CMJ Report #7: Friggs, Pernice Brothers Shut Down CMJ

Saturday night CMJ lineup includes all-girl punks the Friggs, rockers Nana and pop-expanders Spoon, Six By Seven and Pernice Brothers.

(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 Frank Tortorici reports:

NEW YORK--It was a chilly, cloudy Saturday night in New York City. But this was no ordinary evening.

In the final hours of the four-day CMJ MusicFest, hundreds of people were hailing cabs throughout the night to shuttle among the small, smoky clubs of lower Manhattan.

At one of those clubs, the tiny Meow Mix on Houston Street, the scene could have been out of Los Angeles in the '70s. An all-girl punk band was rocking the joint with short, catchy, adrenaline-fueled tunes. But it wasn't the Runaways. They were Philadelphia's the Friggs.

To the crowd witnessing their show, this was one of those moments the annual CMJ conference is known for, where previously little-known bands are abruptly revealed as potential "next big things."

And it wasn't the only such moment Saturday.

Blond singer Lexy Plumm, clad in a skin-tight black jumpsuit, led the Friggs in such tough tunes from their latest LP, Rock Candy, as "Loathe/Hate Relationship" and "Bad Word for a Good Thing" (RealAudio excerpt).

The Friggs' songs rock like those of Runaways alum Joan Jett, but they also are filled with intelligent humor. Principal-songwriter Palmyra Delran sang lead on the funny "I Cringe," about an ex-friend. "I wince when people drop your name," she spat out gleefully.

A few blocks away at Acme Underground, Nana lead singer/guitarist Tom Baker, who looks like a cross between Weird Al Yankovic and Peter Brady of "The Brady Bunch," screamed lyrics to Replacements-like songs, such as "On the Way Down," at the top of his lungs. As the band's guitarists swung their axes forward in unison, reminiscent of Kiss in their prime, Baker and the carrot-topped guitarist in a cowboy hat traded barbs like some lame comedy act. All in all, one was left with the impression that the four-piece rock band was trying a little too hard to make an impression.

Making a better impression that night at the Acme were the Austin, Texas-based Spoon, a power-pop combo with an effects-laden sound. Lead singer Britt Daniels' angry vocals topped off the experimental, space-rock-tinged songs from the band's latest LP, A Series of Sneaks (Elektra).

Also expanding the boundaries of the traditional three-minute pop song Saturday were Nottingham, England-based Six By Seven, headed by Ray Davies' look- and sound-alike Chris Olley. The five-piece band, playing at the Mercury Lounge, kept its often seven- or eight-minute songs interesting by mixing Pink Floyd-like guitar solos with smooth harmonies, a keen sense of melody and even the occasional saxophone break. Cuts such as "For You" and "Candlelight" would sound at home on college-rock radio, album-oriented rock stations and maybe even the top 40.

As good as Six By Seven were, the real treat Saturday night was still waiting back at Acme Underground. The Pernice Brothers, thanks to multi-layered, Beatles-like melodies and instrumentation combined with sardonic, Elvis Costello-inspired lyrics, proved to be one of the night's revelations.

"Sometimes I don't feel like talking at all," singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Pernice sang on "Clear Spot" (RealAudio excerpt), from the group's 1998 debut LP, Overcome by Happiness. But you wouldn't know it from Pernice's stream-of-consciousness wordplay.

His infectious, ruminative songs paint textured soundscapes and draw the listener in without being pedantic, helped to no small degree by a band of great players -- and his own delivery. Standing in front of a double for a young Mia Farrow on keyboards, Pernice, who was a member of the depressive, country-rock Scud Mountain Boys, kept his neck bent back with his chin nearly touching the mic as he sweated out his words.

Before the show, technical difficulties kept the packed audience waiting more than half an hour. But once the crowd got an earful of gems such as "Shoes and Clothes," a song that makes vomiting sound like fun, the seemingly interminable wait was forgiven.

When all was said and sung, the audience trickled out into the still-buzzing streets of lower Manhattan amid shouts for the too-brief set to continue.