands drew huge reactions from the crowd and there was more than one instance of crowd surfing. The Yips had people dancing. Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs incited mass crowd sing-a-longs. There was clear-cut camaraderie between the bands and their audience in a small-scale environment- which is what all of the best festivals strive to achieve. It was a genuinely incredible end to an extraordinary day of sets and sent expectation skyrocketing for Day 3.

Watch videos from Caddywhompus, Pissed Jeans, Shannon & the Clams, The Yips, and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs below (apologies for the slightly blown-out audio)- beneath those, the photo gallery containing each band mentioned n the review. Enjoy.

Caddywhompus

Pissed Jeans

Shannon & the Clams

The Yips

Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs