CMJ ’08: Stereogum Late Night @ The Studio At Webster Hall

We got a late start in inaugurating the new Studio at Webster Hall, but it was worth the wait. Scheduled for midnight to 4AM, our CMJ kick-off party ran about an hour behind schedule, but even at 4:30AM — after they stopped serving liquor — folks were still deep into to Crystal Stilts. Good morning!

Somehow Gang Gang Dance get better and better. They’ve been around forever (OK, since 2001), but hit their stride (and then another and another) around 2004, continually morphing and refining their approach. As is clear on even a cursory listen, Saint Dymphna’s not as sprawling as GGD past, but it is just as satisfying, complex, excellently weird. On new signature track “House Jam,” vocalist/percussionist Lizzie Bougatsos feels like Diamanda Galas doing Madonna for Sublime Frequencies. All this to say: Last night’s set was the best I’ve ever seen them. The group’s gotten tighter and more explosive (great new drummer), even over the past few months. You can get lost watching Bougatsos, trying to decode keyboardist/sample triggerman/percussionist/remixer Brian DeGraw, admiring the way the songs from ”Bebey” to “First Communion” to the MBV smears of “Vacuum” and aforementioned “House Jam” feel conjoined by a twisting-turning/percussive/dubbed/spaced-out whole … Or you can sit back and just enjoy NYC’s most interesting live band. The packed room — an interesting mix of hipsters, bloggers, local celebrities (David Cross, Chloë Sevigny) — seemed to be doing equal parts of each.

Baltimore spastics Ponytail have also upped their game: They were enjoyably chaotic at last CMJ, for example, but if you go back a year and compare then to now, Molly Siegel’s Ono yowls and chants have found a way to rest better within the rest of the band’s racket. Instead of feeling like she’s layered atop her cohorts, it all meshes into some sugar-freak whole. Last night, their best song, “Celebrate The Body Electric (It Came From An Angel),” felt worthy of Whitman.

Speaking of progressions: Marnie Stern showed up with a (kick-ass) drummer and additional guitarist instead of just an iPod. Besides finger tapping, clapping (for “Prime”), and blowing through This Is It… and In Advance Of The Broken Arm tracks, Stern dug into plenty of entertaining between-song banter. For instance, we learned she has a penchant for saying “vagina” a lot, though she thinks the word’s “disgusting.” Noted.

If you’re going to be standing in a club at 4AM, there’s sorta no better soundtrack than Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts. Vocalist Brad Hargett’s deep bellow is a sad, sturdy lullaby even in the afternoon, when the sun’s about to come up, it twists into something darker, more beautiful. For the duskiness of Alight Of Night’s melancholic surf sound (they did “Prismatic Room” by request), the band was in good spirits, joking about the late hour: Stand-up drummer Frankie Rose asked more than once if the remaining crowd would meet up for pancakes after the show (nobody seemed to take her up on it) and Hargett mentioned they had 9 or 12 more songs before the closer, noting they’d be followed by a full-set by Antony & The Johnsons. But no, it was indeed time for slumberland…

As always, a full assortment of pics by Amrit, along with some video from Scott.





Marnie Stern – “Steely”

Crystal Stilts – [New Song]

Gang Gang Dance – “House Jam” (MP3)
Ponytail – “Celebrate The Body Electric (It Came From An Angel)” (MP3)
Marnie Stern – “Transformer” (MP3)
Crystal Stilts – “Crystal Stilts” (MP3)