CMJ Report #5: Sunny Day Real Estate Pack An Emotional Punch

Sincerity and honesty ruled CMJ's Friday-night music showcase, which included shows by indie-rockers Built to Spill and Magnetic Fields.

(Editor's Note: SonicNet Music News had four correspondents covering last

week's CMJ Music Marathon, MusicFest and FilmFest in New York City. This 18th edition

of the College Music Journal-sponsored conference -- the largest annual

gathering of music-industry professionals, enthusiasts, musicians and film buffs in North

America -- kicked off Wednesday and ran through Saturday. It included film screenings,

performances by more than 1,000 bands, and 50-plus panels on various topics, drawing

thousands of attendees. The conference tradition of showcasing up-and-coming acts

and exploring new musical frontiers has earned it a reputation as one of the best

predictors of what's to come in music, evidenced by such past CMJ "unknowns" as

Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Marilyn Manson. CMJ's opening-night party

Wednesday showcased top turntablists and electronica acts as a tribute to the growing

influence of DJ culture.)

Contributing Editor Kembrew McLeod reports:

NEW YORK -- At a time when irony and intentionally shallow, glammy

spectacles rule the rock world, a number of bands playing CMJ MusicFest showcases

proved that sincerity and gut-wrenching honesty are alive and well.

For the most part, the audiences lapped it up.

At 2 a.m. at Irving Plaza, Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate were in the midst of an encore

that would close out a showcase sponsored by SubPop Records (a show that included

Heroic Doses, the Murder City Devils and the Spinanes). Sunny Day Real Estate

guitarist Dan Hoener had spent much of the time between such songs as

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music/Sunny_Day_Real_Estate/100_Million.ram">"100 Million" (RealAudio

excerpt), from the album How It Feels to Be Something On, thanking the crowd for

watching them and talking about how great it felt to perform with his bandmates.

By the end of the show, his passion had reached a point where he just couldn't contain it.

"We've been told that each show we play we get better and better," he told the crowd. "At

the risk of sounding like a total f---ing cornball, I'd have to say that this is probably the

best show we've ever played."

The audience returned the love in the form of cheers, and a visibly touched Hoener said,

"It's not because of us, but because of you."

Hoener's display of unabashed emotion echoed through many other performances

Friday, including a set by indie guitar-virtuosos Built to Spill. The group headlined a

showcase at the Bowery Ballroom, playing songs from all of its full-length albums,

including "I Would Hurt a Fly, " from its recent Warner Brothers debut, Perfect From

Now On, and "Big Dipper," from There's Nothing Wrong With Love.

Singing along to the occasionally melancholy lyrics delivered by lead singer Doug

Martsch in his unusual, high-pitched voice, the crowd was obviously there to see

genuine catharsis -- rather than a shallow, overwrought spectacle -- spilling from a band.

Built to Spill fan Lisa Spatlier, 28, seemed to sum up the prevailing mood when she said,

"Marilyn Manson's new stage show is good, and I loved Prince's Lovesexy tour back in

the day, but nothing beats a good old raw-and-real performance."

Raw and real can sometimes spill over into painful honesty -- an area in which Magnetic

Fields frontman Stephin Merritt excels. His band's performance at the Threadwaxing

Space on Friday perhaps best exemplified the exposed-raw-emotion-as-art aesthetic,

turning already morose songs -- from Holiday's "Strange Powers" to tracks drawn

from Charm of the Highway Strip, Wayward Bus and Lost -- into

even more depressing sonic revelations.

Magnetic Fields offered no flashy stage moves -- just purely emotive singing and

instrumentation, with Merritt fleshing out the band's cheap-synth-and-drum-machine

recorded sound by supplementing his own guitar playing with a banjo player,

keyboardist and violinist.

The audience loved it as it sat on the floor and absorbed Merritt's sad and sardonic lyrics

exploring failed love, heartbreak and, well, why life sucks.

"He's not the type of person I'd want to have a drink with if I was already depressed," said

21-year-old Daniel Sorensen, who intended to take in as much as possible of the

festival's presentation of countless bands crammed into four days of performances. "But,"

Sorensen added, "he says in words what I believe a lot of people think -- and he says it

much more humorously and poetically."