The second day of CMJ found me returning once again to Bowery Ballroom, this time for a bill comprised of Manchester Orchestra and friends. Opening the show was Hardello, more commonly known as Hardy Morris, the lead singer/guitarist of Athens based Dead Confederate. Being a huge fan of his band, I was extremely excited to see what he would do solo, and sure enough I was pleasantly blown away. Sitting with just an electric guitar and some warm distortion, Hardy opened the set with a string of his own solo compositions, each showcasing his song writing abilities and terrific lyrical delivery. At one point during his set he revealed "I have no idea what I'm doing," and I got the impression that going on tour as a solo act hadn't been something he was planning on. Regardless, he sounded great and easily held his own on the bill. Playing solo gave him the opportunity to step out from Dead Confederate's gloriously dense wall of sound and feature his voice and melodies as the main focal point in each track. Mid way through the set Hardy was joined by Ben Wigler as the two performed Dead Confederate's most recent single "Run From The Gun," a slow folky ballad that sounded exceptional live. After the set I purchased a DIY hand numbered/written EP simply labeled "Thomas Hardy" with studio versions of four of the solo tracks performed during his set featured. It's not quite clear what he's calling himself and what his plans are with his solo project, but whether we're talking Hardello, Hardy Morris, or Thomas Hardy... it's obvious the man is an incredible songwriter.
Taking the stage next was Gobotron, the side project of Manchester Orchestra guitarist Robert McDowell in his live debut. While his album On Your Mark, Get Set... was released several months ago, Gobotron live was birthed for the very first time on Tuesday night in New York City. McDowell was joined by Manchester Orchestra's rhythm section and Bad Books' Kevin Devine on guitar, filling out the line-up for a rocking good time. Gobotron's music is heavily influenced from the early 90's alternative/power pop sound, drawing comparisons to Weezer, Matthew Sweet, and Superdrag. The band ripped through songs from the debut, as McDowell controlled the stage like a natural frontman. The band took the stage playing a familiar Rolling Stones' riff that lead into their lead track, continuing the riff between each and every song of the set as Manchester Orchestra's Chris Freeman took it upon himself to run out each time and dance around like Mick Jagger. The band were tight during set highlights "Got It!" "Empty," and a cover of Liz Phair's "F**k and Run".
Right Away, Great Captain! came next, the solo project of Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull. He performed heart-wrenching using electric guitar and wide open spaces to deliver the massive emotional depth of his music. Hull announced he was working on a third and final album from the project, performing several tracks from the upcoming release. While his music takes a heavy toll, his banter between songs was lighthearted and humorous ranging from his increasing weight to discussing his guest list spots and tuning with his guitar turned up. He offered gentle and delicate versions of "Rotten Black Root," "Fresh Start Booze," and several others before ending the set with a rough attack of feedback and distortion that pulled everything together for the main event.
The moment all had been waiting for arrived as Bad Books took the stage, making their live debut the same day as their albums official release. For those that have missed the enormous hype, Bad Books is comprised of Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine, coming together to create a cohesive and terrific combination of their strengths. The band roared through nearly their entire album with the audience going wild on early stand outs "You Wouldn't Have to Ask" and "Please Move". Midway through their set the band exploded into a stunning cover of Built To Spill's "The Plan," with Devine doing his best Doug Marsch impression to great results. Hull commented it took them a lot of practicing to get that right, as the bridge was difficult. He seemed thrilled they pulled it off so well, and it certainly made the night that much more memorable for me. The band also performed a few songs from their respective catalogs during the encore, driving the audience into full blown frenzy during Devine's "Just Stay" and "Cotton Crush" and Manchester Orchestra's somber "Now That You're Home". Hull made the announcement that Bad Books isn't a one time offering and were looking forward to making their next album to which everyone, band and crowd included, seemed genuinely excited about. The entire night was awesome and fairly historic as it included milestones for all in attendance.
After the show I headed down the street to Local 269 where I caught a blistering performance from Scott Lucas and The Married Men. Lucas, more commonly known as one half of the grunge duo Local H began his "solo" project last year, a stripped down affair more in line with the alt/folk sound of Neil Young. Assembling The Married Men, a collection of Chicago musicians, his "solo" band contains a massive seven people to create their desired sound. While Lucas handles lead vocals and guitar, he is joined by bass, drums, violin, accordion, lead guitar, and keyboards, ultimately creating a massive wall of sound that is relentless live. The band, dressed in formal suits (and a dress for the female member) didn't come close to fitting on the stage, with several members performing from the bar's floor. Having played several tours together in the past year, the band has started to grow, creating new interpretations of their songs and building with intensity during their live show. The sheer noise made by these seven musicians happily consumed the packed venue, as the tightly structured compositions exploded with each musician cranked to 11. Performing their own take on Local H's "Hey, Rita" and David Bowie's "Absolute Beginners" Lucas and The Married Men aren't afraid to leave their indie folk mark on songs from any of rock's genres. The calming restraint of their debut album George Lassos The Moon seems to be drifting away from their live show, but the songs still remain thoughtful, well written, and vastly different from his "day job". Check out a video from their recent performance in Cleveland...