CMJ Music Marathon Report #1: Lifetime, Modern Life Is War, Q-Tip
Wed, 17 Oct 2007 13:35:40
Like the feisty fall sister to spring's South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX, the CMJ Music Marathon comes barreling around the corner every October/November, ready to take over the streets of New York City with scruffy indie kids, thousands of established and aspiring bands, and even more industry goobers. This year's installment came with fair bit of controversy, when CMJ's submission process was called into question just a month before the festivities began. But no one seemed that preoccupied with the hullabaloo as they were standing in line for badges on Tuesday, abuzz with expectations—who's going to see the show from hip-hop livewire M.I.A. on Friday? Or to see Lifetime and The Bouncing Souls tonight at Webster? Or Band of Horses and the Sub Pop showcase on Saturday?
After snagging my badge, I wandered over to Webster Hall to check out the Lifetime bill, where 20-something big brothers were trying to get their underage siblings through the door. Inside, Webster was reeling from the after-effects of one too many smoke machine blasts. Not exactly the kind of setting you'd picture Philly's Low Budgets, an early act, playing in. Their snarky, organ-grinding punk-pop called to mind Ribbed-era NOFX with galloping three-chorders about boogers and fat cops. But the half-full ballroom wasn't buying it, as a few plug-'n-hoodie dudes clamored for the next band, Modern Life Is War, at every chance they got.
When the Iowa-based five-piece finally took the stage, it was easy to see what all the fuss was about. With a nasty lead singer (uh, leather vest and black wife beater?) and an uber-aggro stage presence, the band ripped through a set of spirited tough-guy metalcore in the vein of Throwdown or Hatebreed—only with some violence-adoring lyrics and a few cacophonous blastbeats thrown in for good measure.
While Webster filled out nicely for Modern Life Is War, it didn't get really packed until Lifetime took the stage. Frontman Ari Katz abandoned his VIP post in the balcony, where he'd previously been looking on, and the forebearers of New Jersey basement-show culture took the stage, making sure not to skip "Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show" or any of the other classics from Hello Bastards and Jersey's Best Dancers along the way.
With my punk quota met for the night, it was time to head to Blender Theatre for some Gotham-bred hip-hop courtesy of Tribe Called Quest alum and recent VH1 Honors star Q-Tip. With vintage boom-bap pulsing through the sound system, an amped-up crowd clapped at every light adjustment and every tech guy scampering across the stage to tweak a setting. After more than enough teasing, Tip bounded into view clad in a Kangol hat, white blazer and sunglasses, and kicked the set off with "Fever" from his forthcoming album, The Renaissance. "Excursions," a Tribe classic from Low End Theory, followed two songs later, sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy that only intensified when Tip called on his live band to vamp through a version of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" a few seconds later.
With "Bonita Applebum" ringing in my head, it was time for a bum-luck trip to the Bowery Ballroom to catch music blog Brooklyn Vegan's showcase featuring The Rosebuds, Dean & Britta, The Most Serene Republic, Miracle Fortress and others. Alas, the door guy shot me down before I could even flash an I.D., so it was off to the Delancey to check out the Deli Magazine party with NY-based dream popsters Soft, whose rock-gaze came replete with the all too rare stand-alone indie singer and a whole bunch of closed eyes. The drama was intense, aiming for a sort of U2-via-Johnny Marr-via-Soft Complex grandness. It worked. Even when the phaser came out for the final track, a cloud-like number that stayed beautiful until the outro's gnarly collapse.
A quick train ride over the Williamsburg Bridge spat me out in Brooklyn, where the hot item of the night was the Celebration show at Union Pool. Only problem was, for the second time that day, a doorman had to break bad news. Sold out, no getting in unless you had a wristband. Which left me wondering: what good are these badges anyway?
An interesting start.
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