"At one point crowd members remove shoes to present in front of friends' noses - fuck knows why."
The L train outta Williamsburg is so packed that this eager reporter is unable to squeeze onto the first one; the CMJ effect is already in full swing and putting off the locals.
The Gallery at Downtown is heaving, but thankfully it's the artists registration queue that's lengthy so delegate lanyard gets sorted pronto. Day one is warm-up day and lots of action is scheduled for the CMJ Kickoff Showcase at Pianos so we head straight there, weaving past the ridiculously lengthy Katz's Delicatessen queue that's controlled by a burly security guard. Tame Impala's Let It Happen plays over the venue sound system as we climb the stairs into a band room where there's more musical equipment/luggage/travel pillows than people.
When a band that looks nothing like Good Morning starts sound-checking, we head back downstairs in search of another band room. Aha! Good Morning guitarist Liam Parsons says this is the earliest gig they've ever played and we immediately wonder why the hell they called themselves that then.
Old mate claims we call him "pristine Parsons" back in Melbourne due to his vocal skill. If you say so. When a friend unknowingly blocks the view of a media type, the loudest "HA-HUM!" EVER ensues. Parsons represents in his "River Yarra" T-shirt. Good Morning are Bleeding Knees Club meets Courtney Barnett while wagging PE down the back of the oval. There's always one punter who rushes down the front during the last half of the last song, bops enthusiastically and pretends they've been there the whole time.
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Rookie error: bought a beer upstairs, but they're free down here.
Suddenly Methyl Ethel disappear from the Pianos schedule on CMJ's app and we're all a bit, 'Huh?'
Toronto's Caveboy bring it next in the free-beer room and we notice the barman becoming increasingly agitated due to a lack of tips. (Apparently one must tip barman even when drinks are free, which kinda makes them not free but anyhow.) When Caveboy are danceable and smashing out the triple-percussion majesty we're invested, but then at times they sound too much like Tegan & Sara. Very varied material. There's even one song that, if Shazamed, we swear would come up as Two Door Cinema Club.
We wander down to Elvis Guesthouse (which has no signage, but is thankfully located when we spot loadsa people smoking darts on the pavement out front). But, of course! It's under a restaurant. Nico Yaryan (former drummer with Hanni El Khatib) looks like pre-Gwyneth Chris Martin. We sit in an area everyone thinks is VIP, which means they are hesitant to infiltrate, and so have plenty of room to spread out. It's fully tiled aquamarine and we feel like we're seated at the bottom of a swimming pool. There's a mega-hipster crowd assembled (which may or may not be because of the free bourbon) and Yaryan has true star quality. It's so hushed you could hear a hipster beard hair drop.
There's no queue outside Katz's now so pastrami on rye it will be. Unbelievably (or is it?), many overheard discussions reference that When Harry Met Sally scene. Sure, Katz's sangers are quality but the servers expect you to know how things roll, which is both annoying and ridiculous.
Once inside Mercury Lounge, the grumpy door bee-arch allows us to charge phones provided we sit and watch them, which is fairly boring until we start (over)hearing her admission/rejection technique: "It's ten dollars, it's a music venue," followed by, "Who are you here to see tonight?" Which would be impressive market research except for when one hopeful asks who's playing and she adds, "It's Mercury Lounge, you don't deserve to know". Yep, a few punters choose to go elsewhere.
Uber Vs Cabs: So it's time to head to Baby's All Right in Brooklyn. Address passed on to cabbie. Cabbie stops when he can't find exact number and says, "It's around here somewhere," instructs us to settle the bill and get out. Drives off. Has erroneously dumped us in Manhattan and this is the wrong side of Broadway (which kinda sounds ace, but is actually majorly stressful when your phone is hovering around five percent battery charge). Not only that, but this scribe suddenly realises the international plug converter borrowed from Airbnb host remains back in Mercury Lounge socket. Time to retrieve as much info from said rapidly draining phone as possible while trying to hail a cab back to the venue from which we came. Note to self: download Uber app tomorrow. End rant.
Once back at Mercury Lounge, we accidentally see Slum Sociable, which proves to be a great thing. Frontman Miller Upchurch clutches his tambourine like a security blanket, sometimes giving it a shake. There are some awks in-jokes, but these trippy kids bring cool vibrations. Their almost-trip hoppy, 3am-suited vibes go over well with the 20-or-so people assembled. (Let's just say that the lounge's "Waitress Service" isn't required tonight.) Slum Sociable bring joy and there's nothing wrong with that. They close with All Night and haven't let a poor turn-out get in the way of a good time. There's a transfusion of Massive Attack in their veins.
Lost in translation: And apparently there are still loads of Americans who haven't yet seen Crocodile Dundee 'cause I ordered a Stella and got a Tecate and a water. Huh?
Next up, New York indie lads Ula Ruth seem rattled by the sparse attendance. A few in the front rows (probs girlfriends/aspiring girlfriends) sing along, but the frontman's fluoro pink guitar strap is pretty much the band's most exciting element. They certainly don't look like they hung out together at school, which doesn't have to be a bad thing - just sayin'.
It's time for another change in locale and around the corner we go to Cake Shop. But where's the cakes? Step-Panther perform an admirable set with a standout song that calls to mind Split Enz'sOne Step Ahead (but on ayahuasca). The vibrations they send out cause stubbies and receptacles to slide from tables and smash onto the floor (which is all a bit poltergeist until you realise this venue's floor is slanted). Frontman Steve Bourke points out this is the first time they've ever played in New York and the band are suitably chuffed. At one point crowd members remove shoes to present in front of friends' noses - fuck knows why. Step-Panther score a genuine encore and there's some crazy dancing on the go.
So that's CMJ Day One, people. Everyone this side of the East River paces themselves, which makes us keen for some Brooklyn action tomorrow.