After three days of night-time gigs, I decided to give the early CMJ shows some of my love and affection on Friday, so I headed to the Cake Shop to see what was cooking. (Awful. I know. I hope we can still be friends.)
There were bands set to perform upstairs and downstairs, and I chose the downstairs bar. When the girl at the door stamped my hand and asked if I'd be drinking, all I could think was 'Christ! It's 2:30 in the afternoon!' Perhaps that makes me a grandma, but I settled in with my bottled water for the first act of the afternoon, Donovan Quinn and the 13th Month.
The band had a nice sound, electric folk with some good guitar melodies, but it was like they could never get their feet off the ground tempo-wise. Every song was as slow and drifting as the one before it and after a while it started to feel like music to keep you company while you drink yourself into oblivion. It was just a little too mellow, and it wasn't helped by the rhythmic structure of several of the songs, which caused this sort of swaying, lilting feeling that just exacerbated the mood.
Donovan's voice had the vocal intonation of a young Bob Dylan, the way he stretched through the ends of words, though perhaps not necessarily Dylan's charisma or lyrical prowess. It wasn't a bad set in the end, helped tremendously by the last song which took the tempo up into the 180 range and actually had some personality and movement. All told, they held their ground for a band playing in the middle of the afternoon to an empty room, so here's to that.
Next up was Viking Moses, a guitar/keys duo that had me wondering from the moment they dismantled and removed the drum set how they were going to establish rhythm. In the end they just, well, never actually did. Guitarist Brandon Massei would continually start riffs, tap his leg and move his body as if ready to jump into something bigger, and it just never did. Instead, it fell back into the vague, murky chordal hymn-like structure again. The strongest element of the set was the vocal duo between Massei and his keys player (whose identity I can't find anywhere), who sounded a bit like Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley. Their voices together were perfection, and they knew just how to put the harmonies together to get the most of the combination. The problem ultimately was that the music, while interesting, never moved anywhere. The guitar melody was nice, but it was like a continual build up to a sneeze with no achoo. Massei is quite the performer, really fun to watch -- I guess I'm just not entirely sure what he's dancing to.
But had it been about 20 minutes later, he would've been dancing to Endless Boogie, a band whose name is more apt than just about any I've ever come across. The guys of Endless Boogie are a little bit older than any of the bands I've seen thus far at CMJ. Let's just put it this way -- if I told them I liked Cream, they wouldn't think I meant in my coffee. They were a bit like a rock n' roll answer to the jam band, with very few discernable stops and starts -- mostly it was a solid jam session from beginning to end. There weren't a lot of lyrics or a lot of singing, but it was clear that it was never about that. It was about serious guitar solos, driving percussion, tight bass lines and, to quote a phrase, endless boogie. It was sort of ZZ Top meets the Allman Brothers meets Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the kind of music that sort of makes you want to take off your top and dance like a wild woman. Of course, I imagine that would be frowned upon at these sorts of venues.
The Castanets were up next, and probably the most evocative, engaging set of my day. I'd call what they do blues-metal, if it were that simple. In the second song of the set they brought in a reggae riff and Raymond Raposa sings with a folksy, almost southern twang, drawing out his vowels. The songs feel very organic, like the decisions are just being made spontaneously and the sounds are growing out of each other.
The best thing about The Castanets set was that it kept me guessing. Every song was completely different than the one before it, and I never knew what to expect. It was searing and sonically challenging and complicated as hell, but then somehow totally clear and simple.