When I moved to NYC in 1995, the CMJ Music Marathon was more of a conference than the festival it is now, pretty much attended by college radio MDs/DJs and the record label promo reps who were trying to get you to add their record. There were no day parties — you went to the panel discussions or you explored the city. And bands only played once.
Not anymore, and I actually think CMJ is better for it. Certainly a lot more fun. I only made it to one of Brooklyn Vegan‘s four daytime events. Friday’s happened at Fontana’s on Eldridge, a nice place for something like this. The main floor is large and allowed for people to chill, have a $4 bloody mary (the one I had was not so good), read a complimentary issue of Guitar World, or get interviewed by MTV.
The action happened downstairs in the relatively small performance space. I got there just in time to catch the last two songs by Swedish electrokids Lo Fi FNK who had a lot of fun bouncing around their keyboards and sequencers (plus real bass). It was a little early for me to be dancing but I definitely prefer their brand of beats to the Presets. I’d go see them again.
I hung back for Forward, Russia!‘s set (I’d seen them before), but had no trouble seeing that frontman Tom Woodhead was still doing potentially dangerous things to himself with his microphone chord. I swear, one slip and he could choke faster than you can say Michael Hutchence. I think this was like their 5th CMJ show, and they were getting on a plane to England minutes after the gig, but the manic energy was still there. There were drum problems — the stool broke, the kit fell over during the last song, still the crowd ate it up. I get confused with their song titles but I think the setlist was "Four," "Eight," "Fifteen," "Sixteen,"Twenty-Three" and "Fourty-Two."
Next up were The Changes. No, not Northern Pennsylvania’s Premiere Wedding Band. These Changes are from Chicago and it’s hard not to use the term "soft rock" when describing them. Personally, this is not a derogatory term. The Association, England Dan & John Ford Coley, and Prefab Sprout all have their place. The Changes’ debut, Today is Tonight, is ridiculously catchy it’s kind of hard not to like. I’d seen twice before but had forgotten just how loud they are live. Soft, but loud. By the end of the six-minute-plus Police-ish raveup "Her, You and I" I’d really wished I’d remembered my earplugs. A glockenspiel was set up but not used, and they didn’t play their jackpot number "When I Wake" which seemed like an odd choice. I guess when you play six times in four days, you can get sick of some songs. I say always play the hit.
Kudos to those Finger on the Pulse brothers whose DJ set (while I was there at least) avoided post punk, glitch, mash-ups, and robot rock in favor of well-chosen vintage R&B and Soul. There was enough of that everywhere else.