I avoid going to New Jersey for shows. I don’t drive, and it can be quite the hellish trek from my native city of Yonkers, New York, via the Garden State’s less-than-awesome public transportation system. It’s no secret that New Jersey has a sick music scene. When I heard about a show benefiting the BoMA in New Brunswick and aiming to raise money for the replacement of stolen gear, I quickly Googled the best route to get to the venue straight from work on a rainy Friday night. The trek was absolutely worth it.
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Teenage Halloween, an outfit that is self-described as power pop, was the first to play, but they rocked the space with tracks that bordered on the emo and folk-punk side. Trumpet player Joe Kane Jr. flailed and danced with gusto as Danni Ciminnisi modestly added the flair on keys. Luke Henderiks had a wide smile plastered on his face throughout the entire set, his glasses fogging up all the while.
Teenage Halloween is indeed a pop band, but their songs are reminiscent of modern emo greats like Modern Baseball and the Front Bottoms. “Waitress” was a short but powerful song that had the crowd bumping around like atoms. “Tiki Party” had the catchiest melody and I couldn’t help but sing along to the few lyrics I knew. The band released It Was Weird, But It Worked this past December and each track is better than the last. Check it out on their Bandcamp if you feel so inclined.
Easily the most eccentric band of the night was Will Wood & The Tapeworms. They were loud and colorful, and everything that could be attractive about a great eclectic outfit. They opened up with a track called “6up 5oh Cop Out (Pro/Con)” which was the perfect mix of cabaret and dark carnival. Bassist Jon Maisto was a well-dressed madman, throwing himself to the floor and tearing through songs like they were the last he would ever play. Standing near the front row for their set was a dangerous decision, as I was nearly decked in the face with Maisto’s bass guitar roughly nine times.
It was a thrill watching this band play so solidly. “Chemical Overreaction/Compound Fracture” was hyper and dark, fluctuating between falling apart and staying together. Singer and keyboard player Will Wood distracted the crowd with a tale about his parents moving him down to the unfinished basement due to his love of make up as Mike Bottiglieri dealt with a technical issue involving his guitar. Drummer Mario Conte was dubbed “everyone’s favorite video game character” by Wood as well. The banter in between songs was as entertaining and as fascinating as the music itself. Will Wood & The Tapeworms have something really special, both musically and aesthetically, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings for them. Their Soundcloud is full of gems and you can check that out here.
The Best Of The Worst could definitely be described as doom ska. They were the heaviest band of the night, mixing metalcore with punk and power-popped ska. They played an extra destructive cover of “Alive With The Glory Of Love” by Say Anything, which had several people in the room screaming along, throwing their arms in the air, shouting the lyrics in each other’s faces. I watched with caution as one crowd member carried another on his back and spun around precariously. They finished off with a song called “Nowhere To Hide” – a track that is so fast and so much fun to dance to. Check them out on Bandcamp here. The Best Of The Worst ended up being the storm before the calm in this case, leading straight into a stripped down acoustic set to follow.
Erik Petersen, clad is his signature denim jacket, was the next and final act of the night. As Petersen was setting up, a handful of people took a seat on the floor, which led to the entire crowd following suit. “Oh, this is gonna be a sitting down kind of thing?” Petersen questioned with bewilderment. “I always wondered if this would happen and now I don’t know how to handle it.” He broke into “How Did I Get Out Alive?” swinging and swaying from the start. Mischief Brew’s master of melody was humble in between each song.
I sat at Petersen’s feet and quietly requested “For An Old Kentucky Anarchist,” a piece that comes from Raise The Youth when he was leading punk outfit The Orphans in the 90s. “I wrote this song when I was about 16 or 17,” he said as he tuned up. Petersen is a walking contradiction. As he points out the age of some of these tracks, he plays them and delivers them as if they were written last week. The man could be selling himself short in more ways than one, as his performances are consistently fresh. However, Mischief Brew is filled to the brim with themes of sneaky devils and two-faced jesters, so it would seem only fitting that we would witness this opposition first hand from the man himself.
A highlight of this set was “We Are The Ground.” Petersen smiled and chuckled as the crowd performed the backing vocals for him, which made everyone feel like they too were a part of the show. He played a few older songs alongside some more recent ones, meandering through “Nomad’s Revolt” and leading seamlessly into “Danger: Falling Pianos.” Conclusively stating, “Fuck it,” Petersen jumped into “Coffee God and Cigarettes,” the final song of the set. It was at this point where the crowd stood from the floor and everyone surrounded him, shouting the lyrics in his face like they wanted to prove this point: there is no such thing as playing “the classics” when every track is timeless.
By the end of the night, everyone had raised nearly $600 for the BoMA, and I left the venue with five new friends. I concluded that the common thread between each of these bands is simple. When you’re playing music like you mean it, people notice. There is a guarantee in this. It’s rare that we find ourselves in a place that calls for a genuine appreciation of what other people are doing. Too often are we focused on our own lives or on our own little communities, thinking we’ll never fit into the amazing ones surrounding us. Even if it’s a train ride away. But New Jersey breeds a unique music scene that doesn’t lack this bond between bands and their aggressive followings. There was love in this room. I felt it. And I know everyone who was there with me felt it too.
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