New York rocks to a cast of thou­sands

CMJ Mu­sic Marathon puts the fu­ture of pop mu­sic on dis­play at 50 venues. Ris­ing out of the chaos is Priest­ess, a Mon­treal band that shook the foun­da­tions of the Bow­ery Ball­room

Montreal Gazette - - S p o rt s | w e a t h e r - MARK LEPAGE SPE­CIAL TO THE GAZETTE EW YORK –

NA full moon week­end in Man­hat­tan, and mu­si­cians scur­ry­ing around like ro­dents. Or vice versa. This was the CMJ Mu­sic Marathon, and with a thou­sand bands hit­ting 50 venues through the wee hours Mon­day, it was the last op­por­tu­nity in 2006 to find out what we should be lis­ten­ing to in 2007, to take the pulse of pop mu­sic.

Mon­treal has its own bur­geon­ing fest now, and peo­ple who’ve at­tended CMJ and Pop Mon­treal have paid trib­ute to both – en­joy­ing the scruffier, can-do spirit and in­no­cently cheer­ful au­di­ences at the Mon­treal fest. It is true: if you are search­ing for ur-hip­ster, or for pos­tur­ing jade-oids af­fect­ing the night­time slouch of ter­mi­nal been-there in broad day­light, then you’ve found their of­fi­cial game pre­serve in NYC. But once the full chaos gets rolling, there’s no deny­ing the scale here. And of course, CMJ does have a pedi­gree: in its 26 years, it has hosted REM, U2, Eminem, Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, the Beast­ies and many oth­ers.

Well, they weren’t here this year. How­ever, there were a few im­pres­sive dis­cov­er­ies and one bona-fide reve­la­tion in my ad­mit­tedly se­lected sam­pling (50 venues, re­mem­ber). And some­how, it all ended up back home.

The un­promis­ingly ti­tled Stephen Brod­sky’s Oc­tave Mu­seum brought a cheery, vet­eran qual­ity to indie pop, tinged with an al­most Liver­pudlian melod­i­cism. Which is weird, be­cause Brod­sky’s day job is metal in a band called Cave In. For those whose blood is a lit­tle thinned out from an alt-pop diet, Favourite Sons brought a stat­uesque Roxy-re­lated poise to their art-pop. Lead crooner Ken Grif­fin of Dublin (now Brook­lyn) led with gen­til­ity, yet com­mand- ed no false en­ergy, a bit of Bryan Ferry with a dash of Bono at his most con­trolled. And the band gave him space to sing, a true anom­aly out­side of the diva genre.

Speak­ing of di­vas, Noel Gal­lagher’s of­fered his en­dorse­ment of IV Thieves, the latest next-he­roes of Brit rock. Ad­van­tage: ev­ery­one in the quar­tet writes, and ev­ery­one’s heard of the Kinks. “Dunno what the last band had to put up with, but this mic fookin’ stinks,” said the reedy-voice Nic Arm­strong, be­fore also cel­e­brat­ing the virtues of drink­ing beer in the af­ter­noon (it was 3 p.m.). There is a fu­ture here, when the fo­cus gets tighter.

The Cine­mat­ics will al­ready en­joy a present, since their aloof private-school­boy look and a sound as an­gu­lar as the hair­cuts will find a ready-made au­di­ence. Thing is, this spiky gui­tar/re­verb sound had been washed clean of any­thing but the most nec­es­sary new wave el­e­ments.

Luck­ily, for writ­ers, all is not rosy. Hy­pes are also ex­posed. The Black Lips cruised in on a wave of ex­cite­ment and turned out to be garage pre­tenders whose stomp­ing “rave-up” per­for­mance en­ergy couldn’t dis­guise their in­abil­ity to tune up prop­erly. There was love from the crowd, yeah, and fair enough, but this was proof that, with a yeah-yeahyeah at­tack and cheap beer in the venue, you can fool some of the peo­ple some of the time.

Of the most heav­ily hyped acts, only one was unattain­able, Al­bert Ham­mond Jr. of the Strokes had a solo show­case Fri­day night in the Mer­cury Lounge. The gig was so over­sold that the door­man, eye­ing the hun­dred or so peo­ple queue­ing up to maybe buy ad­di­tional tick­ets that might pos­si­bly be re­leased, said the venue would only be­gin hon­our­ing CMJ passes at 1 a.m. Er, wasn’t the gig at mid­night? Yeah. No mat­ter, when you could walk face-first into the re­mark­able im­men­sity of Nor­we­gian synth drama band 120 Days. Five key­boards? Their multi-lay­ered echoplex of sound – glacial, thud­ding and pris­matic – had the crowd in Sin-é slack­jawed. Que­bec will die for th­ese Scando Floyd­scapes; and a quasi-sym­phonic I Wanna Be Your Dog, taken at half-speed, was amaz­ing.

Slouch­ing against their ve­hi­cle on At­tor­ney St. af­ter­wards, singer Ådne Me­is­fjord was gut­ted be­cause the band’s equip­ment had “mal­func­tioned,” lim­it­ing their sonic pal­ette. Re­ally?

And last Satur­day, two promis­ing bands de­liv­ered us to the home run of the con­ven­tion. New York’s Sure­fire have evolved away from their orig­i­nal con­tempo-Tom Petty sound to a more straight­for­ward ’70sriff groove. Led by Ben Rice, in boots, beard and dirty blonde hair, the band’s de­cep­tively sim­ple but pol­ished set made it easy to for­get th­ese guys are teenagers.

L.A.’s Wires on Fire were con­vinc­ingly agro-an­ar­chic, with a frayed edge shred­ded by goth ac­cents and punk en­ergy. And lots of gob­bing straight out of Hard Core Logo. Keep them in mind, and wear pro­tec­tion.

But the reve­la­tion came from Priest­ess. On tour since Jan­uary, the Mon­treal band’s hour-long per­for­mance sent a sud­denly packed Bow­ery Ball­room heav­ing on its foun­da­tions. Su­per­hu­manly tight, the at­tack was near-per­fect; even Vince Nudo’s drum solo was spot-on. (Praise for a drum solo – it nearly gave me phys­i­cal pain to write that). Quite pos­si­bly the best hard rock band on the planet right now, they’re cer­tainly the most en­joy­able.


Mikey Hepp­ner (right) and Dan Watchorn of Priest­ess rock­ing Mon­treal ear­lier this year.

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