CMJ brings Mikhael Paskalev, Courtney Barnett, San Fermin to Webster Hall

By Margaret Farrell

Via Margaret Farrell for WSN
Via Margaret Farrell for WSN

A small crowd hovered around the empty stage at Webster Hall on Oct. 22, awaiting the opener for the night Mikhael Paskalev.

In a black-rimmed western hat and blue striped shirt, Paskalev walked out before the anxious audience, his hollow-body guitar being his only company. Whimsical riffs, outrageous song content, and ashy vocals proceeded for the next forty minutes.

Paskalev’s vocals were crisp and muffled, contrasting beautifully against his precise guitar picking. The solo artist, originally from Norway, had the crowd wrapped around his guitar woven fingers, as he seemed to have cheering section the right of the hall.

“I feel like I could say anything and you guys would cheer,” Paskalev joked only to prove this theory continuing, “Your sister is hot!” pointing to an anonymous fan that answered with a vivacious screech.

The twenty-seven year old put on an impressive set preforming songs about bad boys, being in jail, and a gem that was written for his ex-girlfriend for the night of her Birthday before he left her. Most of the audience unfamiliar with folk and western inspired pop seemed to jump on the bandwagon, by the end of the set. For the last couple songs, San Fermin drummer Michael Hanf came out to assist in compositions that needed the necessary oomph of a drumbeat. Paskalev finished his set with the his big singles, “I Spy” and “Come On and Jive Babe.”

The CMJ native Courtney Barnett was up next.

An artist to keep an eye on the coming years, Barnett and her three-piece band put on a flawless performance. Barnett’s vocals were clear, manifesting her signature apathetic and sleepy tone caught on record.

Opening with “David,” and continuing to hit all her high notes off her debut album “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas,” Barnett had everyone bobbing their heads at Webster. What was so great about Barnett’s set was that it was actually better to listen to live than on record — a very rare feat to accomplish. The extra noise added with improvisation seemed necessary and satisfied the thirsty ears in the crowd. Along with the impeccable sound, the energy of the entire band was contagious. It simply seemed that Barnett and her band were having fun on stage, putting on a perfect performance was just an afterthought- her stage presence is natural.  Guitar necks and heads of hair flying all across the stage, the Melbourne native band was constantly in motion.

“Anonymous Club,” was the one tender moment of the night as Barnett’s ghostly vocals echoed off the walls for the intimate song. A few new songs were showcased for Barnett’s upcoming album, including a hit with the chorus, “put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you/ tell me I’m exceptional, I’ll promise to exploit you.” Courtney Barnett and her band ended with “Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser,” leaving the audience sulking for an encore and proving that whatever pedestal Barnett is on is quite accurate.

San Fermin, the headlining band, put on a charismatic and chaotic finale. It was incredible to watch the eight members recreate their robust sound. Two lead singers, a violinist, a saxophonist, a trumpeter, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a guitarist took the light bulb infested stage, opening the evening with “Renaissance.”

New songs “Emily,” “The Woods,” amongst plenty of others kept the crowd’s hunger satisfied. The energy of San Fermin was incredible as trumpeter John Brandon jumped over the photo barrier into the crowd, serenading the mob with his brass belches. Relentless, and tireless the familiar friends dazzled the encouraging crowd until midnight.

Margaret Farrell is a contributing writer. Email her at


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