Long-running Music Marathon returns to its roots


By Sarah Elizabeth Feldman 

The CMJ Music Marathon, the annual college music festival that prides itself on showcasing the best among breakout and under-the-radar bands, is getting back to its semi-bohemian roots.

Typically the festival, which runs from Oct. 16-20 this year, is sharply divided between the more exclusive daytime events at glitzy uptown locations like Lincoln Center, and the widely-attended, Downtown showcases at night, which revolve around mid-sized venues like the Knitting Factory and the Bowery Ballroom.

But this year, the two parts of the festival come together, with the daytime schmoozing and networking taking place a stone’s throw from the festival’s nightlife. Registration, tradeshows and the CMJ daystage will occupy the Puck Building, with panel discussions a ten-minute walk away at the Loewe Theatre and Kimmel Centre at NYU, which is a co-sponsor this year.

CMJ press liaison Rosemary Raposo says that the new headquarters not only offers attendees a more convenient transition between daytime and nighttime events, but may help provide a better atmosphere for a festival concerned with the tastes and lifestyles of a college-aged audience. “Downtown Manhattan really encompasses the feel of the festival,” she says. “It has NYU, which is a big part of our target audience. And it’s always been a real hub for nightlife.”

Bands On The Run

Over 1,000 bands will perform next week during the four-day festival. The full line up is at cmj.com/marathon. Following are a few we’re looking forward to:

Spoon grabbed the spotlight last winter with their work on the catchy-yet-moody “Stranger than Fiction” soundtrack, but this Austin-based band had already achieved considerable mainstream success with 2005’s “Gimme Fiction”, whose hard-driven, symphonically textured “new wave with roots” netted comparisons ranging from The Pixies to Franz Ferdinand. Lead singer Britt Daniel has been holding his cards close to his chest lately, focusing on wry, finely-wrought dance-floor numbers like “I Turned My Camera On.” But make no mistake. This is the same Daniel who collaborated with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst on 2002’s minimalist, soul-baring “Home,” and his rich, country-inflected vocals carry their weariness into even the most playful and evasive tunes. Sat., Oct. 20, 8:30 p.m., Roseland Ballroom, 239 W. 52nd St., 212-307-7171, ticketmaster.com

Xiu Xiu is the kind of indie cult mainstay Pitchfork loves to cluck over in its gossip feed: fucked-up, wildly creative, and more than happy to show itself in compromising positions. Lead singer Jamie Stewart drives melodramatic pop straight over the edge with radically veering vocal dynamics (think Wagner in a fortuitous encounter with a sewing machine) and freakishly original uses of electronic distortion. Live shows are unpredictable, but consistently engaging. You may not get to hear their hits (and yelling loud drunken requests won’t help — Stewart is the kind of performer who likes to pretend his audience isn’t there), but what you get will be as richly emotive and uncomfortably intimate as anything on the CMJ program. Wed., Oct. 17, 10 p.m., Blender Theater at Gramercy, 127 East 23rd St., 212-307-7171, ticketmaster.com

The Meat Puppets belong to a handful of ’80s underground groups whose importance arose more through posthumous influence and legend than timely success. One of the first punk bands who dared to dilute the hardcore aesthetic with other musical styles — country, psychedelia, traditional hard rock — they helped forge the sound that would ultimately break the mainstream surface as “alternative.” Sonic Youth and Husker Dü shared a label with them; Nirvana covered their songs, but The Meat Puppets’ brief flirtation with a major label in the early nineties yielded little in the way of popular or critical acclaim, and the group broke up in 1995 under the pressure of bassist Cris Kirkwood’s drug and legal problems. This year’s “Rise to Your Knees” marks the group’s first genuine reunion, with brothers Cris and Curt joining forces with a new drummer. Critical response to the comeback has been mostly positive, though reviewers seem to find the new album aptly titled. Gritty, impassioned, but never quite achieving the ramshackle brilliance of the group’s landmark ’80’s releases, “Rise To Your Knees” shows a great band not quite at the top of their form, but still crackling with the old fighting spirit. Thurs., Oct. 18, 11 p.m. at The Lion’s Den, 214 Sullivan St., 212-307-7171, ticketmaster.com

Wintersleep is an up-and-coming band from the East Coast of Canada whose international debut, “Welcome to the Night Sky,” released this month on Labworks, is just starting to catch fire outside the cold provinces of the true North. Produced by Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian), the new album combines ethereal electronic melancholy with a strong Maritime groove. Alternately precious and punchy, Wintersleep offers unpredictable-yet-finely-wrought “cosmic rock” — but what really distinguishes “Welcome to the Night Sky” from any number of Flaming Lips knockoffs are the intelligent, oracular, often incongruous lyrics. A catchy, fist-in-the-air rocker like “Weighty Ghost” reveals itself on re-listening as the tired lament of the dislocated self trying to resurrect dead feeling, while in the sad, pretty crooner “Dead Letter and the Infinite Yes” the singer connects the dots between breakdowns and mysterious illnesses in his private life and the public spectacle of violence and environmental collapse. Thurs., Oct. 17, 10:30 p.m., Fat Baby, 112 Rivington St., 212-533-1888.