NEW YORK — One of the great things about the annual CMJ Music Marathon is that it offers music fans the chance to see bands on the cusp of fame in intimate settings. But that can also act as a drawback “" case in point, Wednesday night, when hot ticket The xx played at the 250-person capacity Mercury Lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Needless to say, the lines for both hopeful ticket buyers as well as festival badge-holders stretched around the block an hour before the band was set to go on, and those who were willing to wait didn’t appear to stand much of a chance of getting in.
Fortunately, the band has three more sets scheduled for later in the week.
Blast’s Plan B was a music and comedy showcase headlined by Margaret Cho around the corner at the Living Room. The musical acts included tween trio Supercute! (“Hi, we’re Supercute!” Get it?), whose three-song set featured a ukelele cover of “Happy Together” and two original compositions. Though probably a little too precious for the typical CMJ crowd, it was a relief to hear girls aged 13 to 15 sing about Swedish Fish and hula hoops as opposed to more suggestive fare.
Cho’s act featured her usual Mom shtick, but much was centered around a purportedly recent breakup (via text message, possibly?). Supporting her were Sara Benincasa, who riffed on Meghan McCain and Catholicism among other topics, and Elon James White, whose pontifications on race amused the crowd without straying into uncomfortable territory.
The second stop of the night was a return trip to the Delancey for the Deli Magazine Showcase, which featured New York City acts The Narrative and Hesta Prynn. The former played Death Cab for Cutie-esque indie pop off of their debut EP “Just Say Yes,” but the standout track of the 20-minute set was the unreleased “Fade,” now streaming on the band’s MySpace page. Co-ed singers Suzie Zeldin and Jesse Gabriel provided a nice vocal contrast, with the songs on which Zeldin took the lead sounding reminiscent of Paramore at their finest.
Hesta Prynn’s performance was probably the closest thing to a house party any CMJ-goers will find. Perhaps it was the result of playing in front of a hometown crowd, but the former member of all-girl rap trio Northern State and her four bandmates genuinely seemed thrilled “" or at least amused “" to be on stage, and their enthusiasm was infectious. It’s not just the hooks of her songs that are so engaging; Hesta knows how to work a crowd, and peppering her set with saucy banter (“Can a ho get a cocktail?”) and sly dance moves practically dares audience members not to have a good time. (Word to the wise: Her Twitter feed is as charming as her stage persona.)
Rounding out Night Two was Middle Distance Runner at Fontana’s. The Washington, D.C.-based quintet offered an occasionally ear-splitting set that incorporated both jangly Americana rock and sultry funk grooves, paying discernible homage to ELO, Tom Petty, and mid-’80s era Prince along the way.
With the marathon nearly halfway over, there’s still much to see and hear. Tomorrow’s highlights include electronic dance-rockers The Fire and Reason and folk singer Via Tania.
Check back with Blast for continuing CMJ coverage all week!
Photos by Sarah Be for Blast