Aquarium Drunkard Showcase – Mercury Lounge – October 16, 2013
While every night on the NYC live-music scene is a potential party, a night during CMJ takes it to the next level, like an over-the-top wedding reception celebrating the marriage between the music and the fans. Like every good wedding, it’s tradition to have something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. And last night’s Aquarium Drunkard showcase at Mercury Lounge had a healthy dose of each, running the gamut from vintage sounds, new directions and, yes, plenty of blues. It’s good to get to these shows early because you never know what gems you might find. After a tussle with traffic, I made it in time for the last few songs of Jacco Gardner’s set. Hailing from the Netherlands, he is riding the acclaim of his excellent Cabinet of Curiosities album. Gardner finished his set with “Chameleon,” proving to be a one-man wormhole (with backing band), reaching back to another time with gorgeous, lush melodies and a delicious psych folk.
Cotton Jones, from Maryland, came to New York City as a two-piece, frontman Michael Nau playing several solo songs and a few in duet with Whitney McGraw. This was a simple bluesy indie rock sweetened by Nau’s salted-caramel voice, which found perfect confluence with his lyrics, a highlight being “Blood Red Sentimental Blues.” This was easy-chair music: You felt like you could listen to these two sing forever, plus some A+ whistling. But the name of the game was quick turnaround—both the bands and the crowd seemed to swap out every 30 to 40 minutes, no time to get stale. The Zig Zags, blasting a go-fetch-some-earplugs, visceral punk metal at full volume, flipped the room 180 degrees from Cotton Jones. Playing their first NYC gig, the L.A. power trio made their presence felt with kicking music and dry wit: “This song is called ‘Magic.’ It’s about magic.” Riffs beget riffs beget not-bleeping-around riffs, at one point borrowing snippets of the Doors’ “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” to good effect.
Jonathan Rado’s band began their set in fun mode, seeming like the music and the crowd were just side effects of hanging out onstage. But after a couple of songs, the Foxygen frontman’s set got rolling, the music tightening up impressively. The highlight was “Oh, Suzanna!” which was decorated with excellent bass playing and a nice long, stretched-out, free-form bridge that found Rado on both guitar and keys.
White Denim, from Austin, Texas, headlined the showcase. And despite it being their third local show in fewer than four months, the set was from-the-garden fresh and new. Opening with “Pretty Green” off their imminent new album, Corsicana Lemonade, the music felt like it could explode at any moment, bubbling with fizzy energy. And it didn’t take long, the first few tunes like an avalanche sucking up more songs and parts of others until the now-packed venue faced an unstoppable force. Perhaps it was the midnight hour, but more than ever, the band seemed willing to open up things, with the spaces between sung verses a varying parameter with solos, long jams and full-on instrumentals filling the set—each musician pushing the envelope on songs like “Anvil Everything.” It was fitting that this dizzying evening of music from all over the rock and roll map came to a head with White Denim in monster rock-out mode on “I Start to Run” before making a smooth transition into the jungle groove of “River to Consider” and then into the blazing sing-along of “Drug,” bass, guitars and drums overlapping in triumphant glory. With their seamless segues and deft skill, Denim mocked the tight schedule of the early evening, making their 75-minute performance feel almost infinite, as a high-energy “Shake Shake Shake” and the brain-batter instrumental “At the Farm” highlighted the end of the superlative show, capping off a huge evening of music … or just another night of CMJ. —A. Stein