Now Take Them Out, Devils: The 5 Best Moments of CMJ 2012, Part 1

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Savages

By Simon Lazarus Vasta

 

Last week, college radio DJs, Indie bands, industry professionals, music journos, etc., were all brought together for the five day long, sleep-deprived, semi-coherent, half-drunk conversation that is the College Music Journal’s annual Music Marathon. Some went to panels, most went to gigs, and everyone ended up feeling like they were in Withnail and I. What I’m trying to say here, obviously, is that CMJ 2012 was fantastic. Here are my favorite bits.

 

5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Poolside sing the classics @ Brooklyn Bowl & Gramercy Theater

Now, Unknown Mortal Orchestra wasn’t the first band I saw this CMJ, and Poolside wasn’t the last, but they were both close enough that I’m going to fashion them into nice little ornate bookends for my overall CMJ, mostly due to their stellar covers of two of the biggest acts in rock ‘n’ roll. While UMO’s lo-fi psych-rock and Poolside’s Balearic, post-Miami Vice disco couldn’t be further from each other, they both performed their covers (of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” and Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, respectively) with an energy and skill that held up to the originals while still remaining distinctive and unique enough to be truly engaging.

 

4. Mac DeMarco breaks a string @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

Toronto Gonzo-rocker Mac DeMarco (think Ariel Pink except with a goofier sense of humor and less of a hang-up on ‘70s AM radio) is an amazing live show. Stripped of their warbly, self-aware production, the songs really shine, sounding bigger and better than they do on record. Mac and his band have a remarkably relaxed stage presence and charisma coming out of their pores. They make you feel like you’re seeing some friends play in the back of a dive bar, even though you’ve never met them before and you’re standing in a crowd of five hundred.

But then, tragedy strikes: While shredding through the coda of “Cooking Up Something Good,” DeMarco breaks a string! This is where a lesser band would have lost momentum, as well as the audience, but Mac just shrugs and says, in his best Muppet voice, “Oopsie, back in a sec.” The band, without missing a beat, goes into a loungy rendition of “Girl From Ipanema.” The bassist tells corny jokes and deals with a few hecklers (without ever seeming anything less than friendly) while Mac sits cross-legged, working on his guitar, and within three minutes, the show’s back into full swing. Consummate professionalism from a band that prides itself in sounding unprofessional, ladies ‘n’ gents.

 

3. Savages revive post-punk without being post-punk revivalists  @ Mercury Lounge

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this post-punk four-piece from London, honestly. I thought they were overhyped, I thought they were a touch too beholden to their influences, and I found it hard to take their self-seriousness, well, seriously. And when they got on stage, all my fears were confirmed.

But then they started playing, and I told my thoughts and fears to go fuck themselves.

It doesn’t matter how derivative you are (even if you straight-up steal a Joy Division bassline) as long as the songs are there; and lemme tell you folks, the songs were there. Savages played a propulsive, angular set that drew the audience further and further in, until the band finally exploded into the fury and disgust of “Husbands.”

Singer Jenny Beth (AKA French actor Camille Berthomier) sings, dances and looks as if she’s the love child of Ian Curtis and Siouxsie Sioux, but her invocation of these idols doesn’t come off as silly or gimmicky.  And as for the hype? I don’t know if hype can truly ever be earned or lived up to, but Savages come as close as one could possibly get. They’re the real deal.

 

That’s all for this week, but check in next Wednesday for the final two best bits of CMJ2012, as well as a special Halloween treat for y’all, as long as you finish all your homework and eat all your veggies. Follow Simon Lazarus Vasta on Twitter @Hunter_S_Narc

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