Day three began with what have to be considered as two of Brooklyn’s absolute best bands, Widowspeak and Mr. Dream, both part of NYCtaper’s CMJ showcase at Cake Shop.
If there is a better way to end the work day than seeing Widowspeak live, we haven't thought of it. The trio sound phenomenal on stage, and this show was no different. Lead by the gorgeous voice of Molly Hamilton, the band dreamily unleashed their signature slowcore meets surf rock sound to a packed house eager to witness the much buzzed about group. Opening with the slinking “Nightcrawlers,” Hamilton’s soothing vocals floated over her and lead guitarist Robert Thomas’ cinematic guitars. Simple yet unnaturally beautiful, the guitars are filled with texture and hooks that lend to the general sexiness of their music. The good vibes continued on “Hard Times” and “Fir Coat,” a hazy up-tempo song with one of my favorite Widowspeak vocal melodies. Next up was “In The Pines,” a song that for some reason always reminds me of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged, though it doesn’t sound particularly similar. Hamilton’s stage presence can be a bit shy, only adding to her undeniable cuteness, though her voice shines at all times while Thomas acts as a perfect balance. His guitar tone generates a wealth of volume and texture, adding to the drummer Michael Stasiak’s ever steady rhythmic pulse. The band finished strong (though the beginning and middle were pretty damn strong too) with “Puritan,” and it’s explosive woozy riff, “Harsh Realm,” and “Gun Shy”.
After a one set separhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifation, it was time for Mr. Dream, and I was just as excited as ever, regardless of the fact I saw them on Tuesday night. The catchy pop sense that lurks under the muck and grind of their most guttural guitars and shouts works best in repetition, and the small confines of Cake Shop’s stage is most likely as close to seeing a Mr. Dream basement show as I’m ever going to get. The way the trio begin their sets is most entertaining as drummer Nick Sylvester seemingly bored of waiting, opts to play the opening rhythm to “Trash Hit” on repeat for an extended amount of time. With a portion of the audience growing confused, eventually bassist Matt Morello joins in followed shortly after by guitarist Adam Moerder, as he howls one of the best opening lines in recent memory, “It’s lamentable, and it’s not exactly my cup of tea, but what they hey”. Much of their sound relies on juxtaposition, as the band are brash but humorous, catchy but unapologetically abrasive, loose but brilliantly technical. Their set blasted from the floor to the low ceilings, filling the dimly light Cake Shop with dense rhythms and scathing guitars as the band highlighted several new tracks including recent single “Moneybags”. Trash Hit, the band’s full length debut remains Exploding In Sound’s favorite album of 2011 thus far, and witnessing the shrill ringing carnage of “Winners” and the genuinely anthemic climax of “Learn the Language” live only further cement the sentiment. The guys are headed out on tour in November, check out the dates HERE, and be sure to see them in your town.
Next on our schedule was The Library is on Fire, a Brooklyn trio who blend grunge, indie, art rock, and jangly pop elements together into the own scorching racket. The band played the bizarre makeshift stage at Alphabet Lounge, an ultra-high riser with an inconvenient banister directly between the band and audience. While the setting may have been less than ideal, TLIOF fired out their heaviest of songs driven by Steve Five’s captivating guitar tones and the unrelenting stampeding drums of Pete Sustarsic. The band churned through their crushing set, without a word between songs, as they let the momentum surge on tracks like “Vanessa’s Theatre of Peace” and the heartbreaking “I Miss You So Much, It Hurts So Bad”. The Library is on Fire played several songs from their upcoming new album Works on Paper, including stand outs “Basquiat” and “Hypnos Returns”.
I hopped in the cab to make the long journey from Alphabet Lounge to Terminal 5 where Portugal. The Man was playing the biggest show of CMJ. Unfortunately, due to some misleading information on the Music Marathon’s website, I arrived just in time to catch the tail end of Alberta Cross’ set, as they closed with the drifting dissonant blues rock of “ATX”. While I had all intention of catching their complete set (hence the reason I got in a cab), there were reported as direct support, but were instead the show’s opening act. They sounded great, wish I could have heard more Alberta Cross and a whole lot less of Givers.
Portugal. The Man has found the success they have long deserved. It became apparent on The Satanic Satanist that they would be one of the biggest bands in the country in a matter of time, and since releasing In The Mountain In The Cloud on Atlantic Records, the Portland by way of Alaska band are well on their way. That fact alone made it strange to see their name on the CMJ line-up, something lead singer/guitarist John Gourley later joked about saying, “Hello CMJ. We’re Portugal. The Man and we’re hoping to get discovered”. The band’s audience is rapidly growing, and this show was packed to the rafters with the under 21 crowd, an effect I’m going to attribute to the amount of airplay major labels can provide… and it’s well deserved. An elaborate stage set up with enormous lighting rigs that looked almost like illuminated octopus sprawled across the stage, the band were clouded in a sea of smoke, opening with current single “So American,” much to the audience’s delight. Releasing six albums in six years provides a great deal of material to cover, and Portugal. The Man grooved their way through a wide selection of songs from “AKA M80 The Wolf” to “Head is a Flame” and everything in between. The band were occasionally joined by violin and cello, and every song permeated with Gourley’s undeniable soul and the band’s penchant for improvisation. Highlights included “Do You,” “1989,” a cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” and “Everyone is Golden”. Still genuinely humble, Gourley stated he never thought they’d be able to sell out the 3,000 person capacity venue, and sincerely thanked the audience.
Knowing that I would be seeing Portugal. The Man again next weekend in New Orleans, I peeled myself away before the encore in order to catch J Mascis back downtown.
J Mascis, a true living legend, headlined Sub Pop’s showcase at Mercury Lounge with an “acoustic” performance that simply blew my mind. Calling the show acoustic however, is fairly ridiculous. We are after all, talking about the man responsible for damn near three decades of Dinosaur Jr’s eardrum shattering guitar solos. His acoustic guitar, running through pedals and an amp, squealed and rang as Mascis built a solid wall of layered noise. Joined by flute accompaniment, Mascis’ general reserved disposition comes unglued in his performances, highlighted on an extended rendition of “Make It Right,” “Several Shades of Why,” “Can I,” Dinosaur Jr’s “Get Me,” and his cover of Edie Brickell’s “Circle” (coming to 7” on Sub Pop in late November). A few weeks ago I got into a discussion about favorite guitarists of all time, and for me J Mascis takes that crown, and he only further established his qualifications during his late night set.