The "CBGB Festival" of indie/alternative/punk-ish music was happening while we were in New York City. Between two free concerts on July 7th, one in Times Square and one in Central Park, I chose the Central Park one after checking at bands in both lineups online. I was sorry to miss Superchunk's appearance at Times Square, and Glint seemed to have promise along with a heap of pretension (some tracks reminded me of Coldplay but with half-swallowed vocals), but most of the other Times square bands didn't excite me too much. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! (winning the hard-fought prize for most cumbersome band name) also held out some potential interest. The Central Park concert was headlined by Guided by Voices, a somewhat familiar name in the midst of a comeback, although I wasn't familiar with their music beforehand. But I was primarily attracted by the opening bands, all of which have interesting music up online or posted by fans on Youtube.
Cold Cloud Nothings opened, followed by The War On Drugs and then The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. You can see what I mean about the close-fought contest for most cumbersome band name. The opening bands suffered a bit from inferior sound--- the headliners' equipment was in place ahead of time and they had more than half an hour of soundcheck after the opening bands. They also tended to stretch out the songs a bit much...all three bands had mostly well-written songs, but some of them were a bit simple in structure and lacking enough musical material to support being stretched out, especially when that means repetition more than, say, a solo with lots of musical content. I imagine that in a club with the audience more involved in dancing the extra length might make more sense. But they all played pretty solidly. Cloud Nothings' did several songs from their current CD release, Attack on Memory, notably "Fall In" and the lengthy "Wasted Days".
Here you can check them out in a live club gig:
"Fall In" is infectious, upbeat indie rock; "Wasted Days" melds a late 1980s hardcore punk/emo kind of feel (shades of Fugazi, Dag Nasty, maybe Bullet LaVolta) with aspects of classic grunge (Mudhoney, a bit of Nirvana, the heavier side of Soundgarden). The vocal features a full-throated, rasping chant, almost scream, of "I thought / I would / be more / than this". Softer-edged in concert than the CD track; that could be the sound setup or perhaps Baldi sensibly trying to protect his voice. A long guitar solo was relatively uninspired Dorian-mode noodling though it did build momentum and served a structural purpose in the song; the same interlude comes of better on record. (However, they appeared to be down one guitarist at this point, as one guitar amp had to be changed out. (You can check it on Youtube.) Overall they put across interesting music well, and I'm likely to buy their CD. Earlier work by Cloud Nothings is apparently primarily a single-musician project from leader Dylan Baldi, and is poppier and sometimes more experimental and ethereal sounding than Memory, but also quite interesting. With the current lineup, they've made a clear move into a grunge/metal/punk-centered bag featuring anthems of mild negativity like "Wasted Days" and "No Future, No Past" and unflattering first-person portraits of creepish types as in "Cut You", with poppier Hüsker Du-ish stuff like "Fall In" and "Stay Useless" about as mellow as they get. But they are coming up with quality, memorable songs...listening to the cuts from the new record one is tempted to conclude that they've got it---the thing that makes the difference between a good band, and a potentially great one, even if the record, with a bit too strong of a hint of pastiche of the various styles it draws on, and the down attitude seeming perhaps just a bit forced, is probably just quite good rather than great.
I found The War on Drugs to be a fairly enjoyable listen in concert as well. Again, some interesting songs (somewhat less variety than the Nothings), some featuring Dylanesque vocals and rootsy music, others with more psychedelic/garage influences. Less complex songs structurally, and sometimes not really supporting the lengthy treatments they were given. Long stretches of two measures worth of music being repeated over and over again, featuring at most four chords, need some pretty interesting textural or melodic variety over them, which wasn't always forthcoming from TWOD. And the songwriting was good, but not as interesting as that from the other two opening bands. At their website, linked above, you can stream a lot of cuts from their current album, Slave Ambient, which I'm not that into. Positive online impressions must have come more from some of their earlier stuff.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are much more of a standard indie-sounding band than the previous two--- often playing in a basic alternative rock idiom that you can hear from, say, Snow Patrol and many other bands, featuring guitars chiming eight-note rhythms and such. But the Pains' songs were pretty good for music in this vein, and often livened up by some bouncy rock-'n roll energy. The lead guitarist and male lead singer was constantly bouncing around the stage, supplying plenty of visual energy to go with reasonably energetic music. The female vocalist, though usually supplying backing rather than lead, should have been be higher in the mix to add more complexity to the sound. Her incredibly long black hair (and let's say it, her rather attractive features) added visual interest. Allows for a new twist on the term "hair band". The music was sufficiently interesting that I checked out their CD too...more later, but after a few listenings, it seems really excellent. in concert, it seemed that compared to the Nothings, they could benefit by adding more variety to their songs, some of which sounded a bit too similar to others. But their ability to write engaging songs in an indie pop/rock vein suggests they'll develop into something even more interesting.
Guided By Voices had an easier time getting a reaction from the crowd, thanks to being the headliners that many had come to see, and to punchier and clearer sound. I enjoyed the 2/3 or so of their set that I heard... the songwriting varied in quality, but was mostly pretty good. Few things grabbed me as really outstanding, though. Still, I'll probably check them out at more length online.
Vendors were selling microbrews at $8 for less than a pint (a Blue Point Toasted Lager was excellent, though), and San Pellegrino Limonata and Aranciata for $2 (very welcome in the heat and humidity). With your choice of comfy bleachers, some of which even get shade from Central Park's majestic trees, or an area in front of the stage equipped with temporary carpeting, Summerstage is a great place for a concert, and the price is right too.