CMJ 2005 | Thursday

Ten years in NYC and ten CMJs (plus two in 1989 and 1990 when I worked for my college radio station) and this was the busiest for me in years — probably since 1999, the last time I actually had a pass with my name on it (I have been other people before). It was extra hectic because this weekend was also the resfest that had lots of things I wanted to see too. A not-so brief recap…

I regretted missing Gang of Four when they played at Irving plaza earlier this year. I saw them ten years ago at Limelight — just Gill and King plus a hired rhythm section — when their underrated 1995 album Shrinkwrapped was released. They were pretty good then but I wasn’t sure that a decade later they would still have the stamina to kick out. There’s also my personal hatred of Irving Plaza that kept me away.  After all the glowing reviews, though, part of me wished I had gone.

So when I got the opportunity to see them for free at the opening-night party for the brand-new Hard
Rock Live Times Square (formerly WWF themed venue, The World, and the Paramount
Theater before that). This slightly gala event was sponsored by Sauza
tequila, which meant free margaritas. The worst, sickly sweet,
margaritas ever. So we switched to shots. Gang of Four were really
good. I was actually surprised by how much they still had it. And apart
from drummer Hugo Burnham, who has let himself go, they all still
looked really good. Andy Gill still plays as if his right hand has a
will of it’s own, and singer John King remains in full-seizure mode
onstage (he is a freak). Pretty much everything you’d really want to
hear from the first two albums (and EPs) was played, plus a couple from Songs of the Free and, surprisingly, "I Parade Myself" from Shrinkwrapped. The highlight
was probably "He’d Send in the Army." If you’ve ever seen Urgh! a
Music War
you know that was a schtick with this number — singer John King would hit a chair with a drumstick (or a 2X4)
throughout the somewhat stark song. This time it was a microwave with a half a baseball
bat. He beat the crap out of that thing until the door fell off. The
encore of "I Found That Essence Rare" was the only disappointing moment
— it was a bit sluggish (Hugo was tired I think) and Andy Gill just
sorta played the basic riff without all the little flourishes he used to
throw in. But a great show nonetheless, despite really muddy sound (hopefully they’re just working out mixing board kinks or something). Hard Rock Live is actually a nice venue, good
sight-lines apart from one large column behind the mixing board. I
would definitely go see a show there again. Between this and the Nokia, maybe there is reason to Times Square.

I jumped in a cab almost immediately after Gang of Four finished and headed down to Scenic to catch Tom Vek. No expectations whatsoever as Tom played everything himself on his excellent debut, We Have Sound. Would play to backing tracks? Use a lot of loop pedals to be a one man band (a la Joseph Arthur)? No, Vek is a traditionalist and gathered up three ace musicians (he’s got a shit-hot drummer) to back him, and this was ea silly the best show I saw all weekend. As good as the album is, the songs took on a life of their own with a full band. For at least one slow song, he switched to bass and the tandem bass-playing was moody and transporting (One Louder gushes further about Vek’s Tribeca Grand show Saturday).

Gang of Four photo courtesy Media Eater’s Flickr Photostream.

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