Over the years, you learn how to tame the wild beast that is CMJ. You learn which venues are worth the trek across the Williamsburg Bridge, and which bands are worth the hangover and sleep deprivation that ensue the next day. Here are a few.
Nine performances had Western Aussie three-piece Methyl Ethel zipping back and forth the Williamsburg Bridge for various showcases, letting New Yorkers know Tame Impala isn’t the only reason Perth has something to brag about. Methyl Ethel follows in the indie pop tradition led by lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Jake Webb, whose androgynous range of voice distinguished the band from the hundreds of others performing at CMJ. An oversold crowd at Pianos might have irked people pushing and shoving, trying to get inside the damn room had it not been for the mellow atmosphere the band created. Tracks like the reverb-drenched joyride, “Twilight Driving,” with its silver-tongued delivery, “Well it’s the early morning baby/I said why don’t you hit the snooze,” coupled with Webb’s vocal nuances, are what make this band great.
Down in the basement of the Delancey, Silverbird impressively performed The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but made sure to shed light on their own material. Pureland, the band’s recent record, paces intrepidly through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of rock territory with familiar rhythms and appealing melodies. Realistically, they belong playing a house party in some wistful ’90s love story starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, but fortunately, they’re here in 2015 melting faces.
When they get heavy, they get heavy– a bit on the Neil Young side, too. Need I say more? Mail the Horse are not your typical Brooklyn rock band, in that they have their own rehearsal space (not some shared warehouse in Bushwick with four other bands), and did not meet on Craigslist (friends since high school). Here’s a band of skilled musicians who work diligently to put out something they are proud of. After releasing Planet Gates this past June, the band has been soaring high, playing bigger stages and rubbing elbows with the type of PR personnel who can open those important doors for them. Subsequently, their audience has grown, but more importantly, Mail the Horse has given all of us twenty-something-year-olds music we aren’t embarrassed to play in front of our parents. That’s because our parents dig it, too.
When David Fricke walks out of your show with an ear-to-ear grin, you know you’re a cool ass band. Cage the Elephant tore the night up in a secret one-off show in a Burlesque-erotica hall on the Lower East Side during the height of CMJ. In the days leading up to the performance, the band had been insinuating a show via their Instagram account, and hid tickets throughout Manhattan’s landmarks to a few who were at the right place at the right time. At the performance, like sardines, the 100 or so of us not only got a gander at the band’s new material, slated for release this December, but were told by front man Matt Shultz to be the first crowd ever to see the album performed live. We were, as we believed in that moment right there, the luckiest people on earth.
Cage the Elephant’s forthcoming album Tell Me I’m Pretty, produced by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, will be their fourth studio album, and is an impressive trajectory from their 2013, Grammy-nominated Melophobia. The crowd thought so, too, and with unqualified wonder, stood captivated by Shultz and his illustrious stage antics that garnered him the #1 spot on Alternative Nation’s “Top 10 Rock Frontmen of 2014,” outrunning both Jack White and Eddie Vedder. When Shultz wasn’t floating overhead the CMJ crowd, sharing the mic and letting anyone near experience one of those OH SHIT moments, he was hanging from the balcony like all those former rockers he was first influenced by decades ago. But perhaps the crowning achievement of the night happened hours before, when everyone had to check their cell phones at the door. Whether to circumvent the leaking of the band’s new material, or to simply allow people to experience music the way it was intended to, you know, where we don’t have our phones up every single minute recording this riff and that riff, this performance was one of the most rousing nights New Yorkers have experienced this year. Thanks for keeping it real, boys.
Anyone who combines quick wit and slick guitar playing doesn’t need much more to win over a crowd. Especially if his name’s Ian Saint Pé. After roaming around the world and playing guitar on its stages for the last decade with the Black Lips, Saint Pé wanted a change. So he recruited a gaggle of Atlanta’s finest, each having cut their teeth in their own respective rock bands, hit the studio, then hit the road. After a 15 hour drive, the band took their first of three CMJ performances on Thursday, but shoddy sound at the venue didn’t allow for the band’s unique elements, particularly the harmonies, to shine through. However, the following night was a different story.
The crowd, now triple in size from the night before, enveloped the band as they beamed with confidence, only to be reassured by the reaction in front of them: moving, grooving, mosh pits and all. It was an obvious outcome with tracks like “Kiss It Goodbye” and “We Follow,” replete with their infectious guitar motifs and power-driven bass and drums. By the time the Nashville-tinged “Southern Living” rolled around with its ragtime-y piano workings, it was obvious the band was on another level. We were too.
The title of the band’s EP, Secular Music, alludes to western music that eschews any form of religion. “We play Elvis from the waist down type of music. Being that my last name and the name of the band is Saint Pé, I liked the ring of it.” Combining great musicianship with catchy ass riffs, it won’t be long before Saint Pé is back rocking this city. In the meantime, catch them on a string of dates down South with everybody’s favorite stoner rock band, Natural Child.
Post CMJ, the Gills are flying high, having heard their music on the radio for the first time. Think young, beautiful, giddy Liv Tyler doing the same when she hears her boyfriend’s band, The Oneders, song on the radio in “That Thing You Do.”
Though Nashville is brimming with more rock bands than it can keep up with, The Gills never lost sight of their Pensacola roots, adding a unique and alternative element of soul and oomph to the mix that is getting them noticed. When songs like “Rubberband” and “Feel It” hurtle into the mystic at warp speed, and squeeze out a lot of drama with just a few elucidatory power chords, it’s no wonder these dudes are rocking the airwaves.
– Melissa Caruso