New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon came and went, and there was a lot to be excited about: lots of hype, lots of venues, and lots of shows. Playing CMJ can be a huge springboard for groups, and it’s pop heavy. That’s why it’s important to focus on the acts that don’t fit that mold to really get the most out of the “marathon”. Last year, Tucson, AZ punk transplants Weird Womb played to much acclaim, and a year later they’ve released an awesome EP, ‘Laziness’ and tour the country. This year, The Bitter End on Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village hosted possibly the most impressive show of the marathon, featuring Space Bacon, Ukulelien, Teddy Midnight, and Chro-mates, a super-jam with Chromatropic and lots of special guests.
Now The Bitter End can be an awkward place to catch a show. There’s no dance floor, lots of tables, and a two drink minimum to sit. What the hell? Really, it’s as much of a comedy club as it is a music venue. They’ve hosted greats like George Carlin, Bill Cosby, and Woody Allen. For music, there’s been Gil Scott-Heron, Dr. John, Patti Smith, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan and the list goes on: Billy Crystal, Lady Gaga, Cheech & Chong, and Arlo Guthrie. Needless to say, it’s a big deal to land a show at The Bitter End, regardless of the layout or minimums.
Space Bacon kicked the night off with their signature Porn Groove/Funk Fusion style. Singer/guitarist Tony Cables got in people’s faces with his scat-rap-funk noises, shouting “Pay your bill, pay your bill!” to the oblivious-to-the-groove gentleman sitting up front not moving, using his cell phone as a flashlight to make sense of his tab. He rubbed a bald dude’s head. He stood on a table and thrust his genitals at the crowd dancing at the bar – all to eruptions of laughter and cheers. But Space Bacon is not just a joke. They bring it hard and heavy. Some highlights were their spot on cover of The Grateful Dead’s “China Cat Sunflower,” “Funkytown” tease, and their booty-shaking original “Sticky Fingers.” You can guess what that last one is about…
Ukulelien is a bit of an anomaly. There’s probably not another band that can seamlessly go from bluegrass to swing to progressive rock with an instrumental construction where Joey Calfa’s ukulele (you know, that Hawaiian miniature guitar-looking instrument) is as important as Tara Lawton’s melodica (that mini-keyboard powered by blowing through a hose). There are three and four part vocal harmonies. There are kazoos. There are covers of the Super Mario Bros as well as Mortal Kombat themes. Ukulelien is freaking awesome. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll bring you back to ragtime vaudeville and blast you back to your Super Nintendo. Teddy Midnight’s synth man Mike Lavalle sat in and brought his wild space tones to their interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Later, Ukulelien threw their hearts into their original, “Universoul,” which is fluid and sublime. It feels like wading in warm surf while realizing we are all one being. That’s not easy to evoke.
Next, Prog-Jazz-Groove-Jam outfit Teddy Midnight graced Bleecker St with some seriously transcendental material. Their first track, “Duck Me Gently,” is a laid back jazz excursion, and from there the show picked up lots of steam. They’re a rarity in that you can head bang as hard as you can dance to almost all of their songs. They’re also a special act because, like Jamtronica trailblazers STS9, the band plays as a cohesive whole most of the time – it’s not about one member standing out above the rest. On the other hand, guitarist Mic Finger does shred some stellar leads and Mike Lavalle does indeed take the reins at points on the keys. But the more you look into it, the more you recognize bassist Sean Silva activating some otherworldly tones that kind of punch you in the gut and then at the swell of an expression pedal, morph into robotic tones all of a sudden. Not to mention Adam Magnan’s impressive, albeit nonstop ferocious and precise drum action. All in all, they’re an extremely tight band in which each instrument plays its role perfectly, bouncing off one another in the most complimentary of ways. There’s really no star, except Teddy Midnight. It’s all held together by some mysterious technically proficient glue that you can’t exactly find elsewhere.
Recently, Teddy Midnight was joined by percussionist/guitarist/vocalist Sean McCauley (bass/Ultrageist). McCauley adds something that Teddy Midnight didn’t have before. Suddenly, the rhythms are fuller with his conga/bongo presence. The guitar lines are fleshed out more in certain places. And of course, this is their first excursion into the vocal realm – on their song, “Esquire.” McCauley adds pepper where there was only salt before, and the other way around. Highlights of their set include supremely danceable “Leon Nights,” Joey Calfa’s guest appearance on the guitar during their preeminently groove-heavy “Game Dun Changed,” and their set closer “Primordial Forces.” Teddy Midnight started with a knee-tapping, fluid jazz number and ended by almost bringing down the house.
The Chro-Mates went on to round out the night, but this writer wasn’t there to see it this time – not for lack of interest but lack of sleep. Previously, Chromatropic have been known to delve deep into the progressive side of dance music, very much so along the same lines as Teddy Midnight’s ability to groove as one whole, rather than a collection of musicians – and are not to be missed.
Written by Peter DeStefano
OurVinyl | Contributor
Space Bacon: Bring Home the Bacon, Hollow Man > China Cat > Hollow Man, Praying Mantis > < Avalanche > Praying Mantis, Jupiter, Sticky Fingers
Ukulelien: Possum>Puerto Rican Pancakes, Video Game Medley, Universoul, Friend Like Me, Filomena, Thriller*, Green Thumb Jimmy, Womp> ** Window Cleaner
*with Mike Lavalle/Keys **Inspector Gadget Tease
Teddy Midnight: Duck Me Gently, Popo Jijo, Esquire, Leon Nights, Midnight Snack>L is for Leviathan, Game Dun Changed, Primordial Forces