CMJ Day 2: Todd P vs. Red Bull

Leave it to Todd P to host his anti-CMJ parties at an outdoor park in late October. But as the saying goes, Mr. P works in mysterious ways. On Tuesday, Brooklyn’s famed DIY concert promoter announced that starting Wednesday, every night of CMJ madness would be countered with a free party at Williamsburg’s Continental Army Plaza—a tiny, skateboard-ridden park near the Williamsburg bridge—with bands playing every half hour from around 3pm to around 8 or 9. And there would be absolutely no “no corporate sponsorships & no ‘vip’ lists & no bullshit.” God forbid.

So, obviously, I let my friends drag me out to the ‘Burg for a couple hours before I headed down to Soho for an official CMJ event. And yes, it was freezing. Fifty kids stood in front of two stages set up below a giant statue of George Washington on horseback, hopping up and down and wishing they’d brought gloves. I certainly did. And yet, it was a pretty great time. Todd P and his watchful minions paced around with the words “Continental Army Plaza Staff” emblazoned in black marker on their white Ts. A couple cops showed up to make sure things were kosher. The J train rattled away in the distance. And the bands played on, content in the cold night air. I caught the tail end of local guitar-n-drums duo Sisters, bobbed my head to the frantic pop of Atlanta’s all-female quartet, The Coathangers, before catching the Crystal Antlers’ fantastic 7:30 set. Long Beach’s Antlers (not be confused with the Crystal Castles or the Crystal Stilts) play vintage psychedelia with tons of angsty energy—all wah-wah guitar and seething organ. Each song sounded as if it could fly off its axis at any moment, which, of course, was precisely point.

Soon after the quintet packed up their gear, I grabbed some falafel and caught the L train into Manhattan for a show at the new Red Bull Space—an ultra-modern little gallery tucked into the second floor of a non-descript building at Thompson and Watts streets in Soho. The space’s website describes itself as a “home for your unique and innovative events and ideas.” To me, it just seemed like a “home for corporate sponsorship and red mood lighting”—which, given the quality of the bands and the free booze, was fine by me.

I planned to catch the all-male, all-Canadian band, Women, at 9, though the Red Bull Space wasn’t easy to find and I ended up missing the first few minutes. Still, I caught enough of the quartet’s shtick—highly-arpeggiated atonal guitar with fey 60’s vocals (i.e. Sonic Youth meets early Kinks)—to know that it was worth the effort. They stopped just when things were started to get really interesting (short sets being one of the event’s few downsides), though I expect I’ll be hearing much more of these Calgary boys and their self-titled debut (out on Jagjaguwar).

After getting another free beer (Franziskaner, no less), I caught locals Takka Takka. On their sophomore effort, Migration (produced by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s drummer, Sean Greenhaigh, and guest-starring National drummer, Bryan Devendrof), the quintet crafts a disquieting melancholy with all sorts of synths and chiming guitars working at curious cross-purposes. Journalists name-drop Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno, which isn’t far off base. But live, something got lost in the shuffle; not every cylinder fired in unison. And the vocals too—over-emotive, a little pitchy—felt out of place. Though in fairness, the venue’s sound wasn’t great, which certainly isn’t surprising at a space like this.    

After the Takkas, it was home to be bed and some much-needed rest… Tonight, it’s Jay Reatard, King Khan, and the legendary Mission of Burma at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Wish me luck.

CMJ Day 2: Todd P vs. Red Bull