Jay Does CMJ 2012 – THURSDAY REPORT!

After taking Wednesday off to give my ears a break after Tuesday’s awesome showcase, I was rigged and ready to spend all Thursday navigating Brooklyn and checking out some more showcases! After catching an early train into the city, I managed to arrive in Brooklyn at 1PM, a half-hour before Royal Baths were supposed to begin playing at Public Assembly. As soon as I got off the subway, I ran into Riley, No-ViCE chair and host of “Spring Break!” (11p on Wednesdays). It turned out that we were both heading to the same showcase, so we walked to Public Assembly together. Once at the venue, we were also joined by Alex, WVKR’s tech director and host of “The Olive Garden” (10p on Tuesdays). Vassar was SERIOUSLY representing at this concert.

When we got settled into the venue, I began taking in our surroundings. Public Assembly is starkly minimal in its design; a winding black corridor leads to a sizable all-black room, complete with dim lighting, a bar in the back, and a highly-raised stage. I thought of it as an upper-echelon DIY venue — there were signs of polish, but the grit was impossible to ignore.

Very few people were milling about this space at the beginning of Royal Baths’ set, which got underway a little bit after 2PM. They proceeded to pummel the room with roaring, droning psych-rock. The tempo was never fast but the noise was always enveloping and hypnotic; the drums sang out intricately moody beats, the guitars shimmered and exploded with a melodic dissonance akin to Velvet Underground’s finer freakouts, and the two voices chanted into the void. Bassist/vocalist Lesley Hann would occasionally make unwavering eye contact with specific audience members, which added a layer to the unsettling nature of their music. It was a weird but amazing experience; I highly recommend catching them live if you’re into the whole doom and gloom thing.

The next act I caught at Public Assembly was Wild Yaks, with music-director-partner-in-crime Thea. The band showed off a set of scrappy, anthemic punk tunes that sounded like a slightly crustier Titus Andronicus. The four people on stage sang almost every lyric together, which made each word sound like a beer-soaked battle cry. There was jumping around, there was pounding fists into chests, and there was a constant percussive roll being tapped out by drummer Martin Cartegna. They were a really fun act to watch, but the crowd at Public Assembly was spread thin and it therefore didn’t feel like the full experience. Unfortunate. In any case, they have a new album coming out November 20th called “Million Years” on Ernest Jennings Record Co. (same label as O’Death, who paid a visit to our campus last year)  — check it!

Wild Yaks were followed by The Intelligence, a name that kinda sounds like it would fit on a bill with names like Dashboard Confessional and The Bravery, amirite? Of course, they didn’t break out into emo-pop when they started their set. They instead hit us with some awesomely neurotic post-punk. The songs worked in energetic short bursts, falling in line somewhere between Thee Oh Sees’ knack for catchy guitar hooks and Gang of Four’s call-and-response shouts.

I was to find out afterwards that this band’s been around since 1999, and that they’re currently touring their seventh LP, out now on In The Red. This all makes sense in retrospect; they gave off an air of seasoned professionalism during their set, cracking jokes and entertaining the crowd in-between songs while knowing exactly where they were taking us next. It was a breathless performance that somehow didn’t feel rushed. I totally want to see them again, ideally in The Mug with a whole bunch of people there (*cough cough* No-ViCE *nudge*).

Then came the Sub Pop showcase at the Knitting Factory, which was possibly the pinnacle of my CMJ experience. While the first three acts ranged from agreeable to abysmal (people really like Daughn Gibson?), the next two acts were unreasonably good. Fourth on the bill that night was Metz, a noise-punk trio from Vancouver who could possibly be the best new band of 2012. As soon as they started in on their first riff, I began nudging into people because I knew that we were about to be assaulted with glorious ear-splitting mania that would inevitably induce a pit.

Surely enough, as soon as all three members began slamming their respective instruments, the densely-packed audience got aggressive fast. It was an unrelenting maelstrom of feedback, distorted minor chords, and POUNDING drums that can only be explained with CAPITAL LETTERS. Their last song was an extended version of album highlight “Wet Blanket” which went on and on and on and on. Guitarist Alex Edkin took the time during this breakdown to throw his guitar all over the place and intermittently banshee-scream into the mic, while the noise and energy kept building and building for what felt like an eternity. Best eternity ever!

King Tuff followed with a set that was less intense than Metz, as expected. I had to give my body a break after getting the wind knocked out of me during the last band’s performance, so I hung towards the back to watch this quirky, handlebar-mustachioed garage rock outfit from Vermont. Most of the crowd somehow had reserve energy left over from Metz and formed an even bigger mosh pit that consumed the entire front half of the Knitting Factory. The audience’s excitement was completely justified — King Tuff played the longest set out of anyone I saw at CMJ, and they were breaking a sweat throughout.

Their music exuded a glam flamboyancy; the all-American guitar riffs and King Tuff’s nasally upper register called to mind acts like T-Rex and Hunx. Their personality was thrown into even sharper relief when they’d take breaks in-between songs to tell us about how they saw a cute moose on the side of the road, and about how Shirley Temples are the best drink in the universe. They were having a good time, and we were too. But, unfortunately, their set had to end eventually. One of the last songs they played was their standout single  “Bad Thing” from the new album. I had no choice but to rush towards the front and sing along for one last hurrah.

After King Tuff ended around 1AM, I started my long odyssey from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, where an air mattress with my name on it awaited my arrival (shouts out to Robert for letting me crash). Thursday was a long and adventurous day, and I still had one more to go.

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