Photos by Dorothy Hui
For every music fan who has been in semi-regular attendance at CMJ over time, there comes a moment when the thrill of new discoveries and the possibility of seeing old favorites in small and unlikely venues gives way to the feeling that there is nothing new under the sun and that it would be best to hide under a rock until it's all over. After all, we live in New York. Don't all of these bands play here all of the time anyway?
Luckily, every year most of us overcome the urge to be completely lazy and, when we're lucky, we walk away with a restored sense that new and inviting things are happening in our world of music. For me, that moment happened in the most unfortunate of CMJ venues. Bookended between IY (upbeat but mostly unremarkable college rock, replete with jangling guitars) and Jesse Dee (upbeat but mostly unremarkable college rock, possibly attempting to channel the Dave Matthews Band) was Chicago's Company of Thieves. I'd seen them play a remarkable show on Monday at the Mercury Lounge and I was familiar with the songs on their forthcoming album Ordinary Riches, but I wasn't sure if it would hold up in a venue as strange and faux-cobweb-ridden as Kenny's Castaways.
From the moment Company of Thieves took the stage, they used the bizarre venue as cause to make their performance even stronger. Singer Genevieve Schatz's vocal style lies somewhere in between Feist and Patsy Cline, and from the start her voice silenced the crowd in the small room with ease. Lacking inhibition, she twirled around on stage as guitarist Marc Walloch and drummer Mike Ortiz brought to life a diverse musicality. Live, the trio enhances an indie/blues fusion with ex-Hush Sound bassist Chris Faller and a keyboardist, giving them a rich, varied sound. Drawing from literary influences on songs like "Oscar Wilde", the group played a cohesive, alluring set of songs ranging from dramatic to the jubilant.
Schatz knows her strengths as a vocalist, and live, she uses them to punctuate each song with jazzy scat singing and a capella interludes. Waving a tambourine with glee, she made her way through the Kenny's Castaways set encouraging the audience to clap and sing along -- and, surprisingly, they did. There's a certain contrast between the band's dedicated guitar-driven earnestness and Schatz's velvety lyrical contributions; it's a bit like listening to Billie Holiday front The National. It's a juxtaposition that works, though, and it sets Company of Thieves apart -- not just in the bizarre college rock world of Kenny's Castaways, but among their up-and-coming peers.