On Friday, my last day at CMJ, I hit the jackpot and walked away with something I'll remember for years to come. The band was People Get Ready, but honestly this was more than a band — this was the best mix of performance art and music I've seen in decades. Watching this show, called Specific Ocean, felt like seeing a a group create a live music video for each song. The buoyant, celebratory work took place at a large, black box theater space at New York Live Arts, and was full of the kind of surprises I want out of music and theater.
From the raked seating I looked down on a floor made of Masonite, a thin, wood-fiber board cut into eight foot by three foot rectangular sheets. That flooring would become the centerpiece of the performance — it was used to make wobbly and percussive sounds and also as a surface on which to project the band's new video.
Steven Reker, like other members of the group, is a dancer and musician (others included Luke Fasano, James Rickman and Jen Goma), but the music and performance in Specific Ocean were so integrated. Reker and the other guitarists played while dancing or lying on the floor, and the singers were dragged across the huge floor by the very microphone cords that were connected to the sound system. The music from the Brooklyn band was original but not far from the sound we've heard over the past few years from say Dirty Projectors or Yeasayer (drummer Luke Fassano played with Yeasayer). People Get Ready's album comes out this week. I've been playing it constantly since Friday's performance.
The very next thing I saw was a more traditional band on a stage — Front Bottoms at Santos Party House — but going back to the standard band setup wasn't the let-down I had feared. The group is led by New Jersey's Brian Sella, a confessional singer in the vein of The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle, and rarely have I seen such passion from a club audience for a band I knew nothing about. Santos was filled to capacity and from back to front, people were singing every word. The few that didn't may have been busy stage diving to the punk-ish folk he was strumming and speak-singing. Communal and joyous.
Other notable moments in the day came from Savages, a dark, poetic London band of women that sometimes traveled the ether that Joy Division pioneered, and from Montreal's The Luyas, who made elegant and complex music with an orchestral and electronic feel at WNYC's Greene Space.
You Won't is another one of those bands with dedicated fans who hang on their every lyric. This duo of guitar — often acoustic — and drums was winning live in a way that they weren't in my blindfolded pre-Marathon listening (their tunes got single star ratings). But I chose to see them after too many people said, "Have you seen You Won't?" I was seduced by their friendly sound. At one point during their late-night happening at the Bowery Ballroom, the band came off the stage and stood on chairs in the midst of the audience to perform, with a great deal of charm, on accordion and wind chimes.
The last band I saw, one whose record I'll spend more time with, was Hundred Waters. Their music was intricate and delicate, though I only caught one final song due to the long line at Pianos. Still, a good way to end the night and my four days and 45 shows. I'm exhausted and exhilarated.
My favorite ten discoveries from CMJ 2012:
- People Get Ready
- Death Grips
- Front Bottoms
- Wooden Indian Burial Ground
- The Orwells