What a lovely evening of depression, despair and heartbreak. My CMJ 2006 kicked off with a seemingly upbeat double-bill: The Format and The Cardigans. The former being astute power-poppers from the Raspberries school of melodies, and the latter being sugary Swedes whose sunshine pop captivated a nation in 1997.
That, of course, is the superficial view going in. Anyone who’s really listened to The Format’s Dog Problems, one of the 2006’s most underrated albums, knows that it’s a whopper of a breakup album, with poison lyrics behind every sunny melody. And the Cardigans traded the kitschy jazz for moody rock two albums ago. But in this special "acoustic evening" the discontent of the lyrics was brought to the forefront, for better or worse.
Six-strong on stage, The Format were hit and miss, though maybe it was the song selection. Too many bitter, sensitive slow songs, and no upbeat numbers like "She Doesn’t Get It" or "Time Bomb" apart from the particularly lovely "Snails" which was the highlight of the evening. It reminded me of Lili Taylor in Say Anything. They played a short set, and for some reason decided to include a well-played but entirely rote cover of the Kinks’ "Ape Man" which inadvertently ended up being their last song.
The Cardigans, however, were absolutely captivating. Actually it was just guitarist Peter Svenson and singer Nina Persson, who has gone from coquettish coo to sultry swagger in the last ten years. It suits her well, and she sounded phenomenal.
It disappointed many in the room but their set was drawn entirely from 2003’s Gone Before Daylight and last year’s Super Extra Gravity. Both albums deal with some heavy subject matter — more songs than not mentioned booze, boozing, quitting the booze, or the kind of emotional warfare that drives a person to the stuff. Shouted requests of "Lovefool" and "Carnival" were met with with polite "that’s not what we’re doing tonight."
Despite the material, the show wasn’t a downer. Nina, newly a NYC resident, is a charming, funny front-persson. Introducing Gone Before Daylight‘s "And Then You Kissed Me," she mentioned how the song garnered a sequel on Super Extra Gravity — "you know, just like Police Academy."
We also got a the first-ever live performance of Super Extra Gravity‘s swaggering "Overload" which closed their too-brief set. It would have been nice to hear something from Emmerdale, Life, or First Band on the Moon, and certainly the melancholic "Celia Inside" would have fit the tone of the set. But this is a different Cardigans, one that suits me very fine.
Photo swiped from thewongway’s Flickr photostream.