by Janelle Engle
It seemed like all week leading up to CMJ different magazines and music blogs were telling me who I was supposed to see and what bands playing were going to be the next buzzed about band in the music scene. While I expect this was to make the whole CMJ Music Marathon process simpler, it only made it even more overwhelming ( if that was even possible for a music festival with 1,400 performers in a week at 80 different venues in venues all across Manhattan and Brooklyn). They don’t call it a marathon for nothing, right?
I started with a show at the Tobacco Club. It reminded me of a venue back in the small town where I’m from. Super cramped, a bit grungy but with a very fresh DIY vibe, it was a good start to CMJ because in comparison to the other venues, it was probably the most laid back. The band, You Me and Everyone We Know played afterwards, I use the term “ band “ loosely since after the loss of band members, all that remains of YMAEWK is Ben Liebsch. Liebsch is strictly DIY, he told the crowd he had rode the train in from Lancaster, PA just to be here today. Sans any merchandise to sell, it was just Ben and his guitar. This made no difference to YMAEWK fans who themselves had traveled far to see Liebsch play. While he has continued to release music under YMAEWK, shows for the band are few and far between. His set fit the vibe of the venue, very down to earth with lots of laughter and bantering with the crowd through songs. Although Liebsch said many times that he has nervous, he sounded better than ever and looked like he belonged on that stage.
It was important to me that I caught The Dismemberment Plan being the only other “ veterans “ I saw all weekend. After all, I couldn’t miss my chance to catch these guys back on their first day of tour since 2003. Lead singer Travis Morrison kept up the pace like they’d never left thrilling the crowd with silly anecdotes and even rapping at some points in the middle of songs. The whole show was brimming with nostalgia and the crowd was loving it. In fact, The Dismemberment Plan, to me, are one of those bands that just sound better live. Maybe this is because they were feeding off the energy of the crowd who were eager to hear their favorite songs live again like, “ Time Bomb “ and “What Do You Want Me to Say? ” . They finished with their 1997 release “The Ice of Boston”, inviting everybody up on stage during its encore. In that moment, seeing everybody’s sheer joy on their faces, I got an idea of why The D-plan came back, why Ben Liebsch continues to write music despite the odds and why every band playing CMJ puts their heart and soul out there despite the difficult and trying conditions of the music industry.
CMJ does it for the music, sure, but most importantly, for the fans. While these bands have been around for awhile, clearly CMJ was about the underground and undiscovered. CMJ’s main draw is it showcases some of the great artists in small clubs and basements of clubs before they sell out huge venues in the future.
With that being said, other highlights of CMJ included – Pop band, Sheppard, who traveled from Australia to play in the states. Their catchy radio friendly tunes are still stuck in my head. More memorably though were the chills I got during their acapella harmonies and effortlessly talented performance. Also a great addition to your feel good playlist are Sunclub, an indie pop band who started most their songs out with energetic battle cries to catch the crowd’s attention. Then when its time to unwind, check out The Spring Standards, what I love about them is their sound can’t be placed in one category. They put on an amazing performance that leaves you in awe and at times, sound country inspired, other times pure rock and roll. Expect the unexpected and with this band, that’s certainly a good thing.