CMJ 2013 is officially in full swing, and if last night’s Talkhouse showcase is anything to go by, it’s going to be an amazing week. Talkhouse is a website that features musicians writing reviews of newly released albums. Founded by Michael Azerrad, formerly of Rolling Stone and author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, it’s a fabulously interesting site for musicians and music lovers alike. The musicians-on-musicians curation placed the expectations high on the Bowery Ballroom stage last night.
Saint Rich opened the night and were introduced by Azerrad himself, who noted they are one of his favorite new bands. High praise, and for good reason—they have this aura of casual cool that only enhanced their sometimes-bluesy, sometimes-rock set. The lead singer (aka “Delicate Steve”) stumbled around the stage in a deliberate way, channeling some sort of Mick Jagger/Kurt Cobain/all other famous front-men vibe, choosing to simply blow a kiss into the mic rather than chat to the crowd.
Delicate Steve does, however, have the chops to make this schtick endearing rather than annoying, which is not an easy thing to do by any means. He’s got a sort of pre-pubescent yet gruff-enough sound to his voice, much like that of Luke Pritchard of the Kooks. In fact, the similarity is eerie, from his voice to his look to his demeanor. Not necessarily a bad thing, as there is something to be said for that kind of awkward confidence.
WET slid through their island-lite electro-pop. I slid to the bar.
Next up was female-foursome Teen. Their sound was unpredictable, often switching from dissonant clattering to sweetly composed hooks in a matter of seconds. Not really knowing where Teen is going to go next, it’s still a controlled chaos. Lead singer, Teeny Lieberson, has quite the set of pipes on her, which helps with the “control” part of that chaos. It’s hard to believe someone that good would lead you astray, so you just trust her and go along for the ride. There were some songs where the complexity and density worked in their favor, and some where it clouded the ability for the nuggets of goodness underneath to shine through. But that’s bound to happen when you take risks with your music. No risk, no reward, as they say, and Teen proves this point perfectly as the tracks that work, really work.
Luke Temple, leader of Here We Go Magic, followed with a groovy set of festival-friendly collegiate rock that doesn’t get too noodley and fit in snugly with this tasteful lineup. And the Robert Wyatt cover, Shipbuilding, was a nice touch.
The always lovely and ridiculously talented Sondre Lerche closed out the showcase with a stunning set of, for lack of a better term, his greatest hits. For fans, it was a trip down memory lane as Lerche touched base on almost every one of his albums, from Dead Passengers to Domino, it was all there. For newbies, there could not have been a better introduction, both to the music and the man. Having admitted early on that he hadn’t been performing much recently, Lerche was clearly in his glory, spastically jiving around the stage, his boyish grin impossible to miss. The stage is where he needs to be.
It’s safe to say that Sondre Lerche is one of the most charming performers in existence. After only one quirky quip (“Talkhouse, Bowery Ballroom, CMJ…what the fuck!?!”), the crowd was instantly puddled in the palm of his adorable Norwegian hand, anxiously anticipating his next words. “It’s been too long, I’ve missed you.” Insert audible swoon here. And those swoons continued throughout the night, as Lerche graced the Ballroom with a new track that he has yet to play in front of anyone. “If I fuck it up, you won’t even know, you don’t know the lyrics. But…it matters to me,” he sighed before launching into Violent Game. It was unmistakably Sondre—beautifully composed with flawlessly catchy hooks and thoughtful, heart-bursting lyrics. Somehow, no matter how high he sets the bar for himself, he never manages to disappoint.
Lerche, further proving his chops, stepped away from the mic for a jaw-droppingly, gut-bustingly good version of My Hands Are Shaking. His rich voice sliced through the silence of the ballroom, reminding everyone why this guy is worthy of headliner status, and why we all stayed up past midnight on a work night to see him. It was absolutely worth falling asleep at my desk today, no question.
Photos by Nancy Hoang and Erin Lebar.