From Traxman and Omar Souleyman to Perfect Pussy and Pity Sex
If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you know that Hermione uses a little contraption called a Time Turner so she can be everywhere at once and help Harry and Ron save everyone who needs saving. I’m still wishing I could’ve borrowed that piece of magic for a few days at CMJ, because maybe I could’ve used it to see all the bands I was dying to see, the ones I didn’t know much about but still wanted to check out, and the ones I might’ve heard and loved completely by accident. I’m not a wizard, but CMJ is a monster, at least as far as music festivals go. I couldn’t see everything, but I wrote down as much as I could, and when I went back and put all the pieces together, I ended up with something like a journal of all my favorite moments. Here it is, and I’ll let you read it.
Kirin J Callinan
I wandered around for an hour or two, wondering if my black jeans and leather jacket and gigantic circular sunglasses made me look like a member of The Velvet Underground. In retrospect, I doubt it, but I felt like I needed to live up to my personalized sparkle badge, like I somehow needed to look cooler. In retrospect, I don’t think it really mattered.
After drinking a free beer, eating a free panini, and flipping through lists of shows kept in my special CMJ notebook, I decided on Cameo Gallery. I rushed over there, assuming I was running late, but I arrived about 10 minutes before Big Ups started, so I hadn’t missed anything. I found a spot on one of the benches along the wall and sipped a beer while continually checking Twitter and watching everyone else. I noticed a girl sitting next to me purchasing something related to Arcade Fire on her iPad, probably just pre-ordering a copy of Reflektor but possibly purchasing tickets to one of the Arcade Fire shows later that week through a secret means I hadn’t heard of yet. I tried to figure it out without staring too much.
I wish the room had been packed for Big Ups. I wanted to see everyone freak out and cause a frenzy in keeping with their post-hardcore energy and angst. Sometimes Joe Galarraga speaks in rhythm, sometimes he yells and thrashes, but usually it’s all about existential dread. I just wanted everyone to feel it and mosh. Nobody did.
Later, I watched Kirin J Callinan change from plain black to a glittery jacket over a white turtleneck to a set of patterned pajamas, and I of course heard him sing too. He’s got a voice that ascends and dives and ascends again, sounding like the earth cracking wide open. When he speaks, it’s deep and low like he’s telling an insane secret, even if he’s just explaining where he’ll be selling records after the show. I watched his set with fellow TMT writer Miles Bowe, and neither of us could say much more than “what the fuck incredible amazing mind-blowing.”
Still later, I followed a friend to 285 Kent, and he instructed me to follow him in through the back if the regular door looked like trouble. We didn’t sneak in, but we only stayed long enough to hear the DJ play one Kendrick Lamar song, then a bunch of other songs we hated. We kept talking about how everyone was refusing to dance and how they were all the worst. Maybe we’re all the worst.
I only want to talk about Perfect Pussy.
When I told my boyfriend, Matt, about Perfect Pussy, I described their sound as noisy and cathartic, as fucking great punk. Since I’d seen them once before, maybe I should have warned him about the likelihood of physical injury at their shows, but I guess I just figured that punk shows somehow necessitate bruises, like some sort of unspoken rule. I don’t know, maybe I was just too stoked to see them for any sensible thoughts to cross my mind.
I noticed a weird sort of glamor as soon as Matt and I walked into The Flat, which was the tiny bar where Perfect Pussy were playing. I also noticed brocade wallpaper and beaded fabric along the ceiling, as well as a chandelier hanging over the middle of the room. Then I thought about how a mosh pit might literally break the place, which was clearly not built for punk shows, since the stage was really just a space at one end of the room marked by equipment and a few tapestries hanging on each wall.
I wanted to get as close as possible, so Matt and I scooted through the completely packed room to scout out a spot as close to the front as we could manage. We only stood there long enough to hear Meredith Graves thank everyone a few times, because once Perfect Pussy started to play, nobody stood a chance. We all thrashed and careened as Perfect Pussy played every song off their demo tape, I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling, and I watched both people and tables get knocked over; one dude crowdsurfed into empty space and crashed onto the floor. Somehow, none of this felt at all like rage or violence, but more like a shot at ecstasy or transcendence, as though somehow, sheerly by experiencing this rush of buzzed melody and poetry and chaos, we all might break out of our bodies as bursts of energy and light.
Matt made sure he stuck close to me throughout the entire set, slightly in front of me if he could. As we were walking home and I was rambling about how much I love Perfect Pussy, Matt mentioned the show’s danger and that, even though he knows I can hold my own in a mosh pit, he still wanted to make sure I didn’t get beaten up. This, however, made me like the show even more and made me want to see Perfect Pussy again as soon as possible. Is that twisted?
I woke up late, then spent 40 minutes, maybe an hour, trying to buy tickets for one of the Arcade Fire shows. Ticketmaster told me over and over that demand was too high and that I should try again later, and I wondered if I should’ve just pre-ordered the album like the girl at Cameo Gallery so I could’ve maybe gotten tickets through that weird pre-sale.
I intended to see a bunch of bands that afternoon, but Matt and I didn’t eat lunch until three or four, and we both might’ve dozed off until evening, but I can’t remember for sure. We did end up leaving and wandering to some shows and seeing some bands we didn’t really like, but I don’t want to call them out and ramble too much. Boring punk just bums me out. I do want to talk about Speedy Ortiz, because I like how noisy and emotional their album sounds, but I started to feel dizzy and nearly passed out after they played only a couple of songs. I sat outside through the rest of their set and eventually walked home pretty pissed off and with a bad case of the chills.
Baby’s All Right had just opened, and they had free tattoos and free rum drinks.
Every show needs free tattoos and free rum drinks.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted a skull or a shark or a bird, and I couldn’t decide where I wanted it on my arm, so I sipped a rum and coke and watched Eagulls while I thought about it. For some inexplicable reason, I’d pegged Eagulls as a chilled-out campfire band. Obviously, their loud mess of dark garage took me by surprise, and they reminded me a little bit of Brooklyn’s DIY punk stalwarts, The So So Glos.
By the time I finished half of a second rum and coke, I’d decided on a skull tattoo, but I was too late, since the list of hopefuls ahead of me had gotten out of control. I didn’t really mind, because if I’d been getting tattooed, I might’ve missed Omar Souleyman, one of the few non-rock shows I saw throughout all of CMJ. His songs made me feel like I’d been transported to a dance party elsewhere, far away from New York. I’ve never felt that way in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.
I meant to see Joanna Gruesome that night, and I’d been meaning to catch them every other night too, but Matt and I didn’t make it to Shea Stadium until well after their performance. We did catch a bit of Pity Sex, and earlier Matt had asked me if they were as bad as their name; I just said they sounded a little bit like My Bloody Valentine (and didn’t say that they’ve also got an emo streak that reminds me of American Football). We stayed for Born Gold too, and I mostly paid attention to his light-up jacket and wondered if it’s washable or if he just wears it for every single show and doesn’t think about how gross it might be.
Later, Matt and I wandered around Bushwick with our friend Logan and Shaun from Weekend. We walked past the space where Arcade Fire had played, observing groups still hanging around outside, all dolled-up in feathers and glitter. We got lost for a bit, then kept drinking for hours.
I tried to get a free tattoo one more time, but it would’ve taken forever. I could’ve stayed at Baby’s All Right and watched whoever was playing while I waited for my name to be called off the waiting list, but I went home instead. I knew I wanted to see Weekend later that afternoon and Hop Along later that night, but otherwise I’d decided that CMJ was over, at least for me.
At Muchmore’s, I ran into friends. I drank free beer. I talked about Perfect Pussy again. And I saw Weekend. I know the guys in the band weren’t sure how well they’d play, something about bass amps, I think, but I got lost in the whole set, caught up in noise and emotions. Afterward, Matt and I both described the show as moving.
Back at Baby’s All Right, I passed on free rum and just listened to Hop Along’s loud, pictorial songs, which broke my heart, just a little bit.
I’m still not sure if I did CMJ right. Maybe I should’ve seen more bands I’d never heard of before. Maybe I should’ve seen a band I thought I hated, to see if they could prove me wrong. Maybe I just should’ve seen more bands and written the most comprehensive CMJ feature ever. I’m not too worried about it though, because I saw some great shows and made some new friends and shared all of it with someone I love, and honestly, that’s all I ever want.