CMJ is over, and I survived. Not only did I survive, but I had a great time. For the most part, I stayed away from the bigger showcases and let the bigger blogs cover the bigger, bloggier artists. I did not see Trash Talk, even though they seemed to be the band that every website was fixated on. That’s fine; they’re enjoying their critical moment, and I don’t feel the sudden need to partake, though that show at Cake Shop did sound bananas. I spent a lot of time at free shows, and wound up serendipitously attending the Duck Down vs. Blacksmith showcase at Music Hall of Williamsburg Saturday night when Brooklyn Bowl wasn’t accepting badges as of 9pm. Though I did want to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Givers, this wound up being good fortune, as Pharaohe Monch was probably the most invigorating thing I saw all weekend. Jean Grae was on point, smart, and engaging as hell. If there was a disappointment, it was that Pharaohe and Jean combined played the same amount of time as Smif-n-Wessun, who prove that the gulf between a transcendent hip-hop performance and any other hip-hop performance is enormous. Talib Kweli has never thoroughly impressed me, but his show with a backing band was convincing of his place as an alpha MC, a top-notch showman, and a deserved headliner. Buckshot of Black Moon added his own dimension, surprisingly, as I didn’t know Buckshot was still rapping. He definitely belonged in this company, but was buoyed by having Talib as the second half of his duo.
If anything, CMJ this year taught me that while it’s fine to be at the buzzed about shows, it’s also great to take chances and see artists on a whim in rooms that aren’t cool and don’t have a hundred blog write-ups. It’s also totally fine to miss out. Of the 20 artists I included in my FreeMJ guide, I caught seven, which is totally reasonable when I think of how many others I did see.
Below I’ve broken down all the bands I saw into categories of merit, and included some random thoughts on CMJ.
A Place to Bury Strangers
Worth Missing Whatever I Missed
Talib Kweli (with Buckshot)
Xeno & Oaklander
Emmy the Great
Take It Or Leave It
Miracles of Modern Science
Smif -n- Wessun
Weirdest CMJ Moment
Being in the studio for Danny Brown’s Daytrotter session.
Venue I Probably Spent the Most Time In
Best Song I Saw Performed at CMJ
“Desire” by Pharoahe Monch
Band That Was Completely Off My Radar That Really Impressed Me
Band I Saw Twice Despite Not Trying To See Them Once
The Best Introductions to Jacuzzi Boys Songs
“This song is about baseball!”
“This song is about girls and fishes!”
“This song is about ceramic pigs!”
“This song is about lots of things!”
Earliest Set I Saw
The first band of the week for me, Country Mice, who took the stage around 1pm at Dominion. Sadly, I wasn’t able to catch a pre-noon set this year.
Best Piece of Swag
I happily made it out of CMJ without a single piece of swag. Perhaps the single thing that I did bring home with me was the Sailor Jerry hangover I had on Saturday after the Brooklyn Vegan party the day before. How I managed to have such a raging headache despite not having anything to drink after 8pm is a secret that lies somewhere in a plastic cup in Public Assembly’s trash.
Best Drink Special
When drinks are free it’s a toss-up. It would go to the aforementioned Sailor Jerry fest if not for the ill side affects, so I’m giving it to Trash Bar, who were offering a one hour open bar from 8-9 on Saturday night. I showed up just after dinner specifically to see Gross Relations and would have been happy to pay for a PBR or two, but it turned out they were free. A good way to start – or rather, continue the night.
Worst Drink Special
This isn’t really a special in any sense of the word, but a Tecate and a Red Bull vodka ran me $17 at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Is that normal? I guess I was spoiled by the $3 Tecates I had all day at Fontana’s.
Yellow Ostrich photo by me shot using Instagram
Byrds of Paradise
Miracles of Modern Science
My Teenage Stride
Pillars and Tongues
The House Floor
The Poison Control Center