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.