with Pernice Brothers, the Silos, Ryan Adams, P.W. Long, and Tegan & Sara
The Mercury Lounge, New York, NY • October 20, 2000
It was an eclectic mix of performers who took the stage at the Mercury Lounge on the second night of the annual CMJ Musicfest.
Canadian folk duo Tegan and Sara won the support of early arrivals with a combination of introspective Ani-Difranco-by-way-of-Alanis-Morissette songs and between-song patter that some might consider charming and witty (others vapid and goofy). The teen twin sisters are certainly accomplished musicians for their young age, and their songs include lyrics that address adult concerns. But they seem distinctly lacking in a musical identity to call their own. Still, the duo’s early successes have included dates on the Lilith Fair tour and a record deal with Neil Young’s Vapor Records. The sisters even toured with Young in support of their album, The Business of Art.
P.W. Long is a singer-songwriter who spent time in bands like Mule and his own Reelfoot. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Long performed a set of bluesy alt-country tunes in a voice that is both southern-fried yodel and hard rock yowl. Unfortunately, his creations are neither pleasant nor interesting for the most part.
Many of the early arrivals were at the Mercury to check out one of former Whiskeytown leader Ryan Adams’ two festival appearances (he also performed the next day at the Bloodshot Records showcase). And they weren’t disappointed as Adams’ quiet songs quickly commanded the rapt attention of the crowd. Adams had them in the palm of his hand as he hit the highlights of his remarkable solo debut on Bloodshot, Heartbreaker. “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “AMY,” and “Call Me On Your Way Back Home” were just as moving live as on the record and given even more nuances by Adams’ evocative voice. Adams apologized for not having any jokes to tell in between his occasionally morose songs, but no one seemed to mind. The prolific Adams even threw in a couple of new, unreleased tunes, one with a line about feeling like a whore and the other about a doggy (he likes to contrast boyish innocence with harsh reality at times). Adams also surprised the crowd with a pretty version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” that started out as a goof but turned into a full-fledged cover (at the Bloodshot Barbecue the next day, he performed his amusing cover of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”). He concluded his all-too-brief set with the funny “Come Pick Me Up,” on which he sarcastically tells a lover to “steal my records, screw all my friends.” And even though it was technically against the rules, the audience called him back for an encore take on Heartbreaker‘s “My Winding Wheel.”
Rootsy New York trio the Silos were up next, showcasing new songs for a forthcoming disc from the pen of guitarist-frontman Walter Salas-Humara. “Good Mornin’ Jean Marie,” “Satisfied,” “The Title of This Song,” and “I Believe” all showed promise. Drummer Konrad Meissner was featured prominently on “Where You Been.” Drew Glackin started the show on bass but moved to lap steel late in the set when the band really started to heat up. Versions of earlier tunes, like “Find A Way” from 1993’s Hasta La Victoria and “Caroline” from 1990’s self-titled release, were highlights. And for those who found Salas-Humara’s craggy Bob Weir-crossed-with-Neil Young visage less than interesting to look at, a couple of young women in front of the stage were engaged in their own form of dirty dancing, which drew some amused reactions from band and audience alike.
The Pernice Brothers seem to be spending most of their time touring Europe these days, and given the state of the music industry in America, can you blame them? Last I checked, the band’s brand of melancholy, sophisticated chamber pop wasn’t exactly battling Britney on the charts. Still, the Pernice Brothers’ intimate, autumnal songs were a welcome addition to this October night in New York City. Leader Joe Pernice is a squirrely little guy who looks sort of like Elvis Costello with bad skin. But his clear, pure voice and heartbreaking songs are something to behold. The current touring unit also includes his brother Bob, Thom Monahan, Laura Stein, Peyton Pinkerton and Mike Belitsky. A two-guitar/two-percussionist attack allowed the band to duplicate the lush sounds of tracks from their 1998 debut, Overcome By Happiness, including “Crestfallen,” “Clear Spot,” and the Brian Wilson-like “Wait To Stop.” Pernice and company also took on the opening track from this year’s side project release, Chappaquiddick Skyline,
Entering to the strains of the “Rocky Theme,” the Philadelphia band Marah stormed the stage for an hour and fifteen minutes of pure rock n’ roll. Having honed their act this summer opening for the likes of Steve Earle and the Who, Marah has their set down to a science. The band hit eight of the eleven songs from this year’s fantastic sophomore effort, Kids In Philly. The gritty but uplifting tales of urban life in songs like “Christian Street,” “Catfisherman,” and the Vietnam vet epic “Round Eye Blues” are enhanced by the powerful two guitar attack of brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko. The band also includes an increasingly solid rhythm section and the sublime lap steel work of Mike “Slo Mo” Brenner. Marah play their Stones-cum-Springsteen tunes with Replacements-like abandon. The following night at an unannounced show at Lakeside Lounge, they even covered the ‘Mats “Can’t Hardly Wait” (Lakeside Lounge owner and current member of Steve Earle’s Dukes, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, joined them onstage, as well). The band slowed things down for the acoustic B-side “Why Independent Record Stores Fail.” But it was only a temporary respite to save up energy for a smashing finale that included new, unrecorded gems like “After The Implosion” and the propulsive show-stopper “Reservation Girl,” as well as Kids In Philly‘s “History of Where Someone Has Been Killed,” on which Serge Bielanko takes off on a smoking extended harmonica solo. Two encores included a surprising take on the Cure’s “Fascination Street” and a swinging “Fly Me to the Moon.”
By that time, most in the crowd had already been to the moon and back several times.