Marathon Man

If I can make it there at the CMJ Music Marathon I can make it anywhere

The next day I was up at 1 in the afternoon and had a beer in my hand by 2. I saw a bunch of mediocre acts that aren't worth mentioning, and a decent one called the Crimea from the U.K. that plays spastic, explosive post-punk. Later that night I had the pleasure of seeing Petaluma's the Velvet Teen, and the displeasure of noticing that the small club in which the band played was only half full. People, please! This band is amazing. There should be throngs of frothing hipsters ready to scrub the Velvet Teen's feet. Instead there were a few dozen Chatty Cathys there. Ever the consummate professionals, however, the group delivered a sparkling set, playing a selection of old and new songs and closing the show with its 12-minute "Chimera Obscurant," which was even better live than on record, its climactic buildup made all the more impressive when the sound cut out momentarily and frontman Judah Nagler had to scream the lyrics.

I saw other bands over the next few days (TV on the Radio, which is playing S.F. on Nov. 9 at the Grand, was great as always), but I'm running out of space so I'm going to tell you about the one that mattered most: the Arcade Fire. This Montreal septet is coming to San Francisco in December, so I'll save the bulk of my praise for then. Suffice it to say that the group is this year's Great Discovery. Its songs -- filled with accordions, violins, guitars, keyboards, boatloads of percussion, and seven sets of vocal chords -- are the most earnest and exhilarating indie epics I've heard in years. When the Arcade Fire performs them live, the musicians (two of whom simply run around the room banging on anything and everything they can get their hands on, including their singer) bring so much energy to the stage that you can't help but clap, dance, and sing along. It's like watching a musical performed by Peter Pan's Lost Boys, a chaotic yet blissfully harmonious experience that left me gasping for air and desperate for another dose.

Gosh, there was more -- climbing water towers on top of buildings at 4 in the morning, dinners and galas and to-dos, the Vice magazine party (at which I got to see the much-buzzed-about Dungen from Sweden, whose jangly psych-pop left me unimpressed) -- but there's simply no room. CMJ is a musical snow globe that gets shaken once a year, and on the morning I left the metaphorical snow had settled once again. New York was back to its usual anything-but-normal, and as I watched the sunrise from the top-floor apartment in SoHo where I was staying and imagined the smell of "Urban" wafting up from the street, the Arcade Fire was still buzzing around in my head, and I knew that I had had enough and that it was time to go back to San Francisco. And I was happy about that.

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