CMJ Music Marathon 2005: Best of CMJ

NEW YORK –

Arcade Fire

In order to catch Arcade Fire in Central Park, you apparently had to sell the soul their record was supposed to save. Well, not really, but you did have to win a ticket lottery. Fortunately, Lady Luck favored The Hatchet, and the most coveted ticket at the Marathon fell into our greedy little hands.

The anticipation was not misplaced, as the Montreal band put on a truly inspired performance befitting their studio sound. Orgiastic and shambolic, the show featured at least eight members of the band on stage at once, playing everything from guitar to tambourine to keyboard to accordion to each other (who knew human body percussion, i.e. members beating on each other, could be so beautiful?) Butler’s complicated vocals about death, sex, love and other such minor things echoed through the verdant locale, and were shouted back at him by the adoring thousands. Working the capacity crowd into a frenzy, one suspected the band was capable of doing what even Kanye West would not dare – turning atheists into believers. This was mere prelude.

After closing with the sublime shout-along “Rebellion, Lies”, Butler led the band back on stage and announced, calmly but confidently, “this is a David Bowie song,” at which point Mr. Bowie himself walked out, in an ice cream suit and matching fedora. The Thin White Duke proceeded to lead the band through his classic “Queen Bitch” and play acoustic guitar and sing back-up on the band’s “Wake Up.” The whole crowd simultaneously melted and erupted, turning into approximations of the screaming girls that welcomed the Beatles to America in New York more than forty years ago.

Regina Spektor

Official Hatchet arts crush Regina Spektor performed a sold-out show at Irving Plaza right after the Arcade Fire/David Bowie musical orgasm. Few artists could make such a show anything but a letdown by comparison, but the piano prodigy disappointed no one.

Drawing from material old and new, Spektor dazzled the audience, alternating between making them laugh with heartbreaking quirk fests like “The Ghost of Corporate Future” and ripping them apart with tracks like the unspeakably beautiful “Samson.” Playing Soviet Kitsch lead single “Us” to a crowd that actually knew it was the lead single brought the house down. The hushed audience breathlessly marveled at every twisted inflection and drawn-out syllable. The visibly bewildered Spektor kept expressing surprise that so many people knew her songs and adored her, and began needlessly apologizing for mistakes she didn’t make.

Spektor’s catalogue is mightily impressive, and her live show offered a stunning array of her songwriting talent, but in interpreting someone else’s words, she reached new heights. Towards the end of the set, Spektor played a gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which immediately became the best version of the song ever performed. Sorry, Jeff Buckley, you never had a chance.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

I trust that you all went out and purchased everything Regina Spektor has ever recorded as we advised you to last year. If you haven’t, I’m very disappointed in you. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest record store and get the closest thing to tangible joy to be found in this life. Now, assuming you’ve gobbled up everything by the delightful Soviet chanteuse and are looking for something new to titillate your eardrums, I present to you your new obsession: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Unfortunately, the band blew up only recently, and since bookings are done in advance, they were slotted to perform at a tiny venue (the 250-person capacity Mercury Lounge) that, perhaps because they want to make as much money as possible from their audience, only admits those 21 and over. I am so close to being 21, but apparently this doesn’t matter. Fortunately, Nic Harcourt, host of the KCRW radio show “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and professional tastemaker, moved his show from Santa Monica to New York for the week, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were guests on Friday. Those savvy enough to look a bit beyond the official schedule were lucky enough to catch the band perform an intimate show in a midtown studio, and they thrilled.

The Hold Steady

If the Hold Steady is a bar band (and they proclaim they are), then their target audience is comprised of some pretty literate drunks. William Butler Yeats and nights no one remembers make up the stuff of this Brooklyn band. Their recent Separation Sunday is the party record of the year for people who’d rather stay in and drunkenly discuss Flannery O’Connor stories than actually go out and party.

Singer Craig Finn looks like a high school history teacher and barks tales of sin in the streets and redemption in the gutter like your alcoholic English major friend. Between tales of divinity in dive bars, he dazzled the hometown Yankees at CBGB, proudly wearing a Twins jersey like the proud Minnesotan that he is.

“We mix our own mythologies,” Finn drawled on “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night,” and songs about barstool Charlemagnes and “hoodrats” named Hallelujah indeed come out like richly woven epics, just about Minneapolitans instead of Myrmidons. The band tore through an hour long set at midnight, and afterwards mingled with the crowd that screamed along, happily signing autographs and chatting up the people that treated them like folk heroes. “Stay positive,” Finn scrawled on the $2 posters, and after his band’s set, it was impossible not to.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.