(2010 Oct 21) NYT's ArtsBeat blog publishes 'Distracted With Salem at CMJ'

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(2010 Oct 21) NYT's ArtsBeat blog publishes 'Distracted With Salem at CMJ'

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Distracted With Salem at CMJ

October 21, 2010, 3:32 pm

Heather Marlatt of Salem (c) Willie Davis for The New York Times

So the easy response to the heavy smoke and the flickering strobe lights during Salem’s show at Ramiken Crucible in the small hours of Thursday morning would be this: what a relief. Salem’s seemingly indifferent live shows have become part of the band’s image as lethargic and detached and maybe not at all, you know, good.

In that case, what better way to distract than with distractions? This tiny event, put on by Abracadabra at a small art gallery on the Lower East Side, wasn’t an official CMJ show, but probably couldn’t have happened without CMJ. Smart promoters take advantage of all the talent roaming around the city to create their own shows. (In a thoughtful, apt pairing, the opening act was Tom Krell a.k.a. How To Dress Well, fellow lover of the oceanically slow and morbid.)

Presenting Salem in a different context turned out to be a bit of a revelation, at least for the 100 or so people in the space, including Liv Tyler, in sensible flats, who nudged up against Terence Koh, not in sensible flats.

Salem’s music is asphyxiating and gloomy, and so was the room, which filled with smoke from the first moment Salem – John Holland, Heather Marlatt, Jack Donoghue – took the stage. Those strobes turned out to be bass-sensitive, or something of the like, creating a symbiotic relationship between sound, vision and feel. There were bursts of color, too, but mostly the band was lost in the haze.

And yet, not lost at all. The combination of smoke inhalation, fear, dark and volume turned out to be ideal, with Salem the soundtrack to a real-life horror show.

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