CMJ 2008: Brooklyn Vegan Showcase | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.21.2008




This was a great way to kick-off CMJ with a solid line-up of up-and-comers, older favorites (relatively speaking) and a few curveballs. I'm a bit biased as a Brooklyn Vegan contributor but this really was the place to be the first night, especially for me as I live mere blocks from the venue.

I've written about Emmy already, so straight to the North Carolina's The Sammies who were odd men out on the bill. They reminded me a lot of stuff I used to play when I was a college radio DJ, the many bands who formed in R.E.M.'s wake. (In fact, their new album was recorded at Mitch Easter's studio, he the man who produced Murmer and Reckoning.) The Sammies don't aspire to be anything more than fun, riff-heavy rock n' roll and in that they succeed. An image makeover could help their rep a bit but it might also make them seem like phonies. I say stay just the way you are.

Speaking of late-'80s college radio, Shearwater are just a smoke machine and some eyeliner away from being a goth band. As a closet goth, I appreciated thier grandiose sound and the melodramatic, operatic vocal stylings of Jonathan Meiburg. They're better live than on record, partly because of drummer Thor, who looks like a Thor and is a multi-instrumentalist who seemed to be a crowd favorite. Not something I'd sit around listening to but they are very good live.

Next up Ponytail. I've seen them a few times and I know some people love them. People who's opinions I respect. But they are not for me. I've actually grown to not hate them since the first time I saw them. But they are not for me.

Passion Pit have gotten pretty popular in the last six months and have a feeling a bulk of the crowd were there to see them — which makes me feel slightly vindicated about my review of their Pianos show where I said "These Bostonians are going to be big." (I got lambasted in the Brooklyn Vegan comments section for that.) Catchy dance music with a strong '70s soft rock undercurrent (Jeff claims they're are basically Chicago; the bassist kind of looks like Rupert Holmes) and a charismatic frontman who should really take singing lessons. He's going to blow out his vocal chords if he keeps up his now-signature shout-yelp-falsetto. But the crowd loves them.

"Singing DJ Jens Lekman" followed — emphasis on "DJing" and not so much on "singing." Once people got their heads around that, they let their hips take over and the dancing commenced in full. When he dropped Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" the whole crowd went nuts and, actually, it was one of the most genuine moments of the night.

The show, like all of them at CMJ this year, was running an hour late and I was intent on hitting too more shows (yes it was after Midnight) so I left after two Phenomenal Handclap Band songs. They were good, what I saw, and look forward to catching a full set soon.

Tons of pictures at Brooklyn Vegan (here and here and here) and reports from all over.

Passion Pit + Murray Flexor | Pianos | 8.13.2008


If you missed Passion Pit's NYC debut there is good news and bad news. The good news is it was the first of a three consecutive Wednesdays residency. The bad news is, given the size of the crowd and the enthusiastic response, good luck getting in to see them. I don't think Passion Pit need that much help from the media at this point. The audience, not sold out but close, was singing along to almost all the songs and seriously dancing. Going just slightly south of Bonkers. Pianos should really consider selling tickets to the other two shows as demand is going to be high. These Bostonians are going to be big.*

That is just pure scene reportage, not me saying they're the most awesome new thing ever. As for the review: Passion Pit are good, no doubt, but I'm not sure I get the overarching love for them. I have read a bunch of comparisons to MGMT but to my ears the obvious comparison is Aqueduct — straight-from-the-heart pop songwriting, played mostly with keyboards so you can dance to it. Main man Michael Angelakos writes Big Hooks with shout-a-long choruses and his band is tight. It's an energetic show even though Angelakos is sitting behind the keyboard most of the time, though passion definitely has him standing up just about once a song.

If there is a weak spot it is his voice. Angelakos sings on the upper end of his register, almost a shout, which isn't a problem on record but live it could use a little more finesse — it's sort of wild to the point it flies around the intended notes most of the time. It's a quibble and I'm sure control will come with time. (Passion Pit aren't even two years old.) Certainly the crowd wasn't concerned with such thing — they were too busy going apeshit. Me, I gently bobbed along.

MP3: Passion Pit – I've Got Your Number

If you pre-order their EP, Chunk of Change, through Insound, you can get a free instant download of a remix of "Sleepyhead." Speaking of here's video I shot of the last two numbers of their set: "Sleepyhead" and "Smile Upon Me":

In addition to the next two Pianos gigs, here are the rest of Passion Pit's live appearances:

Aug 14 – Outerland, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts w/ RJD2
Aug 20 – Pianos w/ D. Gookin, All These Kings, NYC
Aug 27 – Pianos, NYC
Sep 12 – Newbury Comics on Newbury St, Boston, Massachusetts
Sep 13 – Monolith Fest: Red Rocks CO, Denver, Colorado
Sep 18 – Great Scott ( CD RELEASE SHOW! 18+), Allston, Massachusetts
Oct 4 – POP MONTREAL w/ The Dodos, MONTREAL, Quebec

Playing before Passion Pit was Brooklyn trio Murray Flexor who I actually liked quite a bit for having never heard of them before tonight. My cursory pre-show visit to their MySpace had me thinking they were in the same ballpark as Grovesnor and their live show definitely backed that up. We're talking mid-'80s UK pop — ABC or Swing Out Sister type stuff. Their super-groovy basslines really stood out for me. Plus: glockenspiel! I was dancing more to them than Passion Pit if I'm being honest. Definitely a group to key an eye (and ear) out for.


*Addendum. Never post after 2AM. In the sober light of morning and being ridiculed by Brooklyn Vegan commenters after the first paragraph was quoted there, I will concede the the first paragraph is a little ridiculous. And I probably would've de-hyped it a bit the next day if it hadn't been quoted, to read something like this:

"If you missed Passion Pit's
NYC debut there is good news and bad news. The good news is it was the
first of a three consecutive Wednesdays residency. The bad news is,
given the size of the crowd and the enthusiastic response, good luck
getting in to see them the next two weeks. The audience, not sold out but close, was
singing along to almost all the songs and seriously dancing. Going just
slightly south of Bonkers at times. These
Bostonians won't be playing places this small again."

I will try not to make silly proclimations again, but I can't make any promises.

Don’t Forget: Sky Larkin Tonight and Tomorrow

Just a friendly reminder that Leeds, UK band Sky Larkin are in town this week for two shows — tonight at Pianos and tomorrow at Union Hall. The band just signed to Wichita Recordings (UK home to Bloc Party, The Cribs, The Dodos and more) so expect to be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months. If you give them your email address, they'll give you the new recording of "Molten."

Tonight's show at Pianos is a good bill all around. After Sky Larkin (8PM) stick around for Boston band Passion Pit who are signed to Frenchkiss and gaining a lot of attention. In between the two is Murray Flexor who sort of sounds to me like the Brooklyn equivalent to Grovesnor.

You can buy advance tickets to tomorrow's show at Union Hall that also features The Nouvellas and Theresa Andersson.