Basically, this writer boycotted the College Music Journal (CMJ) music festival that took place in New York City from October 30th through November 2nd. As if this city isn't nuts enough around Halloween time, we had the CMJ festival and the NYC Marathon that same weekend, which meant this town was bursting at the navel.
Who the hell at CMJ thought this was good planning? See, for all you folks who don't live here, you most likely see New York City as the Mt. Olympus of music media. You expect a citywide commotion over CMJ the same way Austin, Texas gets turned inside out for the South By Southwest music festival. But what y'all don't realize is that the live music circuit in NYC is this exciting ALL THE TIME. There are this many bands playing in this many clubs every week of the year. The difference is, during CMJ no one can get into any of the shows because of all the hoopla.
Even those of us with press passes get rejected because by nine o'clock, venues have already reached maximum capacity. Now, my ass has a larger capacity than some of the venues, but for some reason, the big CMJ acts were shoved into the "intimate" spaces rather than the large clubs. Meanwhile, many of the hot indie bands that played the big venues were New York bands (Radio 4, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Northern State, The Walkmen, French Kicks). Ironically, if you lived here, you could go see any of these bands twice a month. (At least the Moldy Peaches have the decency not to play themselves out.) And you could actually get into the shows without being told the maximum capASSity has been met.
Longwave at the Mercury Lounge, October 3, 2002
When was the last time you heard the word "beautiful" used to describe the music in the current New York scene? Well, look out, hot pants. Longwave's songs are beautiful. Truly. And contrary to what some of you might think, "beautiful" hardly means "emo," which certainly means "weenie." With all the anxious bang-and-clatter sounds of the garage/art-rock revival, it's nice to listen to music that won't make you feel like you've guzzled a pint of espresso and had fun with cattle prods. Did I mention Longwave are opening for the Vines on a European tour? Did I mention cattle prods?
Local fellas Shannon Ferguson (guitar), Mike James (drums), Dave Marchese (bass) and Steve Schiltz (guitar, vocals) craft melancholy rock songs like a baby Radiohead. (Actually, Thom Yorke himself could use a reminder of what that sounds like.) And the singer has curly, poufy hair in the spirit of Brian Krakow from "My So-Called Life."
Schiltz (whose name is too close to "Schlitz" to ignore) doled out lightening quick riffs that turned his hand into a blur. There are guys who would kill for a wrist that moves that quickly. Ahem. Longwave used enough guitar pedals to keep a gaggle of quadrupeds busy, and the special effects radiated right out of the amps. The simple drum beats further helped the songs coast by with ease. Coasting is good. It proves that the music doesn't have to barrel along in order to hold our interests. It's akin to locking lips with a suave motherfucker who need not fumble with your belt buckle to keep you buzzing. Such endearing qualities were even more so whenever Schiltz stood on his tiptoes and sang into the mic. At his most brooding, he sounded like Steve Kilbey of the Church (the guy who sang "Under the Milky Way"). At his most rock, Schiltz played his guitar down by his ankles like it was dead weight. When the band announced they were playing their last song,
the packed house wheezed out a sweet "aaaawww" that could've replaced the filling in a Charleston Chew candy bar.
Division of Laura Lee at the Mercury Lounge, October 7, 2002
Get more bangin' Swedes for you buck right here in NY Rock Confidential.
Division of Laura Lee's singer/guitarist Per Stalberg could be an extra in the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movies. The husky fellow has a Friar Tuck bowl-haircut and a gap between his front teeth that could rival that of a hippopotamus. He was sweating before DOLL started playing. The rest of the band is slight and cuddly by comparison. There's bandy-legged pretty-boy bassist/singer Jonas Gustavsson, supremely svelte guitarist David Ojala, and faintly moustached drummer Hakan Johansson.
"Let's dance everybody," instructed Stalberg. "If you don't know how to do it, just look at me cuz I sure know how to do it." The burly boy got down with his bad self but the fucking uptight New York crowd stood still. Ladies and gentlemen, when you see a fat man dance onstage, take the hint and shake some love yourself. It's not hard to do with rock 'n' roll like this. DOLL ravaged their set comprised mostly of songs from their album Black City including "We've Been Planning This For Years," "The End Is Near," "Pretty Electric" and a song that my mom often plays for me called "Need to Get Some." The band bounced around like wind-up toys on crack. Ojala ended songs by pointing to the ceiling, while Gustavsson extended his arm in grand presentation toward his bandmates as if he were one of Bob Barker's lady-helpers on "The Price Is Right."
Like their better-looking American counterparts, Girls Against Boys, DOLL swathes your loins in dark, flustering sexual power. With every passing second, these songs encroach upon you like a swarm-and-tackle offense, increasing your trepidation. And you'll welcome that, because let's be honest, my grandmother is more sinister than all those aloof revivalist rock 'n' rollers. It's ironic, then, that Stalberg was the one who walked away feeling funny. "Don't be so quiet," he told the morbid crowd, "it gives me the creeps."
Diamanda Galas at Joe's Pub, October 21, 2002
There was a full moon on October 21st, when Diamanda Galas performed at Joe's Pub, the second of her four scheduled dates at the venue. Galas is more than a piano-pummeling goddess who can reach the farthest corners of human emotion with her four-octave voice. She's also a voice for people who have been silenced by disease, injustice, and hate. It's hard to imagine a more powerful mouthpiece. Her critics are mostly right-wing tightwads who see an impure, threatening demon spouting her evil to and fro. Perhaps her wild operatic vignettes are a bit imprecatory, but that's why we love her.
Dressed in black with thick hoop earrings, Galas played pieces from her forthcoming album La Serpenta Canta and previously recorded songs including "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," "I Put a Spell on You," "Baby's Insane," and "25 Minutes to Go." She hailed down on the piano keys and made noises you'd associate with animals of the rainforest. Haul in a couple of screeching monkeys and parrots, and we'd have the Diamanda Galas All-Star Chorus. On the human side of things, Galas also flaunted a sexy cabaret allure a la Eartha Kitt and a craggy, Dylan-esque charm. Her voice didn't shift in pitch so much as mutate. She went from bone-dry rasps to swooping cries to a curdling sound I can only associate with butter turning rancid. Truly jaw-dropping, truly wicked.
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