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.