I’m not going to lie nor be oblivious to the fact that having the culmination of a music festival that celebrates underground rock n’ roll in Times Square is a bit backwards. As New Yorkers, we avoid Times Square like the plague, and for good reason. Immediately after leaving the 42nd Street station, I was asked by two groups of tourists to take a picture of them with Elmo and Batman, attacked by Zombies promoting The Walking Dead, and was nearly punched in the face by a drunk man stumbling out of Applebee’s at 11 a.m. Regardless of all this nonsense, I couldn’t help but think that if I was a tourist in Times Square who wasn’t completely impressed by a theme park without the roller coasters, that it would be incredible to stumble upon a few free, live shows on the outskirts of it all. With that being said, I finally made my way through the circus, and got to see some chill morning concerts…
We Are Scientists have been doing their fun indie rock thing for 14 years now. With 5 studio albums under their belt, including their latest 2014 release, TV en Français, the trio of pals from Berkeley, California took part in the 3rd annual CBGB Festival this past Sunday. Their set list was complete with old favorites and new tunes. The banter with the crowd and with each other was funny and enhances their stage presence in the midst of the craziness of Times Square.
Next on my agenda was Surfer Blood, a band I had been looking forward to see. Their lyrics seem to be an up and down search for reason or a way to make sense of things. Singer John Paul Pitt’s words of question and despair are accompanied by guitarist Thomas Fekete, bass player Kevin Williams, and drummer Tyler Schwarz. Musically, there’s definitely a 90’s alternative feel, but their songs jump back and forth between their first, more edgy album Astro Coast, and Surfer Blood’s more poppy 2013 release, Python. Although they didn’t exchange many words with the crowd other than to thanks their audience and address the fact that they were playing in the middle of a circus, Pitts truly explored the space they were given; he serenaded the photographers in the pit, than proceeded to crawl under the stage disappearing for a little bit, then reemerged in the crowd to greet old friends and fans. For the rest of the song, he circled the entire crowd, hugged a random woman and swayed with her until finally making it back to the stage where he crawled along until the song was finished.
After Surfer Blood performed there was a 2 hour break, to give Broadway some quiet time to perform, and you’d think things would get boring but that isn’t the case at CBGB. There were numerous activities for young and old alike, including; Acoustic performances, rock climbing, hair cutting, skateboarders performing, food booths and much more.
By the time DEVO hit the stage, the crowd had grown considerably, easily outnumbering the attendance of last years gig which speaks volumes to their legacy and popularity. Being the eldest member of Pancakes And Whiskey, I was giddy with excitement to finally see DEVO, I grew up with them and their whacky videos on MTV and always found them bigger than life. The second they took the stage in their famous yellow jumpsuits I was in awe, I was 12 years old again and started to dance like a lunatic. After a few moments of losing my shit I caught myself and started to snap away at the madness that was all around me.
Mark Mothersbaugh is the commander of this crew, and didn’t stop moving for the whole show, and at 64 years of age, is a pretty impressive feat. A few songs in after ripping through “Satisfaction“, the yellow jumpsuits were torn to shreds by Mark revealing the band in black shorts and tops. Not long after that, what seemed like 1000 rubber bouncy balls were thrown into the crowd by Mothersbaugh making people scramble for the smiley-faced souvenirs. Devo played all of their classic hits that made them famous nearly 40 years ago such as; “Whip It”, “Beautiful World, the call-and-response number “Jocko Homo” and “Gates Of Steel” which we took a video for. Devo played a little more than an hour, but it seemed like time had slowed down during their set and for awhile I felt like I was a kid again sitting on the floor watching MTV with wild eyed wonder.
Robert DeLong took to the stage next with his one man electro-pop show and treated the crowd (obviously waiting for headliners, Jane’s Addiction) to a short but sweet set of DYI tunes. DeLong is a very talented multi-instrumentalist who draws heavily on the electronic side but must be commended for his work on the drum kit, which was superb. In another time slot Robert would have had more attention on him, but let’s face it, when Jane’s Addiction is the headliner on stage next, you’re an afterthought.
Be sure to read more from the 3rd annual CBGB festival headliners; Jane’s Addiction, who came on next.