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Tom Hawking's CMJ Diary: Part Five

22 October 2012 | 12:16 pm | Live From CMJ

Discovery of the evening: Matthew McConaughey was once arrested for causing a disturbance by playing the bongos naked. While heinously baked. Of course.

4pm

Once more into the blogging breach. Today is Australian day at CMJ — the headline attraction is the Aussie BBQ, which goes for 12 hours over three levels at the Delancey Bar. The line-up is a mixed bag — as Craig Dermody of Scott and Charlene's Wedding tells me ruefully over a drink later in the afternoon, "CMJ is for bands with managers, bands with money, and bands who have their shit together" — and some of the best Australian bands here this year are absent from the bill (particularly Twerps and Slug Guts, who I'll see later in the evening), but there's still enough seeing to make it worth the trip. Plus, y'know, sausages.

4.04pm

"Are you performing?" asks a woman on Delancey St, who's spotted my lanyard. "Um, no. I'm drinking."

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4.05pm

Delancey Bar, Delancey St

The place is suitably packed — having been at the same venue on the same day for several years now, this event is something that gets pencilled onto a lot of people's schedules these days. Stage Mothers seem to have adopted the opposite approach to the Kiwis — instead of making their show a CMJ kick-off event, this is a show for nursing hangovers and mustering energy for one final session on the beer. By the look of the crowd, that's exactly what about 90% of the people here are doing.

4.06pm

Dune Rats are playing in the downstairs bar when I arrive. They are wearing shorts and look like Faith No More circa Epic.

4.07pm

Actually, no, they look like Tumbleweed. They sound like Tumbleweed. The '90s are back, kids!

4.20pm

Right, upstairs to the BBQ bit, where there are snags and some sort of curious beetroot concoction to be had! The snags are pretty good, too.

4.21pm

It's also amusing to watch US record company execs try to extract sauce for their sausages from an industrial size vat of Heinz tomato ketchup. With a fork.

4.25pm

Right, with a couple of sausages and a cheeky beer down the hatch, it's time to slip away to Pianos, which is a five-minute walk away up Ludlow St. I'm really heading there to see Savages, who are on at 5.30pm, but since there's a heap of — sigh — buzz around them, I figure it's a good plan to get there early.

4.30pm

Pianos, Ludlow St

It was a good plan to get here early. I'm literally the last person to get into the hilariously packed band room, where Foxygen are playing. The setup here is weird — to get into the band room, you walk up a short upward-slanting corridor from the bar proper. When the place is packed out and you end up stuck at the end of said corridor, it's like being in a queue to nowhere.

4.33pm

In other words, Foxygen could be a 46-piece ensemble in matching purple underpants for all I know. All I can see is a girl who appears to be wearing sunglasses.

4.35pm

Alternatively, it could be the Rolling Stones, because that's essentially who they sound like — when the male singer's singing, anyway.

4.40pm

They're not great, it has to be said. The place is starting to clear out a bit, which at least means I can get out of this damn pseudo-tunnel.

4.45pm

We have eye contact with Foxygen! They're not wearing matching purple undies, sadly. And they appear to all be about 12. The guitarist has two pedals mounted on his guitar, which is kinda cool. The music… well, it's OK if you like the sound of a young band who've discovered Exile On Main St in their dad's record collection.

5.16pm

Slapstick moment of the day: I find myself sandwiched between a very, very tall rock dude and his very, very tiny girlfriend, who I keep accidentally bumping into (and then having to apologise to.) It's like the Colonel and Mrs Hall scene in Fawlty Towers, and the whole silly situation gives rise to a gig politics dilemma: do I move behind him and thus sabotage my own ability to see? Do I move in front of her and sabotage her ability to see? Or do I stay where I am, feeling awkward and hearing his every rumination on the merits of Foxygen?

5.17pm

The answer is, as ever, "Stay where I am, feeling awkward."

5.17pm

Excellent. Savages are here — they're loading their gear onto stage as we speak. I've been looking forward to this all weekend, because from what I've heard from the good folks at The Quietus, they're way better live than on record. Given their recorded output — which, admittedly, consists of one hard-to-find 7" — is pretty great, this should be worth seeing.

5.22pm

Ooh, singer Jehnny Beth is wearing a HTRK pendant!

5.35pm

Urggghhhhhhh of course the one band all week that I actually really want to see have to come on late when I have somewhere else to be at 6pm. CMJ problems.

5.37pm

Savages start playing…

5.37:01pm

…and I have a new favourite band!

5.43pm

Having said that, it appears Savages are not happy with the sound. After they finish their first song, Beth gestures angrily at the sound guy. "It sounds like crap up here," she tells him. He tweaks something and asks guitarist Gemma Thompson if she's OK with the guitar sound. "No, I am not fucking OK with it," she snaps back.

5.44pm

"Look, just play the show," sighs the sound guy.

5.50pm

"This is tripe," sighs Beth. As if on cue, Thompson breaks a string. "The moral of the story," the singer muses, "is that if you're going to play a festival, make sure there's good gear on stage."

5.59pm

Actually, if there's a moral here, it's this: even if you think you're having a shit gig — even if you are having a shit gig — the audience may well be enjoying it immensely. And the thing is that however shitty they sound to themselves through the monitors, Savages sound amazing to me (and, judging by the crowd's reaction, to everyone else here.) And, curiously enough, the sound — never a strong point at this venue — is surprisingly good.

6.00pm

…all of which makes it a shame to have to dash off right about now back to Delancey.

6.05pm

Delancey Bar, Delancey St

Still, I don't want to miss Teeth & Tongue. This is the first of two shows that Jess Cornelius et al will be playing tonight — CMJ's not just hard work for journalists, y'know — and it's in the strange little downstairs bar at the Aussie BBQ.

6.10pm

Apparently T&T's set has been cut short, which means she has to rejig her setlist. This is a shame — she's got one of our more distinctive voices, and her new single The Party Is You is most excellent. It sounds great live, too, although it's still second behind Sad Sun as your correspondent's favorite T&T song.

6.35pm

The rest of her set is similarly worthy, with Cornelius alternating between guitar and synth (the latter for the loop-based material that characterised her early work). It feels like she's just getting into the swing of things when she has to finish. Boo.

6.40pm

Friends of your correspondent Dancing Heals are on next. It's kinda reassuring to see that it's not just me who's flagging a bit by this stage of the week. The poor band are looking decidedly worse for wear too, bless them.

6.42pm

But: the transformative power of music! A couple of songs and they're right as rain. Excellent. If only I could say the same.

7pm-ish

Drinking. Etc.

7.29pm

Discovery of the evening: Matthew McConaughey was once arrested for causing a disturbance by playing the bongos naked. While heinously baked. Of course.

7.50pm

Right, one final assault on CMJ: to 92Y Tribeca to see Twerps and Slug Guts!

8pm-8.30pm

Subway. Note to anyone who visits New York and marvels at the relative efficiency of its subway system in comparison to the ongoing debacle that's public transport in Australia: yes, the subway is pretty great. During the week. During the week.

8.39pm

Um, maybe those sausages weren't so great after all.

8.42pm

92Y Tribeca, Hudson St

This is a curious venue for a CMJ show, it has to be said. 92Y is basically a sort of Jewish community centre, and while their booking policy is pretty progressive — your correspondent DJed at a Twin Peaks-themed event here a while back that improbably managed to sell the place out — it's still weird to see Slug Guts on the bill at place that's so, well, respectable. There's a classy café out the front, and the staff insist on giving us actual tickets to get in.

8.50pm

First, though, Twerps. Their classic indie pop is the sort of thing that goes over surprisingly well in the States — it's remarkable how many people over here are familiar with Flying Nun and the luminaries of Dunedin, for instance. The whole idea of bands getting spotted at CMJ is largely redundant in 2012 — with 500 bands playing, no-one gets "spotted", so it's really only bands with extant, um, buzz who stand to benefit from playing a bunch of shows. Twerps are one such band. This week could do very good things for them.

8.59pm

They're in good form, too.

9.05pm

There's something endearing about their determined anti-stardom. It's just as much an image as any — and Marty Frawley's amazing '80s rain jacket tonight is a veritable masterpiece of the genre — but in a week of bands doing everything possible to sell their schtick, it's rather pleasant to see a band who seem genuinely uninterested in anything else apart from playing music.

9.18pm

This has gone well. There are plenty of people here to see Twerps, they sounded great, and people are talking. Oh, that it always went so smoothly for good bands, eh?

9.20pm

Slug Guts are supposed to be on next, but inexplicably there's a guy with a sitar on stage instead, playing music that's rather pretty and relaxing — so much so, in fact, that I start to drift off to sleep.

9.30pm

GAHHHHHHH no I'm awake. Sitar guy is still on stage. I have no idea who he is or why he's there, but he looks like Bob from Twin Peaks, which may be why I've woken out of a weird sort of nana nap nightmare.

9.32pm

Remember that bit in Dig! where Matt Hollywood accidentally steps on Anton Newcombe's sitar?

9.33pm

"You broke my sitar, motherfucker!"

9.40pm

And… *drum roll* the final band of TheMusic's CMJ 2012! Step forward the aforementioned Slug Guts.

9.41pm

Things to like about Slug Guts include: they're dirty, they're nasty and they sound like the Birthday Party (as in, really like the Birthday Party). They list one band member as "Incarcerated Guy" on their Facebook page. And they look like the sort of people who scared me as a kid around St Kilda in the 1980s.

9.53pm

Singer JD spends most of the show clutching the microphone stand and hunching over the mic itself, like he's trying to wrench his lyrics out of his innards. At one point he's completely doubled over. It's a cliché, but still — this performance seems to come from a pretty dark place.

10.20pm

The band sign off by re-introducing themselves as "Slugguts from 'Straya." The crowd look in roughly equal measures stunned, mystified and exhilarated. I pull out my earplugs for the last time. A feeling of inner peace washes over me.

10.21pm

Someone behind me proclaims, "That was amazing. Where were they from again?"

10.22pm

"STRAYA!"

10.23pm

It's well before midnight on a Sunday and I feel like I'm going to collapse. The sensible thing to do at this point would, of course, to be to go home.

10.33pm

Motor City Bar, Ludlow St

CELEBRATORY WE SURVIVED CMJ DRINKS! We did it! We make party all night! Right, let's go to the bar and...

10.34pm

Urgh, no, fuck it, I'm going home. Until next year, gentle readers!