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Sondre Lerche, The Concretes, and The Golden Republic on Night Two of CMJ Fest

By: Jessica Grose

Thursday night’s CMJ/Spin/Astralwerks showcase at the Bowery Ballroom was dominated by a dulcet, retro, Scandinavian invasion in the form of Sondre Lerche and the Concretes. Midwestern indie popsters the Golden Republic, the ominous-sounding Inouk, and the sparkly electroclash of VHS or Beta rounded out the evening. With the exception of the bouncy VHS or Beta, it was a decidedly mellow night.

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Norwegian heartthrob Sondre Lerche channeled Nick Drake’s melodic acoustic charm, but without the underlying depressive qualities. “Two Way Monologue” came off like the live soundtrack to a ’60s romantic comedy. More than one woman at the foot of the stage was smitten with the fine-featured Sondre; I saw several with their heads cocked to one side, mouthing the words to songs like “Wet Ground.”

Lerche played the last three songs of his set with staunchly American the Golden Republic. Having a full band behind him changed the tenor of Lerche’s performance, adding a modern edge to his throwback sound.The two acts will be touring together this fall, and their combined sound is already tight and radio ready.

The Golden Republic, who hail from Kansas City, play solid indie pop that’s slightly more metal than average-they obviously listened to a lot of Top 40 radio in the ’80s and are vaguely reminiscent of the early 90s band The Toadies. Bassist Harry Anderson probably watched a lot of Kiss performances as a child as well–his stage presence is full-on glam rock, though plaid shirts and cowboy boots detract somewhat from his glamour. Anderson dances around the stage while he plays, turning his back towards the audience like Jimmy Page.

VHS or Beta is more deliberately glam, with their black hair full of product and their skinny black pants. They played an energetic, dance-y set that made them an audience favorite.This brand of dance punk seems to be a trend at Astralwerks these days, with bands like Radio 4 and Basement Jaxx rounding out their roster. VHS or Beta leans more towards ’80s New Wave, though, and is more derivative of the Cure than they ought to be. Nevertheless, these boys from Louisville put on a good show.

The last act of the night, Stockholm’s the Concretes, was less dreamy than Sondre. They covered old Diana Ross tunes and were sadly more morphine-driven than Motown. Lead singer Victoria Bergsman’s recorded voice is lush and mellow, and its almost Nico-esque effect did not translate well to a live performance.

Each one of these bands came to play the CMJ fest from the hinterlands – either from the nether regions of Middle America or from the outer reaches of Northern Europe. Vocalist Ben Grimes of the Golden Republic told the New York audience at the Bowery that they “should all come to Kansas City, it’s good! We have pizza places, just like you.” Last night the Golden Republic and company proved that places outside the Empire State also have good music, just like us.

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