Still reeling from New York’s other Marathon

By Todd Simmons

After taking in three dozen bands over the past five days, I’m now expecting to see a band everywhere I go. I can’t even get through a night’s slumber without reoccurring dreams of entrance queues, panel discussions, crammed basements, and endless torrents of indie rock music. Saying that the CMJ Music Marathon is a delirious romp through the current music crop is like saying that the 6-train is mobbed at rush hour. It’s really no secret.

Covering CMJ for the first time, I anticipated bedlam. The teeming hordes at festival headquarters at Lincoln Center on Tuesday provided a clear warning of the impending wave of humanity on the horizon. So with festival guide in hand and CMJ badge around my neck, I set out on Halloween to wade into it. I began at Midway on Avenue B with a set from Brooklyn band Mudville, a torchy lounge outfit led by singer Marilyn Carino and bassist Ben Rubin that played a moodily cool set before a quarter-filled room. From there it was off to the official opening event at The Bowery Ballroom, featuring The Rapture. The line snaked its way a block long and most weren’t able to get inside. The band came on stage in the Halloween spirit to the ghoulish sounds of the “Monster Mash” dressed in glowing skeleton costumes. They played their PIL meets The Cure material with polished enthusiasm.

From there I dashed down to Fontana’s on Eldridge St. to catch The Mess Hall. After another lengthy wait outside in the chill, I scrambled through the packed house to the basement just in time for one of the festival’s great surprises. The Mess Hall, a two-man band from Australia, delivered a scorching set of souped-up garage rock that was one of my favorite sets of the week. The fact that this band has no American record deal is astonishing.

The most significant pattern at this festival (aside from the fact that every band now has a Myspace page to refer to) was a preponderance of talented female musicians. New Yorker Kaki King delivered a compelling set of expansive, guitar atmospherics at The Living Room. Bassist Kay Stanton drove the Casper and The Cookies (Athens, Ga) show at The Cake Shop with authority. A rock solid set from Brooklyn’s The Waylons at Lion’s Den was anchored by the razor-sharp drumming of Sandy Levering. The three guys up front on guitars churned out pop-rock gems while Levering gave the sound its backbone with crisp percussion. At 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, Tina Gorin made up half of Bad Wizard’s twin guitar assault during their ultra-heavy AC/DC meets Thin Lizzy meets The Melvins set that was as entertaining as it was bawdy and loud.

While much of what I heard was uninspired variations on the two-chord power-pop model, there were some exciting versions, as well. At Rebel on W.30th St., I witnessed the hyperkinetic, mustachioed Pop Levi from Liverpool. His mannered but convincing psych-rock was infectious and the sparse audience was clearly into it. Keith John Adams, another Liverpudlian, banged out an excellent half hour of driving garage rock, capped off by a song on toy piano. Death of Fashion (Long Island City) did their Pixies-esque Goth thing to the delight of the crowd at Fontana’s. Nervous Cabaret, with Pakistani singer Elyas Khan’s undulating delivery, was a fantastic collision of horns, junk shop rhythms and throbbing bass lines that were impossible to ignore. They were also my final band of CMJ and now, after a week of non-stop music, its time to replace my shoes and get some sleep.