CMJ 2014: Radar’s Brooklyn Takeover

CMJWhen J. Spaceman, Mick Jagger’s son and the Ramones’ old manager all turn up to your party, you’ve gotta be doing something right. Radar took over Williamsburg’s Glasslands venue to serve up the most anarchic show of this year’s CMJ festival: a night which featured sinister topless gyrations, a death-defying balcony leap off and someone inexplicably performing in a full penguin costume.

Before all that dangerous weirdness it was Girlpool who opened the night with a set of whip-smart songs that crackled with their own brand of subversive wit. On the stand-out ‘Jane’, LA duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad tell the tale of the eponymous hero punching a boy called Tommy in the mouth. They’re just an indie film soundtrack away from becoming cult heroes.

There’s a decidedly 90s feel to the next part of the night, as Peterborough’s The Wytches channel Nirvana and those early Radiohead recordings where it still sounded as if Thom Yorke and co. thought they were a grunge band.

London three-piece Happyness are that rare band who manage to mix a genuinely absurd sense of humour into their lyrics, while musically they rifle through the best of Pavement and Blur.

There’s something gleefully absurd about seeing a guy dressed as a penguin announce that his band are “here to play some rock’n’roll,” but it didn’t seem to ruffle Twin Peaks’ Cadien’s feathers. The Chicago band drew one of the best receptions of the night from the moshing crowd, with tracks like ‘Making Breakfast’ sounding like a band full of Mac DeMarcos playing at full pelt.

You can’t get more of a homecoming show than Public Access TV playing here at Glasslands. The New Yorkers used to live within the venue’s warehouse space, so they’re delighted to be back before it closes its doors at the end of the year. They’ve grown in stage presence since their first UK shows back at The Great Escape earlier this year, and their perfectly crafted indie rock ear-worms like ‘Monaco’ and newie ‘In The Mirror’ will be rattling around the audience’s skulls for days.

Surely wary of tonight’s headliners’ fearsome live reputation, Bo Ningen pull out all the stops. While guitars whirl around the stage behind him like chainsaws, frontman Taigen Kawabe plays his bass above his head, ‘stabs’ himself with its neck and then climbs up the speaker stack to a balcony which he leaps off into the crowd.

Even that crowd-baiting anarchy can’t quite match the Fat White Family for sheer evil stage presence. Frontman Lias looks like a man possessed during a ferocious opening salvo which includes ‘Is It Raining In Your Mouth?’ The band dedicate it to former Ramones manager Danny Fields, who had been spotted backstage taking photos of the band. If the Americans in the crowd were in any doubt that they were witnessing the birth of something ungodly on their shores, the grinding ‘I Am Mark E Smith’ will surely have ripped the scales from their eyes. Lias introduced it as a song about “nobility”, but theirs is a strange new British Invasion.

Originally published in NME, 1 November 2014.