I arrived at the Knitting Factory, having forgotten just how far out of the arc of the rest of CMJ it lay, in time to hear that ultra lo-fi Ecstatic Peace noise-rockers the Sightings had just finished on the main stage. The Wizardzz set that should have been starting right then had been pushed back to midnight, so I found myself winding up and down the Knitting Factory's central staircase poking my head into all three levels and stages before finding myself in the tap bar.
Made in Mexico
There, Made in Mexico (made, in fact, Providence) were underway with a set of stabbing, shrieking guitar and rattling junk kit drums while leading lady Rebecca Mitchel swung her hips and chanted and oozed sex over the audience.
I didn't stay too long, though, as Japanther was next upstairs, and precedent told me they'd pack the floor quickly. They not only packed the floor deeper than any other act in the showcase, but they packed it with a huge screaming mess of an ecstatic mosh pit that included at least one Mexican wrestler. Opening with a track I'd never heard called “Dirge” (“It's like, you die and you're like 'there's all this shit I wanted to do'”), they took it slow for about eight beats before blasting into overdrive. Diving into the thick of things to get close-ups of the duo, the band and tumultuous crowd basically rocked my camera straight into manual focus, something which is never helpful when I can barely keep my eye on the viewfinder, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. In the meantime, Japanther were blazing through the usual slew of two-minute punk anthems, both old favorites and new, off the summer's Skuffed Up My Huffy. The band seemed even more imbued with purpose than usual: the new disc's flagship track “$100 Cover”, already something of a call to arms (“I wanna wanna be / I wanna be part of something / revo-lution bab-y”) was extended with a tirade from drummer Ian Vanek about something like the end of the world over the intro section and bassist Matt Reilly had only this to say to CMJ: “AT&T, I want my money back!”
Downstairs again, Dynasty Handbag appeared in the Old Office, standing alone with a mic in shredded Jamaica t-shirt, some kind of dancer's leotard and very smeared makeup (lipstick climbing almost to her nose). I knew the set was going to be a little different right from Dynasty Handbag's opening conversation with her backing tape (DH: “I don't know what to do”, BT (probably just DH pitched down): “You know what people like. They like it FRRREEEESSSSSHHHH”). Really this was somewhere closer to a one-women modern dance / performance art program, and that's no complaint. Why not take a stage to mix things up a bit?
Old Time Relijun
Of course Japanther was great but the real set of the night has to go to Old Time Relijun, who toned down the outright noise to distinguishable instrument/intelligible words levels while amping up the overall insanity into starting-a-cat-god-worship-cult levels. I'm not sure what frontman Arrington de Dionyso's actual musical background is, but he seems to be channeling equal parts jazz freakouts, lost Americana, and garage rock thump into strange, eerie stories about demons and humans and dreaming wizards. Dionyso's guitar jolted and twanged, Aaron Hartman shredded his fingers pulling rapid lines of mutant disco out of a stand-up bass, and Ben Hartman shot squealing molten melodies from two saxophones at once. I'd caught them at Soundfix earlier in the day, and they were formidable then as well, but the evening performance seemed to take everything up to even great manic intensity.