CMJ: Surf City, Gonna Have Some Fun
The 2009 CMJ Music Marathon descends upon New York City this week, with hundreds of bands appearing at official showcases and off-the-grid gigs. The entire festival can feel like a sprawling mess, but it's still a golden opportunity for a band like Surf City whose performance I managed to catch at Manhattan's Cake Shop. Here are a few reasons why Surf City and CMJ are a great match.
1) Traveling Band Gets Bang for Its Buck
Surf City is from New Zealand. I'm pretty sure it's impossible for anything to be further away than New Zealand. For a band with just an EP to its name, it doesn't make fiscal sense, especially these days, to come all the way to the U.S. to tour. But playing CMJ is like condensing an entire east coast tour into a single week, without incurring any of the travel expenses. Sure, it's only New York, but the band isn't playing only for New Yorkers. And just by virtue of being one of those groups that's playing six shows, they automatically enter "buzz band" territory.
(Quick sets and intimate gatherings, after the jump.)
2) Limited Material Is No Problem
The best thing about CMJ and SXSW is that tons of bands play, but they don't play long. Sets almost always hover around 30 minutes, which is the way it should be for 99% of bands anyway. A half hour of Surf City goes a long way: Four skinny Kiwis playing songs that work up a head of steam but never boil over into chaos. Melodic bass lines, wiry lead guitar, vocals caked in reverb, everything coated in distortion. It's messy but not with the intention of being messy -- a fine line that Surf City walked admirably.
3) New York Venues = Intimate
One thing I always forget when I come to shows up here -- most venues are glorified holes in the wall. This was true of Cake Shop, where I saw Surf City. With the band members right on top of each other and the audience right on top of them, it became a much more personal experience. You sacrifice a bit of comfort for the opportunity to see band members trade visual cues and deliver the dueling guitar lines, but Surf City is best experienced up close.
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