Polyvinyl Showcase at CMJ
with Aloha, Mates of State and Rainer Maria
Knitting Factory New York City • October 23, 2003
Surviving New York City is all about patience: being patient while waiting for a subway that no longer stops at the platform on which you have been waiting for an hour; remaining composed as a cabbie takes you in the completely wrong direction, dropping you off on the Upper Eastside instead of the Lower Westside. The paradox is, the denizens of NYC are some of the most impatient people on the face of this earth. To those I offend, I sincerely apologize — but you know there is more than a modicum of truth in that last sentence, come on. Or maybe us folk in the affluent suburb of Connecticut are too patient; after all, we are all a bunch of rich lazy fucks who can literally buy time. Okay, so not really. Regardless of my pathetic attempt to come up with a worthy vindication, we arrived late to the Polyvinyl showcase at CMJ, missing out on Aloha and the first few songs of the Mates of State’s set.
I’m really into Mates of State these days. Their simplistic, yet full sound is the sort of thing a Spectorian (as in Phil) wet dream is made of. And, their newest effort, Team Boo, is perhaps their finest work to date. It is honest, disarming and just so damn innocent. I have always heard that they totally ROCK live — as much as some wispy vocals, a Yamaha keyboard and drum kit can “rock” — but I had never had the opportunity to witness it firsthand. Until CMJ, that is.
Sure enough, their sound translates impeccably live. Most of the set (that is, what I saw of it) took from Team Boo — which was no doubt a good thing. As we arrived, they were ripping through the plangent “Middle is Gold.” A more somnolent moment came with “Separate People,” as hushed words were sung over a sparse drum machine beat accompanied by the band’s “newest member,” the Casio. Never has minimalism sounded so gorgeous, so ingratiating. And, then there was “Parachutes (Funeral Song),” one of the evening’s more poignant moments. This melancholic gem is the song that many came to hear (both those who have recently discovered Mates of State, as well as “long-time” fans like myself — there is something so disarming about this song), and with the opening piano line, a dropped pin could be heard. “A Duel Will Settle This,” from Our Constant Concern, concluded the set. As it faded, Kori and Jason paid homage to the recently departed Elliot Smith with a haunting reprise of “Needle in the Hay.” R.I.P. Elliot, wherever you are.
Rainer Maria got together at my very favorite Vietnamese/Thai restaurant (okay, so there is only one) in Madison, Wisconsin. It is thus a bit ironic that I never got to see them live until I came back East, as they too did a few years back. The best way to describe their set is forty-five minutes of visceral energy that left smiles on the faces of those in their presence like I’ve never seen a band do. Perhaps that’s a bit too reductive and overly simplistic of a description, but hey, it was what it was. Anyway, the very contagious “Mystery and Misery” set the tone for the next three-quarters of an hour. And, if that was not enough to mesmerize the crowd, the pleasantly cacophonous “Artificial Light” sure as hell did. I love Caithlin De Marrais’s sweet, yet atonal vocals. It’s the fact she can’t sing well that makes her so damn endearing, and I mean this as an utter compliment; there is a whole lot of grace that underlines her calculated disharmony. And guitarist Kyle Fisher’s kinetic stage presence is something I’ve seldom before witnessed. It was as if he experienced epileptic frisson each time his hand strummed a power chord; “animated” would be putting it much too subtly.
About halfway through, the band tried out a few new songs. To paraphrase them, “it’s fall and that’s a good time to write some rock songs.” Admittedly, these new offerings were a bit different than the standard Rainer Maria fare, but they were really good nonetheless. The pop cutesiness is definitely there, it’s just more bellicose. After this welcomed deviation, the band concluded the set in more familiar territory with the lovely “Connecticut Catholic” (represent), the grand “Ears Ring” and the whimsical “Contents of Lincoln’s Pockets.” Still, that wasn’t enough for this ecstatic crowd, as the band returned to play “Rise” and some other song that I remember really enjoying, but presently the title slips my mind. “Wow!” That’s really all I can say, and I’m not trying to be lazy here. It was just that good; one of the best shows to which I’ve been in a long while.
Being in New York again was also wonderful. I forgot about all the sights and sounds and all those other sensate experiences that makes New York what it is: Hell Town, while at the same moment a glorious city. But y’all have heard Ryan Adam’s song about New York by now, so you know what I’m getting at.